Hedges provide a wonderful living screen that gives you privacy and protects your boundaries. They also make a green backdrop for the rest of the garden. But hedges must be maintained or they can become an eyesore.
Formal hedges – i.e. rectangular shapes – should be pruned twice a year using shears or a hedge cutter. It is useful to stretch a line between stakes to mark the cutting line, trimming just above the previous cut.
Established informal hedges usually need only one annual cut and are better trimmed with secateurs – particularly if they have large leaves.
The best time to trim varies. If your hedge has flowers, cut immediately after flowering or you will miss the display – this particularly applies to escallonia. Beach, yew, holly and most other hedges should be pruned between early and late summer.
Newly planted hedges should have one third of their growth removed in the second year. This encourages dense, bushy growth.
Trim to create a ‘batter’ – so that the hedge is slightly wider at the base, or at least has a rounded top. This gradual tapering keeps the bottom fully clothed with leaves and avoids the risk of snow and wind damage.
When your hedge has reached the desired height, trim off 150mm (6in) to allow further dense growth up to the final hedge line.
Tip: Use a sheet underneath the hedge when trimming for easy removal of the clippings.
Feeding and watering
Feed hedges once a year: a light dressing of about a handful of fertiliser per metre or yard length is adequate. Regular pruning reduces the root spread as the plant balances growth above and below the ground, so it is important to keep the root area well supplied with nutrients.
- Add an annual mulch of organic matter to keep the root area moist and prevent weeds. Spread under, but not touching, the stems.
- Watering should only be necessary in times of extreme drought.
- Pests are not normally a problem on hedges but if they do attack forcibly wash the pests off with a hosepipe.
Some old, overgrown hedges can be rejuvenated by cutting them back severely – this works well on beech, hornbeam, hawthorn, box, holly and privet hedges, but not on conifers, except yew. Cut one side hard back in January/February before growth normally begins. Cut to about 15mm (6in) from the main stem. Feed and mulch as above. If this side grows well the following year, repeat the procedure on the other side. If not, wait until growth is active on the cut side.
With other multi-stemmed hedges you can remove some of the old wood each year to encourage new vigorous growth – but never more than one third of the plant. For conifers, rejuvenation is restricted to pulling branches across any gaps and tying in place.
For other garden upkeep projects, see Controlling Weeds