The Best Tools, Tips, and Timing for Trimming Bushes and Hedges

posted on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 in Residential Property Tips

Trim Bushes and Hedges

All the plants in your landscaping require a little seasonal maintenance, not just your lawn. Bushes, shrubs, and hedges are often used interchangeably to describe the plants in your yard but there are some differences. Bushes and shrubs are one and the same. Hedges are groupings of shrubs planted together to create a fence-like barrier. Each requires different techniques, tools, and timing for proper trimming and healthy plants.  

Trimming Bushes and Shrubs

Overgrown bushes are an eyesore. Regular pruning can liven up your landscaping and keep your property looking beautiful. However, you shouldn’t wait until your bushes look wild to tame the branches and stems. For the health of the plants, you should make pruning a part of your annual lawn maintenance plan

What to Use to Trim Bushes

A small set of pruning tools is essential for every homeowner. Shrubs are typically on the smaller side, so a bypass hand pruner and lopper may be all you need. Pruning saws are typically used on thicker tree branches. But if your shrubs are tall and have damaged or diseased stems, a small, folding pruning saw may be necessary.

How to Trim Overgrown Bushes

A neglected shrub can be intimidating. Where do you start? What do you cut? Getting from an untamed mess to an appealing, manicured look is a process. Arborists actually have a system for it — the 4 Ds of pruning. Follow their system to prune like a pro:

  1. Dead – Start with the dead stems. They make your bush look bad and give insects and disease an opportunity to invade.
  2. Diseased – Move onto the diseased branches. Anything that looks weak, dried, wilted, spindly, or otherwise different from the rest of the bush probably has a problem. Have a bucket of a 10 percent bleach/90 percent water mixture on hand. Dip your pruners into it between cuts so you’re not transferring disease to healthy branches.
  3. Damaged – Next, remove the broken branches. Even if a damaged branch is healthy and can potentially repair itself, it provides another opening for insects and disease to do further damage to your bush.
  4. Deranged – Finally, prune for appearance and optimal growth. Branches grow across each other, loop down to the ground, stick out at an odd angle, and dart in every direction imaginable. Cut anything that doesn’t conform to how the rest of the bush grows.

You’ll also want to remove any suckers, canes, and waterspouts to promote health. Remove the small branches that grow in the center or base of the bush (canes and suckers). Clip stems that grow straight up on dominant branches (waterspouts). Thin out any spots that you feel are too thick by cutting newer, thinner stems. To keep your shrub at a certain height, prune the oldest and largest branches.

Cut everything cleanly at the collar, where the branch connects to the larger branch or base, so the bush can heal itself. Removing entire branches also makes your pruning job easier the next time around.

When to Trim Bushes

There’s a wide variety of bushes and each grows differently. So the best time to trim your shrubs depends on the plant. You should learn about the types of bushes you have and the proper care for them, but in general, these guidelines hold:

Prune shrubs that flower in the early spring right after their blossoms fade to maximize flower production next year.

Flowering shrubs that blossom in the summer can be clipped when they’re dormant in winter or early spring.

Bushes that don’t produce flowers should be trimmed once the new growth is fully formed, typically in the late spring or early summer.

Dead, diseased, and damaged branches should be removed as soon as you spot them, regardless of the season.

Shaping Hedges

Some bushes grow so thick that they can be shaped into round or square shrubs. Boxwood, a popular landscaping foundation plant that grows well in middle Tennessee, is a good example. Whether it’s a standalone bush or a row of shrubs creating a hedge, shaping is an additional step in the pruning process. 

What to Use to Trim Hedges

You can use the same pruning tools to clip the dead, diseased, damaged, and deranged branches. To get your desired shape — and to do it efficiently — you need some hedge trimmers. There are a variety of options, depending on your needs:

Garden shears – Battery-powered garden shears are small and versatile. This lightweight hand tool is perfect if you only have a few shrubs to shape.

Battery-powered hedge trimmers – If you have a small property, hedge trimmers with a larger blade can get the job done on a single charge.

Homeowner hedge trimmers – These lightweight gas-powered trimmers are designed with the homeowner in mind. With longer blades and two-hand operation, you can cut more and stay in control.

Electric hedge trimmers – For quieter operation but comparable performance, electric hedge trimmers have long, fast cutting blades.

How to Trim Overgrown Hedges

Trimming overgrown hedges takes precision. It’s best to use a guide to get a boxy, linear look. While you can use your house, siding, or other straight lines as a guide, the naked eye can leave you with an uneven hedge. For best results, plant some stakes and tie a string at an optimal height. Make sure your string is level and not set too deep in the hedge.

Hold your hedge trimmers perfectly horizontal to maintain a flat, even cut across the whole hedge. Trim off only up to a year’s growth. If you give your hedges too much of a haircut, you can damage them. Keep the base of the hedge wider than the top so that the lower branches still get enough sunlight to survive.

If you’re a master hedge trimmer, you can create a round or topiary hedge — the spiral hedges that look like a corkscrew. There are no guides here. You have to rely on your trimming skills and artistic eye.

Informal hedges require less maintenance. These are shrubs that are planted closely together but are left in a more natural state — they don’t look like one large, connected shrub. You can spot-trim these as needed after normal pruning.

When to Trim Hedges

Since hedges are just a row of bushes, the same timing applies. Trimming a flowering hedge at the wrong time can prevent the flowers from coming back the next year. 

Many hedges, like boxwoods, are evergreen bushes and are chosen for their dense growth. The best time to trim evergreen bushes is in late winter or early spring when the bush is dormant. You can set the size and shape of your hedges at that time, and then prune regularly throughout the summer when the shrubs are growing rapidly.

Bushes and hedges don’t require near as much maintenance as grass. But proper care is just as important. Pruning your bushes preserves the health of the plants so that your shrubs can beautify your property year after year.

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