How to Trim Hedges and Shrubs Evenly

how to trim hedgesThere can be many circumstances where the question crops up about how to trim hedges and shrubs. Sometimes more importantly, people want to know how to trim their hedges evenly to achieve a tidier finish to their work.

In many occasions this question is coming from those who have recently moved into a house where a hedge exists and is in need of proper maintaining. Or the yard layout is just crying out for a hedge to be planted to provide more privacy or to section the garden into specific areas.

They know what they would like; they have the vision but don’t know where to start or how to trim hedges evenly. Other folk who have been cutting their hedges for a while ask themselves some of these same questions. They just get on with it, trim the hedge and promise themselves that they will learn how to do it properly some other time. Well today’s the day so here we go.

There’s no question about it, but when we come across a well maintained and freshly cut hedge, we do take note and for some reason it gives us a bit of a lift. Yes and other times it registers in our brain, or more correctly gives our brain a jolt about some hedges at home that could be doing with a similar manicure.

Shrubs can also play a great roll in directing the eye to certain areas of a garden and even act as special features in themselves, providing that they are cared for and looking their best.

First Lesson on How to Trim Hedges is to choose the Right Tools

Probably it’s best to start off with discussing the tools needed to trim hedges. No doubt the thought that has been conjured up is a powered version as that is probably all that is seen being used today. But for someone who has never tackled cutting a hedge before, they might regret even attempting using a powered trimmer in the first place.

Calling in a yard maintenance company to try to repair the damage, although expensive might be an option, but the best idea is to stay away from a power trimmer until you know what’s involved with hedge trimming.

There are plenty of areas on our site where you’ll find information about choosing the best electric hedge trimmer as well as gas hedge trimmer reviews. But that is not the purpose of this page.

Learning and understanding how to make a good job of  trimming your hedges are basics worth knowing. Learning about picking and using a large electric pole hedge trimmer down to the small electric grass shears are all here when your ready.

Those with experience can skip the next couple of paragraphs or so. For those new to caring for hedges and for that matter let’s include shrubs in this content, because as often as not they too will be present in a garden or you may wish to grow them in future.

Many different types of hedges as well as shrubs need to be trimmed in accordance to certain rules, if nothing else but just to keep them healthy and this also applies to shrubs grown as hedges. Educate yourself about what type of hedging/shrubs you already have or plan to plant and their needs regarding trimming and pruning.

Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and ShrubsThe Dirr’s Encyclopedia is really a must read for anyone new to planting and caring for shubs, trees and hedging. Indeed it makes the perfect reference book that you will go back to time and time again if you are a keen gardener.

Anyway back to tools. It was not until the 1960s and 70s that powered hedge trimmers started to gain some popularity although they do go back further than that. Black & Decker even came out with a hedge trimming attachment that could be attached to an electric drill. I used it and remember well having to strip down, let’s say a circular saw I had been using, from the power drill and bolt on the hedge trimming attachment. Believe me things have moved on quite a bit since those days, glad to say.

Prior to that period and for some time after that, hedges and shrubs were cut using manual trimming tools. These are still in use today, normally for smaller tasks or for shaping. Learning how to trim hedges with shears would give a bit of practice for anyone new to hedge cutting, if only to let them get the hang and the feel for the job.

It’s slower yes but that’s a benefit when learning. Fewer mistakes are made and when they do occur they will be less severe and can be more easily rectified. Once the basics are understood which is not all that difficult it’s time to move on to a powered version.

These can be electric hedge trimmers that come in a wide price range or gas hedge trimmers which are generally that bit dearer.

 Formal or Informal Hedging

To avoid the yard being taken over by the many beautiful specimens we plant in the various areas of the garden we need to keep them under some form of control. Of course the first step in this is to choose wisely before purchasing and planting.

Extreme HedgingThe control we use is to cut the growth back to produce the more formal types of shrubs and hedges or to go for the informal look.

Creating the more formal types of hedging means we are more often as not cutting sin straight lines on both the vertical and horizontal ,  or even on angles. Indeed controlling the growth in order to create just about any shape and size of hedge or shrub structure we desire.

If you’re interested and want to know how to trim hedges into shapes you might want to get your hands on a set of dual purpose electric shears. For looking after and training small shrubs they are in a class of their own for giving the control needed for some of the finer work.

The informal look comprises of trimming to give a more natural look and shape of the plants, be it the rounded bush structure or the tall spire like look.

The Informal Look

The informal look is without doubt the easiest as it’s simply a matter of following the shape you have and cutting it back to control the growth and to make it look much tidier.

To do this, stand back and visualize the natural shape of the hedging, shrub etc. Cut down to where it was last cut or down to where you would like, but still leaving enough green growth to make it look neat and tidy and not just a clump of twigs attached to a stem or trunk.

Just a quick mention here regarding the time of year to carry out the trimming. As a rule of thumb I wouldn’t normally cut while shrubs and hedges that are made up of flowering shrubs are in bud or flowering. It’s always best to wait till the flower has withered off before trimming these plants.

Creating Formal Hedges

image of shaped hedgeThe formal hedge takes a bit more skill to achieve the required look, although there seems to be many variations of that required look, as you will notice in your travels.

Some of these haphazard attempts at hedge trimming you certainly won’t want to emulate and others you might be amazed at the skills used to create some of these hedges and topiary structures.

The image further up the page which I’ve named “Extreme Hedging” is a good example of how to trim hedges into shapes, in this case into arches. Certainly it has been created by someone with plenty of vision and talent.

Of course not everyone is the same and what is fine for one person isn’t necessarily fine for another. But if you want to learn how to not only trim hedges but also how to trim them evenly then here are my suggestions.

How to Trim Hedges Evenly

First you will need to use stakes and string to build a framework around the hedge working on sections 10 feet long or so at a time. This is a must if you have inherited a badly overgrown and poorly maintained hedge. Hammer the stakes home and tie the string at each end to your desired height, do the same on the other side of the hedge making sure the strings are level.

leveling a hedgeMeasure it and set the stakes the same width apart, in effect what you are creating is a rectangular shape which has boxed the hedge in.

At this stage, just bear in mind that we will be putting in more stakes later on to create a slight angle to the face of the hedge. This will make it slightly broader at the base and narrower at the top.

Holding a spirit level lightly on top of the string will take care of the horizontal leveling. It might seem tedious at first when trying to get this right and having another helper at hand to raise or lower the string at the stakes will help. The ends can be leveled using this same method and even squared up using a 90 degree square.

Depending on your hedge type, it’s sometimes possible to tie the string between two twigs at the height you desire. The hedge type above used in this example is a well established beach hedge.

You’re ready to Trim Your Hedge

Starting at the top, run your trimmer or your manual hedge clippers across the top removing growth between the strings at the front and back of the hedge, this will give you a nice level finish.

how to add an angle to a hedge faceNext take another 4 stakes and hammer them into the ground a little further in or out, (depending on how close to the hedge the first stakes were placed). Again tie strings all around this new framework this time at the bottom of the hedge.

Now trim these side areas again cutting between the two strings at the top and bottom this time. This will give us an angled finish to the hedge faces that will serve two purposes.

The main purpose is to allow sunlight to be able to fall onto the lower growth which will help to maintain a healthy hedge and also helps to make a hedge stronger if heavy falls of snow are a feature of your climate.

Once completed, stand back and admire your work, pat yourself on the back, you deserve it and may well be amazed at what you have actually achieved.

correct hedge shapewrong hedge shape








The hard work has now been done and you will be able to follow your initial cuts in the future freehand without the need for staking.

Of course don’t wait until the hedges or shrubs get out of hand and become unrecognizable again. Keeping a wary eye on what tasks will need done in the yard and scheduling them is all part and parcel of creating and indeed maintaining both a healthy and beautiful garden.

Video Explains How to Trim Hedges Straight

The video below give s a bit of an idea of how to how to trim hedges level using string lines. The same principles can be used for any hedge type.

Other Similar Topics

Bear in mind that this article is covering the trimming tasks of your hedges and shrubs. Pruning, thinning out and removing dead wood from the centre of the plants are not covered here. Probably I will write another article in the future to cover these important chores that will help to keep the plants healthy.

At least for now, hopefuly you will have mastered how to trim hedges level and who knows, you might even have moved on to learn how to trim hedges round and created your own shapes.

If this is the kind of information you would like to see, leave a comment below and share this post with others who might be interested. More hedge trimming information and hedge  trimmer reviews can be found here.

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