How to Trim a Hedge | Complete DIY Guide to Trimming Your Own Hedges

Hedges don’t just become hedges without some work! Hedges need to be regularly trimmed as the hedges grow; otherwise, they quickly begin to look messy. But trimming also isn’t an easy process. Some of it depends on the species of the hedge, while other things are just a matter of skill. Here’s what you need to know about trimming hedges and how to tackle this task yourself.

Trimming a Hedge

First: Know Your Hedge

Some hedges need more frequent trimming than others. Some hedges don’t do well with extensive trimming and pruning. Know what type of species of hedge you have, and whether it’s fast-growing or slow-growing. Whether your hedge blooms or not will also affect when you want to trim it, and the most optimal methods of trimming.

When to Trim Your Hedge

Usually, you want to trim your hedge when it starts to look untidy. If your hedge is currently flowering, you usually don’t want to trim it. You should trim it in Autumn and towards Winter dormancy, to avoid damaging any blossoms. If you have a fast-growing hedge, you may need to trim it fairly frequently. If you have a slow-growing hedge, once a year might be enough.

You can trim most hedges thoroughly with a hedge trimmer once a year and then keep up with it with pruning shears as the year progresses. As new branches and leaves start to grow out, you can prune them as needed.

How to Trim Hedges

Start By Levelling Your Hedge

The key to a neat, attractive hedge is to level the top first. You can trim the top with a hedge trimmer and a ladder. How do you make sure it’s perfectly level? 

Method 1 – Using stakes and string, you can string along a straight line along the top of the hedge. If you measure properly, you’ll be able to tell exactly where the hedge needs to be trimmed back, both along the top and along the sides.

You may also be able to use the lines of your house, if your hedges are against a wall.

Method 2 – Once you work out the height you would like to achive move to the highest section at either end of the hedge. Starting at the highest section of the hedge will ensure you don’t take too much off the top of the hedge so you can evenly meet up with the other side of the hedge. If you don’t take enough off on the first pass you can repeat the process to achieve the desired height.

Hold the hedge trimmer firmly with two hands, Get close to the hedge and use a sweeping motion from side to side using your hips ensuring you keep the hedge trimmer still. Once you have trimmed this section, move to the next section and use the section you just cut as the new reference height and continue to use the sweeping motion again. Continue this process along the entire hedge one section at a time.

The most important thing to know when trimming hedges is to keep the hedge trimmer blades flat front to back and side to side and to only move from side to side using your hips. This will eliminate any gouging or cutting the hedge unevenly.

Once you have a couple of hedge under your belt you will be able to move along the hedge quite fluidly. So take it slow to start, get a feel for the motion, and then progressively speed up the process when you get more confidence.

Cut the Sides of Your Hedge

Along the front of your hedge, make sure the top of the hedge is slightly narrower than the base. This doesn’t need to be extreme, but it’s generally a good practice. If you hedge is against a fence line or your house you should cut the hedge at least six inches away from the structure. This is a generally good practice to make sure that any structure isn’t damaged.

Cutting a hedge is usually a process. You’ll use your hedge trimmer to generally shape it, and then you will go back and cut anything that looks out of order. While you cut your hedge, look for any dead branches or damaged leaves. Start pruning them away, and look for any signs of disease, fungus, or pests. This is a good time to generally check the health of your hedges.

Trim your hedge from the top to the bottom, and then stand away from it to make sure that it’s even. As you trim, you can use the string trick to make sure that the hedge is entirely even. You trim hedges slightly more narrowly at the top than the base to make sure that the bottom leaves get more light. If you trim the hedge completely square, it may not grow as healthy or as dense (this is more common with larger hedges).

Tips for Trimming Your Hedge Right

Hedge trimming can be more complicated than it looks. It’s not just a matter of cutting your hedge back, you also need to do it in a way that encourages the hedge to grow properly in the future. And you don’t want to potentially cause any damage to the hedge. Here are some tips.

Cut Less, But More Frequently

If you have a fast-growing hedge, you should try to cut less off it each time, but cut it more frequently. Overall, you never want to cut a hedge back too much, or it could become unhealthy. Try not to cut a hedge back more than 30 percent of its size all at once.

Use Sharp Tools

When gardening, sharper tools are better. If you break branches roughly, it could open the hedge up to infection or other issues. 

Lay Down a Tarp

You may want to lay down some sheeting underneath the hedge first, so you can easily clean up. You can also rake beneath the hedge immediately, but either way, you should make sure it’s cleaned up after you’re done to stop any fungus growing.

Trim Your Hedges Early

Even young hedges should be trimmed, as it trains the hedge for trimming in the future. When trimming young hedges, you may not be able to get the full intended shape yet. However, you can trim to cut down branches that are growing askew, and you can generally prune the hedge into growing fuller. Once hedges have been established and have started to grow larger, they can be trimmed for shape.

Pay Attention to Your Hedge’s Health

If your hedge starts wilting, yellowing, or losing its leaves, hold off on trimming. If your hedge is fighting with pests or disease, you may want to stop trimming until it has recovered. Trimming a hedge while it’s already traumatised can potentially cause damage to it, and make it harder for it to grow back over time. Check to see whether your hedge needs fertiliser or additional water.

Use the Right Tools

It isn’t just about using clean, sharp tools, but you also need to use the right tools. An electric or petrol hedge trimmer may be used to cover large areas of a hedge, but you may need secateurs for thick branches. The better your tools, the less likely you are to potentially damage the hedge, or potentially hurt yourself. When using an electric trimmer, make sure you follow the directions given. If hedges are very tall, make sure you’re using your step stool or your ladder properly.

Sometimes, it’s easier to hire a professional for trimming hedges—it doesn’t have to be done very frequently, and when it’s done correctly, it has a dramatic impact on the hedge’s appearance. But with a little practice, most people can trim a hedge like an expert. And if you trim a little too much, or don’t trim it evenly, you’ll always have the chance to fix it later!

Are you planning on installing some new hedges? Check out our guide on 15 Fast Growing Screening Plants for Privacy. Looking for something a little smaller? Check out or guide on Small Hedge Plants.

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