How to Trim Hedges

How to Trim Hedges
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Creating privacy with living walls is a very easy way to create a retreat separated from the noise and activities outside your home. Plants are also used to soften the front of the home with layers of shrubs that will add visual appeal to your home. Spending some extra time to really consider the type of plants you want and how to maintain them will help you achieve the results you desire. Read on to learn how to trim hedges to create a full plant from top to bottom that will soften, and hide, whatever you would like.

How to trim shrubsI should confess as I write this that I hate viburnums. HATE. Viburnum odoratissimum is plant used in hedges all of the time and it wants to be a tree. Yes, a tree. A 35′ tall tree. But here we are trying to keep it as a 3.5′ tall hedge. I inherited two viburnum hedges when I bought our house, one is long gone but one is still in place just begging to be trimmed once a month. Who has time for that?

Begin by considering the overall height you want your hedge when full grown. If it is for privacy, ten feet tall may be okay, however for in front of your house you might want a four foot tall plant. There are plants available that will grow slowly, stay relatively small and work well for creating layers in your landscape. ‘Schillings’ is a dwarf holly that reaches a mature height of four feet tall and works well for foundation plantings. Loropetalum ‘Purple Pixie’ has burgundy leaves with pink flowers and has a mature height of of two to three feet tall. ‘Walters Whorled’ viburnum is a dwarf that is five feet tall in height, very compact, and has while blooms in summer.

Establishing a privacy hedge can be achieved with many common shrubs such as viburnum, podocarpus, and even clumping bamboos. Just remember that these plants want to grow BIG! Trying to keep them small will be a constant battle, so decide if you want some size or need to look for another plant. Resist the urge to plant an “instant hedge” and instead place plants at their suggested spacing. The small amount of time it takes for these to fill in will be well worth the avoided pest problems in the future.

Growing healthy hedges isn’t rocket science, but it does take some time and conscious effort to trim your hedges correctly so that they are full from top to bottom.

It is way too common to see older shrubs that have all the leaves right on the very top of the plant and only sticks below. If you step back to look at the overall shape of the hedge you will see that the top is very wide and the bottom is very narrow. When you are trimming your hedges you have to make a conscious effort to avoid this!

how to prunes hedges

When pruning, try to trim the top to be slightly more narrow than the base. This helps the light to get to the lower leaves of the plant and keeps the shrub full from top to bottom. The job of a leaf is to get sunlight, complete photosynthesis to store energy for the plant, and continue growing. If a leaf is in complete shade, it is not functioning for the plant so it will drop the leaf, resulting in the all too common sparse and naked base.


I like to trim hedges in the following steps:

how to prunes hedges1) Start by trimming the top to the desired height. Actually, make it about 6″ shorter than what you really want so that you don’t have to come back and do it again in five weeks (if you are trimming viburnum, especially!). I used hedge shears for this because the branches were all relatively small. If you need to do a serious reduction in height you will want to have some heavy duty loppers on hand for large branches.

how to prunes hedges2) Referring to the drawing above, start trimming the top of the sides. Note that this needs to be angled in slightly, not enough that anyone will notice, but enough to allow the sun to hit the lower branches.  In this photo to the left you can see what that angle looks like, especially on the far end.

3) The third and final step is to lightly trim any branches that are really sticking out in the bottom half of the hedge. It is important to let these stay longer than the top, but taking off just the ends of the branches will actually cause them to branch out and become more full.

What do you do if your hedges are already very thin on the bottom? You have to be aggressive and really trim back the top to make sure that light is getting to your lower branches. They will start to bud out and fill in, but only if there is light. If you find yourself doing a significant pruning then I recommend watering extra to help the plant have the water it needs for the new leaves. You don’t have to, but it will help your hedge to regrow more quickly.

I want to point out that this technique really does work!  Our stupid viburnum hedge is on the east side of the house with a fence about 6 feet to the other side. It doesn’t get very much direct sun yet it is full from top to bottom.

how to prunes hedges

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