Planting, Pruning, and Removing Hedges

A person pruning a hedge
Planting and then later pruning a hedge in the garden is a no problem with the proper tips and tools.

Planting hedges

Planting a Hedge

It’s best to plant a new hedge in the fall, before the first permafrost. Because this means the young plants are already well rooted by the following spring and will grow better and form more shoots. So your hedge will reach the desired height more quickly and will also form a visual screen earlier on.

You should always check the border distance to your neighbor’s plot before planting and take care not to undercut it with the hedge. Then dig out the planting hole and enrich the soil with plenty of mature compost. This will enable air and water to reach the freshly positioned plants more easily later on, so that they can form better roots.

Then position the hedge plants and push them in firmly with the soil and compost mixture. Afterwards, water thoroughly and place some bark mulch on the soil. The mulch retains moisture around the plant balls for a particularly long time.

By the way, with the correct tips it’s also really easy to make good compost soil yourself. So you can provide your plants with high-quality nutrition at any time. You can find out how to create compost soil in the garden here.

Pruning Hedges

A person pruning with a hedge trimmer

If the hedge has grown in well, it will very quickly spread out in all directions, both in height and breadth. You can easily tame it to the shape you want with a hedge trimmer, so that it looks perfect in your garden.

It really isn’t at all complicated for most plants. Nonetheless, a few handy tips are always helpful to ensure your hedge still looks good after pruning and lives up to its purpose as a decorative garden element which provides visual and wind protection.

How Should You Prune the Hedge?

Pruning hedges with hedge trimmers

Lots of gardeners consider St. John’s Day on June 24th to be the classic hedge pruning day. It doesn’t have to be precisely this day, but by mid to late June the hedge has already finished its first budding. The second budding follows shortly afterwards. This makes early summer a really good time to prune your hedge.

Some gardeners swear that a second pruning in the year ensures more even and dense growth. If you intend to prune your hedge twice a year you need to start really early in the year: If this is the case, reach for the hedge trimmers as early as mid to late February.

Early pruning has an advantage: The plant shoots are not yet completely full of sap in February. This is why many hedges happily tolerate cutting back really early in the year. So trim the plant to the desired height and breadth. You should prune once more at the start of summer, i.e. mid to late June. But at that time it should be cut back much less.

Trimming in February has yet another advantage compared to June: A hedge which has already been pruned in February requires a certain amount of time to regenerate and often doesn’t bud again until May. So your hedge will look well maintained until then, without you having to do anything after cutting back in February.

When is hedge pruning banned?

There are some birds which live in hedges.

When pruning hedges, you must take the animals which live and also breed in hedges into consideration. This is why you should not prune hedges during the brooding and nesting phase.

It is essential that you find out if there are legal regulations about this. In some countries, it is forbidden to prune during certain periods.

Regardless of when you start pruning: Always check if there are birds, their nests or other animals in the hedge before you reach for the hedge trimmers.

Which hedges should not be pruned in the spring?

A hedge in the garden

Hedges in the spring bloomer category such as cherry plum and forsythia should only be pruned after they have flowered. If you start pruning these in February, you will reduce the number of flowers.

If you have to prune a second time, do not do this any later than the end of June. Otherwise the plant will not develop flower buds for the coming year.

Pruning Conifer Hedges

A thuja hedge in the garden

Conifer hedges do not tolerate pruning very well. If you prune back the hedge too much, it will often no longer bud from the needleless branches. Therefore, you should never prune back thuja, false cypresses, pines or spruces further than the point where the plant still has leaves.

You can adjust the height of these hedges much more easily. The fresh side branches overgrow the short branches on the upper edge really quickly. So the hedge becomes lovely and dense again.

Only prune the edges as far back as the needles as well. Because here, too: Branches without needles will no longer bud. The only exception is the yew: It develops new shoots, ever from the trunk.

Rejuvenating an Old Hedge

If you want to rejuvenate an old hedge, you can cut back cherry laurel, firethorn, privet or even barberry deep into the old wood. The best time for this with deciduous hedges is very early in the spring, before the plants form their first leaf buds.

When rejuvenating the hedge, you should cut off all main plant branches around 30 cm above the soil. If the plant should bud again after pruning, make sure that the hedge gets plenty of light and also water. Prune the new shoots again by about a third in spring at the latest. So the hedge becomes lovely and dense again.

Rejuvenating Single Trunk Hedges

Tree-like hedges do not need to be pruned as radically as shrub hedges. Nonetheless, you can still rejuvenate these. Hedge plants such as copper beeches, field maples and hornbeams generally tolerate rejuvenation very well.

In early spring, shorten the top side and all of the side branches on just one of the edges heavily with branch shears or a tree saw. Only leave the stump with a few side branches standing. Only prune the other edges of the hedge in the following year.

The remaining stump has what are known as “dormant buds”. The hedge will bud again strongly from these. However, with some plants a little patience is required, as they only show fresh leaves again in the summer.

Pruning a Hedge into Shape: Here’s How It’s Done

Pruning the top edge of the hedge

The best shape for hedges is a trapezoid profile. Here, the base of the hedge is wider than the crown. This results in sloping side surfaces, allowing the leaves in the lower area of the hedge to also receive sufficient light.

The hedge should never be more narrow at the bottom than at the top. This prevents the light from reaching the lower branches and the leaves and branches will grow bare. Some plants such as thuja or false cypresses never bud again from bare branches. This creates very unattractive patches in the hedge.

Prune Hedges in Straight Lines

Straight cut hedges in the garden

The top line of the hedge must be straight. If it is lopsided or wavy, the hedge will appear misshapen.

You can get a straight line really easily if you stretch a guideline when pruning. For this, insert two rods which are taller than the growth into the ground on the left and right of the hedge. Stretch some string between the rods. You can use this to orientate yourself when pruning the hedge.

If you prefer to prune without a guide string, hold the hedge trimmers exactly horizontal in both hands and swing from the back outwards, evenly left and right. Did you know that the UniversalHedgePole 18 is the perfect partner? It even cuts high hedges easily and precisely. This saves you the need for a ladder and provides relief for the arm and back area when working on tall hedges and overhead.

Cut the hedge flanks in a similar way: Hold the hedge trimmer on the hedge with arms as stretched out as possible and swing the device from you shoulders evenly up and down.

Close Gaps in the Hedge

Gaps in a hedge are annoying. Thankfully, you can easily improve them with the right tips.

Small gaps in deciduous hedges such as boxwood, hornbeams or privet in particular close up quickly by themselves, provided the plant has enough light. This also applies for conifers such as thuja or false cypresses. You should therefore remove any branches from trees in the close vicinity if these are casting too much shade on the hedge.

You can redirect shoots to help close gaps in the hedge. This is particularly recommended if the gaps in the hedge are very big.

When redirecting, fix some of the hedge shoots to thin bamboo rods. Shorten the tips of the shoots. Place the bamboo rod horizontally or diagonally over the hole in the hedge. This helps the gap to quickly grow over.

Removing a Hedge: Here’s How It’s Done

Sections with dry, dead wood in a thuja hedge

If you have had enough of looking at a hedge, or developed other plans for your garden, you need to remove the hedge. This can be done with the right tips and a good tool. We can tell you how best to approach this and what to look out for.

When may I remove a hedge?

You also need to check if there are any legal regulations when removing a hedge. In some countries, you may only remove hedges during certain times of the year. This is to protect animals living and nesting in the hedge. 

Before you pull out a hedge, you should also find out whether you are allowed to remove the plant in your location. There are legal regulations in some locations which you need to observe.

Removing Hedges: Cutting Branches

A person pruning a hedge

First of all, cut off the hedge branches. This is particularly easy with a chainsaw for big branches and the EasyPrune branch shears for smaller cuts. A pruner is also really useful here. You can use this to get far down to the branch base, without having to hold the branch.

It’s best to start at the bottom or in the middle of the hedge. Then cut off branch by branch. You can leave the branches which are higher than about 5 feet.

When the hedge is bare up to a height of 5 feet, cut off the top half with a chainsaw or branch shears. You must leave at least 5 feet of trunk standing. You’ll need this later to be able to lever out the root ball.

First of all create space in the garden by cutting up the sawn off branches. This can be done in next to no time with a garden shredder, so that you can get on with the next step.

Removing Hedges: Digging Up Roots

Removing a hedge

The roots of flat rooted plants such as spruce or thuja hedges are really easy to remove. The wood is also soft, which makes the job easier.

Other hedges such as false cypresses, copper beeches or hornbeams have deeper roots. Removing the roots takes a bit more work with these. Deep rooted plants such as cherry laurel are the hardest to remove.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Trimming
    Dig around the trunk in the ground with a sharp spade. This disconnects the upper roots. Trim thinner roots with the spade. You can separate the thicker ones with a sharp axe.
  2. Loosening
    If the first three to four main roots are separated, push the trunk forcefully in all directions and check whether it can be moved. If this doesn’t work, trim the roots until the trunk becomes loose.
  3. Removing
    If the root ball is loosened, pull it out of the hole by the trunk, remove any soil hanging on to it and dispose of the plant.

In Tricky Cases: Winch or Pulley

If the root ball won’t loosen even though you have already dug down very deep and trimmed numerous roots with an axe and spade, a winch or a pulley can help. Provided a strong, securely rooted tree is close to the hedge, you can make the job much easier for yourself with one of the two solutions.

For this, secure the winch or pully as low down as possible on the tree trunk with a wide belt. Cushion the belt so as not to damage the tree bark. Fix the other end of the pull rope to the top end of the trunk of your hedge plant.

You can exercise considerably more force on the hedge plant with a winch or pulley, so that sooner or later it will yield and you can remove the trunk with the root ball.