Hedge trimmers are commonly used throughout the UK to trim and maintain garden hedges. Whether you prefer the power of petrol hedge trimmers or the lower noise and light weight of electric hedge trimmers; knowing how to use them properly is key to keeping your hedge rows looking neat and tidy year round.

When to Trim Your Hedge

The best time of the year to trim your hedge rows depends on the type of hedges you have and whether you’re going for a formal or informal shape. It’s important to make sure you keep an eye out for nesting birds too. Cutting or trimming a hedge that contains nesting birds is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

If you come across any birds, simply wait until they’ve vacated their nest before attempting to complete any hedge maintenance.

Hedge Breed Trimming Guidelines

Evergreen Hedges

  • Ilex aquifolium (holly) – Cut once during late summer
  • Buxus sempervirens (box) – Cut two to three times during growing season
  • Cotoneaster lacteus – Cut only after fruiting
  • Prunus laurocerasus – Prune twice during spring and summer
  • Lavandula (lavender) – Prune immediately after flowering


  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson cypress) – Cut twice in spring and summer
  • Taxus baccata (yew): Cut twice in mid-summer and autumn

Deciduous Hedges

  • Carpinus betulus (hornbeam): Cut once in mid-to-late summer
  • Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn): Cut twice in mid-summer and autumn
  • Berberis thunbergii – Cut after flowering

Formative Pruning

Formative pruning needs to be done immediately after planting a new hedge or bush. This process will help you to establish the shape you desire.

Deciduous hedges should be pruned in winter after planting and evergreen hedges should be pruned in the spring. Both types of hedge should be pruned for the first two years to assist in the formation of their shape.

Hedge Maintenance and Trimming

If your garden features any formal hedges, you will need to trim them more frequently to maintain their shape. For most types of hedge, the summer is the best season for this. You will find that some conifers and deciduous hedges will allow you to trim them into autumn. Such hedges include the hawthorn and yew.

Generally, flowering or fruiting hedges should only be trimmed after their flowers or fruit have finished growing. You can also remove older stems or thin twigs at this time to encourage new growth.

The following safety tips will reduce the chance of any accidents:

  1. Wait until the weather is dry

Electric garden tools don’t mix well with water. Even if your hedge trimmer is petrol powered, we would suggest waiting for better weather.

Before starting, check your trimmer is in good working order and there is no damage present. Any damage should be fixed by a professional or a new hedge trimmer should be bought.

  1. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear

The clothing you wear needs to allow sufficient free movement while being closely fitted. Your clothes should also offer you at least some protection and shouldn’t be easily snagged on branches and twigs.

Non slip shoes are important and we recommend the use of steel toe capped shoes in case you drop the hedge trimmer on your feet. Finally, gloves and eye goggles should be worn for extra protection.

  1. Prepare the area

Remove any visible debris present in the hedge. This will prevent your hedge trimmer from becoming jammed and will make the cutting process easier. Finally, remove any obstacles that are likely to get in the way when moving across the hedge.

  1. Complete a final safety check

Make sure there are no children or pets in the garden. You are unlikely to be able to hear them once your hedge trimmer is running.

If you are using an electric hedge trimmer, make sure you have enough cable to reach where you need to. Extension leads can be used to extend the total reach if required. Be careful not to trip over the cable when walking.

The best petrol hedge trimmers will make hedge cutting easier

Hedge Trimmer In Use

How to Shape Your Hedge

You should now be ready to begin trimming. Stand a comfortable distance away from your hedge and take a strong stance. Make sure that any trailing cable is behind you and not directly in the cutting path.

Shaping a formal hedge will take some practice. These tips will make the process easier.

  • Trimming straight lines

Cutting straight lines by eye is very difficult, so many gardeners prefer to use string to ensure their accuracy. Place two pieces of cane either side of your hedge and tie the string so that it is pulled taut between them. This will give you a good guide to achieve a straighter line. This process can be replicated for vertical lines too.

  • Tapering

To ensure that sunlight can reach the entire hedge and not just the top canopy, you should taper the hedge slightly so that the top is thinner than the bottom. Even the strongest hedges won’t exceed more than 60cm in depth, so use that as a guide for the broader bottom section.

  • Shaping

If you’re going for a more interesting shape, you can use cardboard cut-outs to guide you. This technique is great for making arch shapes in your hedge. For a rounded cut, start around 3 inches from the top of the hedge. Move the hedge trimmer away from your body and to the centre of the top of the hedge in an angular curved motion. Repeat this process on the other side of the hedge.

  • Shaping tall hedges

If you are cutting taller hedges and using a hedge trimmer with a telescopic or extendable pole, simply find the correct length and tilt the blade to a 90 degree angle. Be sure to watch out for falling debris.

Tidying Up

Depending on the number and size of hedges to be cut, you might want to tidy as you go. Placing a sheet on the floor before you start will provide a collection point for cuttings as they fall. When finished, you can then shake this sheet out into your garden waste bin, incinerator bin or add them to your compost heap.

Final Verdict

After cutting your hedges, it is important to clean your hedge trimmer. It is common for sap and debris from the bushes to become stuck in the cutting blades teeth. Leaving this debris in the hedge trimmer will make it more difficult the next time you go to trim your garden hedges.  

About The Author