When to Prune Deciduous Hedges
When it comes to pruning deciduous hedges, it is vital to prune them at the right time of year.
- Initial pruning: After planting and years one and two? Winter
- Further maintenance pruning? Summer
Why do I need to prune my deciduous hedge? Won’t that stop them growing taller?
No, a common misconception is that pruning a plant will prevent it from achieving its optimum height. In fact, when you regularly prune a plant, the plant will strengthen and is more likely (if that’s the look you are going for!) to achieve its full height potential.
When a hedge is well-maintained and pruned regularly, it will maintain its shape, and you will be in control. Pruning a hedge is not a difficult task, and a well-maintained hedge is achievable without too much effort.
Formal deciduous hedges
The phrase ‘formal deciduous hedges’ refers to deciduous hedging that is there to look smart! Hedging plants such as Buxus, yew, and Leylandii generally fall into this category. The conifer hedges can require pruning two or three times a year to keep them under control.
Informal deciduous hedges
The hedging plants most likely to fall under the ‘informal deciduous hedging’ category include lavender, berberis, and roses. The precise timing for pruning these types of hedging plants depends solely on when they flower. Plants that flower on the current wood need to be pruned earlier in the year, around early to mid-spring. The hedging plants that flower on wood from previous years require pruning once the flowers have died.
Which tool should I use for pruning my hedge?
Plants are great ‘n all that, but hey! Let’s talk about gardening tools!
- Hands shears? If you have a short length of hedging to prune, then these might be the economical choice. If it’s going to take you more than half an hour or so, though, I’d really recommend a battery, petrol, or electric hedge trimmer; give your arms a chance!
- Make sure all of your equipment is kept maintained and you are using it to complete the jobs they were intended for.
- Make sure you are using all appropriate safety equipment. Electric hedge trimmers should be plugged into a safety socket that has a residual current device (RCD) fitted.
Hedge pruning methods
- Prune the top of the hedge flat. This, unfortunately, is easier said than done. There are helpful tips ‘everywhere,’ but the best advice is really your own experience. Don’t worry too much about the hedge being a little bumpy in places; you’ll be better next time!
- Prune the sides. This is best completed in long sweeps with an electric hedge trimmer. Make sure you take you time to complete this job. Step back and look at your work from different angles to make sure you are achieving the look you are going for.
With informal hedges, there is a little more leeway than with formal hedges, but you still need to take your time and keep an eye on your pruning as you go.
- You might like to let your informal hedge grow naturally to grow into its own shape. This does not mean that it doesn’t need pruning! Remove older stems with care and keep longer branches under wraps to maintain the plant as a whole.
There are a variety of reasons that you might choose to grow a dwarf hedge. You could grow them as borders around your vegetable patch, or as a low-growing maze.
- For dwarf hedges that are used to edge another area, you should be thinking about pruning twice a year.
- For dwarf hedging plants such as lavender or box, you should prune once in the spring and then again in the summer.
- Top Tip: use two stakes and some string to make a straight line that you can cut between; make those flat edges really flat!
After pruning your deciduous hedges
Once you have finished pruning your hedge is it time to give it some love.
- Water and …
These pruning requirements don’t sound as tricky as I thought! What plants are out there for a good hedge?
If you don’t have either a formal or informal or deciduous hedge at the moment but are won over, here are my:
- Top three suggestions for formal deciduous hedges
- Top three suggestions for informal deciduous hedges.
Top three suggestions for formal deciduous hedges:
Carpinus betulus (hornbeam) requires pruning once, in the mid- to late summer
Carpinius trees and shrubs develop a grey trunk and have hop-like, 8cm, catkin clusters that appear in the spring. They are mainly grown for their stunning foliage, which is ovate and ribbed, the 5-8cm leaves becoming yellow in the autumn.
Maximum height: 12m or higher
Maximum spread: 4-8m
Time to maximum height: 50 years or more!
Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn) requires pruning twice a year. Once in the summer and once again in the autumn.
Crataegus is a small, rounded tree that usually has spiny branches and toothed or lobed leaves. Their flowers are creamy-white clusters, which are then superseded by black or red fruits. The leaves are glossy and lobbed. Some varieties of Crataegus have beautiful autumn colour.
Maximum height: 4-8m
Maximum spread: 4-8m
Time to maximum height: 20-50 years!
Fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea (copper beech) requires pruning once during the late summer.
Fagus are large deciduous trees with a smooth, grey bark. They are grown for their stunning dark purple leaves. Unique spiny fruits follow the autumnal leaf display.
Maximum height: 12m+
Maximum spread: 8m+
Time to maximum height: 50 years or more!
Top three suggestions for informal and flowering deciduous hedges:
Berberis thunbergii ‘Fireball’ requires pruning immediately after flowering
Berberis can be either deciduous or evergreen. They usually bare spine-toothed on spiny shoots. The flowers are orange or yellow, with small berries following on. ‘Fireball’ is a compact and low-growing shrub. The foliage is brights read and the flowers are yellow.
Maximum height: 0.5-1m
Maximum spread: 0.5-1m
Time to maximum height: 10-20 years
Forsythia × intermedia ‘Spring Glory’ requires pruning after flowering to take out some of the older stems.
Forsythia have simple leaves that are sometimes lobed. The flowers are yellow and tubular. The Forsythia flowers copiously in the spring before the leaves appear. ‘Spring Glory’ spreads well and its yellow flowers appear on leafless stems.
Maximum height: 1.5-3m
Maximum spread: 1.5-3m
Time to maximum height: 5-10 years
Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ requires pruning in the spring to remove any thin twig-like stems.
Rosa can be either deciduous, semi-evergreen, or a climber with thorny stems. The leaves are pinnate and the stems bare 5-petalled flowers before purple or red fruits. ‘Alba’ has glossy green leaves that turn yellow in the autumn. The ‘Alba’ has white, fragrant, single flowers, with a diameter of 9cm. The ‘Alba’ has scarlet hips that are bigger than most other similar Rosa varieties.
Maximum height: 1-1.5m
Maximum spread: 1-1.5m
Time to maximum height: 2-5 years.
Some of those won’t reach their full height in my life time!
When choosing which hedging plant you would like to plant research is key. Make sure you know how big the plants could ultimately grow, and that you understand how long it might take those plants to reach that height. There is a wonderful Greek proverb that suggests we shouldn’t worry how long it takes!
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
I hope that I have shown you that pruning your formal or informal hedging plants is not as complicated as it might first seem. If you really do not have space for a hedge in your garden, most of these plants also make wonderful garden plants in their own right. Check with the grower or on the RHS website to make sure your garden’s conditions are suitable and get planting. There are so many other plant choices out there! If you don’t fancy planting my suggestions, why not visit a garden centre and ask for their expert advice?!
Legal considerations when working in your garden:
“It is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. The bird nesting season is usually considered to run from 1st March to 31st July (though it may last longer for certain species or multiple broods so always check if in doubt).”