Your Guide to Pruning Hedges

Shaping plants into a formal hedge can be a wonderful way to create privacy or a backdrop in your garden, but it requires some maintenance to keep them looking good for the long term. Here are some tips on pruning hedges along with the tools to use, proper timing, and a few helpful tips.

your guide to pruning hedges

Pruning hedges is very different than pruning trees. While when pruning trees and shrubs I always suggest following the natural lines of the plant, hedges and topiaries are the exception. Because growing a number of plants together in a decorative shape fights against how the plants would naturally grow, it’s best to plan the hedge well and then keep up with the pruning during its lifetime.

Choose the Right Hedging Plants

First things first, make sure you’re growing a hedge with plants that respond well to being grown as a hedge. Hedging plants can be deciduous or evergreen; broad-leaf or conifers. The thing they all have in common is how they respond to heading cuts: by filling out.

Plants suitable for hedging will be noted “hedging plants” or “topiaries” on their plant labels. Some popular varieties are boxwood (Buxus), privet (Ligustrum), yew (Taxus), laurel (Laurus nobilis), barberry (Berberis), quince (Cydonia oblonga), Euonymous, holly (Ilex), juniper (Juniperus), Arborvitae, cedar (Cedrus), Pyracantha, and Viburnum.

hedge pruning 101: before


hedge pruning 101: after

Start Them Young

Plants that are trained from a very young age make for the best hedge. In the first two years, the plants will be cut back six to eight inches to encourage branching close to the core of the plant. In the third year, the hedge can be shaped. This will determine its structure as it grows to its final mature size. If the hedge isn’t shaped until after the plants have grown to their full size, there won’t be enough branching at the base to create a full hedge.

When the hedge is at the size and shape that you like it, the best way to maintain the look is to trim it frequently.



When to Prune Your Hedge

As a general rule, prune the hedge before the new growth blocks the sun from the lower leaves. As the lower leaves lose sunlight they begin to die off in favor of the new growth.

Some evergreens are quite quick growing and need to be pruned every four to six weeks in the growing season, while others may grow a bit slower and only need to be pruned once. The best way to determine how often to prune is to watch the growth and trim it before it begins to shade the leaves below.

Disclosure: a special thank you goes out to Fiskars for sponsoring this post and providing me with the set of pruning tools listed next. All of the opinions that are shared in this post are my own. See the full disclosure policy here. Check out the contest at the end of this post and you could be the lucky winner of your very own set of Fiskars Pruning Tools!

Hedge Pruning Tools

Many people use electric trimmers to prune a hedge but hand tools give you a cleaner cut and less damage to the branches. An electric hedging tool will tear and rip the branches leaving uneven cuts, while a hand tool leaves clean cuts that heal nicely and keep the plant healthy. Uneven cuts stress out the plant and are an open invitation for disease. Plus, there are many benefits to silent gardening as I previously wrote about in this post on Silent Lawn Care.

hedge pruning tools

Preparing to Prune

Before trimming your hedge, clear your workspace and remember it’s always best to wear safety goggles and gloves.  Additionally, you may wish to drop a tarp below your hedge to catch your clippings in order to make cleanup easier.

It can be challenging to maintain a uniform shape when pruning a formal hedge. It helps to use guidelines as reference points on where to cut and how much. You can achieve this by running a string line tied tautly between stakes along the bottom of the hedge to guide how much of the side to remove and running a string line along the top to guide how much of the top to remove.

using a string line

Clean and sharpen your tools before pruning. Keep a bucket of soapy water and a rag on hand to clean your tools in between plants if you are pruning multiple hedges. As cuts open up the wood to disease, it’s important to make sure you are keeping your tools clean.

Manual Hedging Tools

PowerGear2 Pruners


prunersUse PowerGear2 Pruners to clear out any dead, dying, or diseased wood. The branches of a hedge are thick and woody, so you will want a powerful set of pruners to make quick work of the project. PowerGear2 Pruners give you more power than standard pruners so you can cut thicker branches and use less effort.

POWER TOOTH® Softgrip® Folding Saw (7″)

guide to pruning hedges

Keep a POWER TOOTH® Softgrip® Folding Saw (7″) handy for cutting branches thicker than 3/4″ in diameter for PowerGear2 Pruners and 5/8” for standard pruners. The saw blades are incredibly sharp, so it’s best to keep it in the folded position until you need to make a cut. The good news is that it will cut the branch easily with those sharp teeth!

PowerGear2™ Hedge Shears (23″)

hedge pruning tips and tricks

The PowerGear2™ Hedge Shears are smaller and lighter than standard hedge shears and yet more powerful. This makes them very easy to use, especially if you are pruning a large hedge.

Start pruning at the bottom of the hedge and work your way up so that cut branches and leaves at the top can freely fall to the ground.

Shear the hedge in shallow layers to make sure you don’t accidentally expose bald spots in some of the shrubs. Position the blades at a right angle to the branches to get the cleanest cut. Be sure not to twist the branches or approach them at an odd angle, as they won’t cut cleanly.

If you use a string line, ensure that your shears are consistently parallel with your shrub to stay on track.  If you tend to go off line a little bit it’s not going to make a huge difference; the plant will grow and fill in the gaps. With practice, it will become second nature.

Power-Lever® Extendable Hedge Shears (25″–33″) 

prune hedges like a pro

If you have a high hedge, then the Power-Lever® Extendable Hedge Shears will make the job a whole lot easier! Extendable handles make high, hard-to-reach or awkward cuts easier. If the hedge is short enough, you don’t have to climb up and down a ladder a bunch of times. If the hedge is taller, you still benefit from telescoping shears because you can use a shorter and more stable ladder. This is particularly helpful in small spaces.

Power-Lever® Grass Shears

grass shears

After pruning your hedge, go back with Power-Lever® Grass Shears and PowerGear2 Pruners to clean up any of the little bits that pop up after shearing is complete and to remove any leafless branches that protrude. Grass shears are my go-to tool for finishing work. You can see how great they work on decorative topiaries here.

Repairing Damaged Hedges

If your hedge has become overgrown, or is bare or dying back, it can be hard to repair. Evergreen plants will not generally fill back in; it is better to replace the individual plants. Deciduous hedges will come back over time if carefully pruned when dormant.  Either way, it’s best to keep up with the job throughout the season and maintain your hedge properly than to fix problems once they arise.

hedge pruning

Giveaway Time!

Fiskars has generously agreed to GIVE AWAY a set of PowerGear2 Pruners, PowerGear2™ Hedge Shears (23″) , and Power-Lever® Grass Shears. The winner was Cindi Webber! Congratulations, Cindi!

More on Pruning

Pruning is just about one of my favorite things to do out in the garden. I love to shape trees and bring out their natural beauty. There are many people who are quite afraid of pruning and these guides are a great way to take the fear out of it!

About the Author : Stephanie RoseAn artistic gardener aiming to feed the body & soul through an urban potager garden & a community veggie plot in Vancouver.View all posts by Stephanie Rose

  1. Heather Raymond
    Heather RaymondAugust 29,17

    Thank you for the hedging information! Very helpful

  2. Barbara Peter
    Barbara PeterAugust 30,17

    I did some pruning this year while my bushes were dormant this year. Was able to really see what I was doing, and it made a huge difference in the way these bushes looked in this growing season.

  3. Deanna
    DeannaAugust 30,17

    Very useful info.

  4. Cynthia Olsen
    Cynthia OlsenAugust 30,17

    I can’t wait to use this helpful information about pruning! I have a new very old house with a garden full of many flowers and bushes. They are in dire need of attention and love. Thank you!

  5. victoria j ingham
    victoria j inghamAugust 30,17

    good information as always Thank you so very mush

  6. Lanelle Nelson
    Lanelle NelsonAugust 30,17

    I have a wild rose bush in my yard. it is huge and out of control. Can I hedge it in a formal looking bush<

  7. Cathy
    CathyAugust 30,17

    as a Master Gardener I often demonstrate pruning and these tools would be great to use when doing that.

  8. Linda
    LindaAugust 30,17

    Ah… we have just planted a laurel hedge and have left it to grow in the excessive heat in Vancouver this summer. Now I realize that I will have to trim the tops so that they can branch out below. Looking forward to seeing it grow.

  9. Johann DeWolfe
    Johann DeWolfeAugust 30,17

    Thanks for the timely advice. I just purchased my first home and it has lots of hedges. I was wondering how to care for them

  10. Missy
    MissyAugust 31,17

    Thanks, this is a very timely article with helpful information.

  11. Gayle Mathues
    Gayle MathuesAugust 31,17

    I can see from the tools used I need one of those long-bladed pruners! I have loppers which I thought were pruners! Very tiring to use those, so guess what will be on my Christmas list this year!

  12. nancy
    nancyAugust 31,17

    I have very tall redtip shrubs that I plan to cut back. Thinking if I cut out some of the middle branches, some sunlight will filter in and fill in the bare spots.

  13. Animeyt
    AnimeytAugust 31,17

    Very helpful, thank you!

  14. Eps
    EpsAugust 31,17

    Is there a best way to remove a hedge that has been poorly maintained and has multiple bald spots?

  15. Annie T.
    Annie T.September 1,17

    Great info! Thank you!

  16. Jill Jones
    Jill JonesSeptember 2,17

    Fiskars makes so many great products. I use Fiscars scissors for sewing and Fiskars clippers and shears in the garden. They last forever and are of terrific quality. Thanks for the hedge pruning tips!

  17. Janine
    JanineSeptember 3,17

    I have a very old privet hedge that I am working hard to rejuvenate. It stands between my house and the sidewalk so it is quite visible. It was covered in vines and even young trees grew within the mess. I’ve done my best to pull out the invaders. I pruned the dead wood and pruned to stimulate new growth. I am left with mostly bare sticks. Is there hope for my hedge or do I give up on it and replace? If I keep it, how can I control the aggresive mix of vines that continue to attack it each year?

  18. Be Bonner
    Be BonnerSeptember 3,17

    What is the best way to sharpen my hedging tools? (hedge trimmer, pruning shears)

  19. Poppy Black
    Poppy BlackSeptember 3,17

    When do I prune the brown parts of my evergreen hedge that have died over winter? How do I repair these parts if they result in the hedge being uneven?

  20. MARG
    MARGSeptember 4,17

    tHANKS FOR THIS GREAT INFO. The previous owners of our house planted several viburnam bushes along the lot line. Those things really grow!!! Are they too far along to treat like a hedge or do I just need to prune like a bush? You have really given good information. Thanks!!

  21. Meem Kaplan
    Meem KaplanSeptember 4,17

    Fiskers are Awesome tools! How great to have a giveaway. Thank you! Even if I don’t win them…. One thing my Pa always told me was that one reason hedges start looking bad at the base is because people trim them as close to vertical as they can. He taught me to look at trees and there is a reason they taper – to get sunlight…said that hedges should be wider at the bottom and narrower at the top. Doesn’t have to be very noticeable – just a bit wider at the bottom. He was a landscaper/horticulturist and he did really know his stuff!

  22. Susan
    SusanSeptember 5,17

    I have a very high and thick laurel hedge. What’s the best way to control the height?

  23. Karen Ellis
    Karen EllisSeptember 5,17

    Those hedge shears would be WONDERFUL as my yard is surrounded by a type of honeysuckle hedge that grows like wildfire. It is interspersed with wild grapevine, and at one point, was hanging over my four-foot chainlink fence and taking up almost four feet of my yard space. You see, the hedge is in my neighbors’ yards, not mine, and is a bear for me to maintain, because they do not! I am very familiar with Fiskars’ tools and their quality, and could use a good set of quality shears to make this chore a little easier! :)

  24. Cindi Weber
    Cindi WeberSeptember 6,17

    I would love a set hedging tools. Plus learning more about pruning is awesome, excellent information to have.

  25. Victoria
    VictoriaSeptember 6,17

    Great tips. The tools would come in handy around my house.

  26. Mary Wilson
    Mary WilsonSeptember 7,17

    I ve always wanted a good set of pruning tools. The bushes that I have needs a good set. And these are looking real good in my hands. . I feel this is the only kind of art i know. And the info is great on ech tool. Cross my fingers.

  27. Jo Rea
    Jo ReaSeptember 7,17

    If I deeply cutback my boxwoods will they fill back in or should I replace since they are too tall? What boxwood is slow growing and stays at a knee level or lower height? Thanks

  28. Elaine
    ElaineSeptember 7,17

    I tend to avoid pruning because I’m never sure how much I can take off. Thanks for all the help up information and the chance to win fabulous tools.

  29. Deborah W.
    Deborah W.September 7,17

    My husband tries to do the pruning around our property. The tools he uses aren’t the best or the sharpest. These Fiskers would be great to use on our shrubs and trees.

  30. Evelyn Lynch
    Evelyn LynchSeptember 7,17

    Thanks for the great info!

  31. Debbi
    DebbiSeptember 7,17

    I have always preferred ‘silent’ pruning, both because I prefer the results and because I find using noisy power tools tends to raise my stress levels, definitely not what I am going for when I work in the yard!

  32. Susyn Stecchi
    Susyn StecchiSeptember 7,17

    I don’t mind pruning if I have good equipment that makes the job easy.

  33. Suzanne G
    Suzanne GSeptember 7,17

    Thanks for all the great information on pruning. I love the look of the folding saw which would be much safer than the one I use.

  34. John Collett
    John CollettSeptember 7,17

    Good article on pruning Fiskars pruning tools are durable and effective.

  35. AS
    ASSeptember 7,17

    Good set of pruning tools-great idea. We have 2 Chinese holly bushes, at one time a landscaping company (hired by condo) without asking us decided to “help” pruning bushes. They did this with the power tool…we were extremely unhappy. Thank you for the article, very useful info.

  36. connie
    connieSeptember 7,17

    We have a dwarf apple tree and have never trimmed it; needless to say, it is really tall (5 years old). Okay, if we prune it, when is the best time of the year. We have heard early Spring and also in the Fall, which is the reason we haven’t pruned it yet. We purchased another dwarf apple tree and have only had it 2 years, so it is still pretty small. Have never pruned before, so am a little anxious. Have seen the different discussions on this website re: pruning.

  37. sharon weaver
    sharon weaverSeptember 7,17

    Thanks for the great pruning information, it would be awesome to have a whole set of different implements to do the job perfectly!!!

  38. Dawn
    DawnSeptember 7,17

    I am looking for advice on how to prune back our VERY unruly lilac bush. We let it get too big because we loved all the blooms, but now it is a mess. We cut some of the older thicker branches out, but it is all saggy now. Wondering if we should cut it all the way down to a few feet tall to let it start anew?

  39. Pat Plomgren
    Pat PlomgrenSeptember 7,17

    I have LOTS of boxwoods that I hand prune (my husband uses the electric shears! UGH) as well as LOTS of ficus all over my garden. I loved all the pruning advice and will pass it along to my husband. The shears and hand pruners are a must for any garden especially one with lots of pruning to stay on top of

  40. Janet Kynerd
    Janet KynerdSeptember 7,17

    Great article on pruning – we sure have a lot of this to do, so would love to win the give away. You can’t beat Fiskars tools.

  41. Traci Winyard
    Traci WinyardSeptember 7,17

    Thank you for the helpful information. I had not known to start trimming at the bottom. Great idea!

  42. A Whitlock
    A WhitlockSeptember 8,17

    I have several rose bushes that need to be trimmed, as they have lots of dead wood in them, but I always heard to only trim rosebushes in the early spring. They are very old, ever-blooming tea roses. Is it okay to trim out the dead stuff and crossed stems in the fall, or do I have to wait for March (or so) to do it?

  43. Laura Weismann
    Laura WeismannSeptember 10,17

    I have many shrubs and I’ve just learned many new things from this article , that’s fantastic !!

    YALALA HASTINGSSeptember 10,17

    Enjoyed reading the article on pruning good information, thank you

  45. Lawrence Croft
    Lawrence CroftSeptember 10,17

    great information. I think keeping tools sharp help a lot also

  46. Sue McElroy
    Sue McElroySeptember 10,17

    Thank you so much for your helpful information that a lot of people don’t know! I would love to win the set of awesome hedging tools. They would make our work a lot easier! Thank you for the opportunity for a chance to win! Sue McElroy

  47. Barbara Consbruck
    Barbara ConsbruckSeptember 10,17

    Some very useful information.

  48. Karen Hensley
    Karen HensleySeptember 11,17

    Thank you for this information but I am still not sure what to do my privet hedges over the years have branches on the bottom that have died away and not filled back in so do I need to replace them or will they eventually grow back over time. We have always trimmed the hedges but we used electric trimmers.

  49. Linda Hbbard
    Linda HbbardSeptember 14,17

    Sincerely need new pruning tools by Fiskars!

  50. Gloria marquez
    Gloria marquezSeptember 14,17

    When is the best time to prune hedges and besy way to sharpen tools

  51. Saundra Bowers
    Saundra BowersSeptember 15,17

    How about watering, or dry the conditions are for pruning. Is it best before or after rain to prune?

  52. Cindy Brillant
    Cindy BrillantSeptember 17,17

    We have about 25 bushes surrounding our house, the landscaping looks so nice, but the up keep is horrendous if you don’t have the right tools.

  53. Susan P.
    Susan P.September 17,17

    I use my Fiskars loppers and pole saw to prune my Jatropa bushes and the Mimusops tree. We have to prune year-round since we are in a tropical climate.

  54. Mary Wright
    Mary WrightSeptember 18,17

    When pruning, think of the Pyramids – wider at the base than the top to allow sunlight to hit all leaves. Stay away from unnatural shapes when pruning. Balls, cubes and other odd shapes are not found in nature for a good reason.

  55. madalin stunt cars 2
    madalin stunt cars 2September 26,17

    as a Master Gardener I often demonstrate pruning and these tools would be great to use when doing that.

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