How to Grow: Pruning a Hedge

Learn how to prune and care for an evergreen hedge such as arborvitae, cedar and yews. This video has special instructions on the tools and techniques to keep the hedge healthy. For more garden videos, check out the National Gardening Association


Hi I’m Charlie Nardozzi of the National Gardening Association. Today I’d like to show you how to prune an evergreen hedge. Robert Frost once said “good fences make good neighbors”. Well plants make excellent fences. Deciduous, which are the plants that drop their leaves in the fall, and evergreen plants can be used to create a hedge. We can block the view, access or both. The kind of plant you use for your hedge really depends upon the look you want.

Deciduous hedges, such as lilacs, privet, viburnum, and forsythia create a beautiful, informal effect. They just grow in their natural shape and they only need to be pruned in late winter just to remove some dead or broken branches. Evergreen hedges, such as cedar, photinia and yews can actually be used to create a formal hedge effect. This is the one most people think of when they think of hedges. These need more attention and more pruning starting in early summer.

Before you get started though, you’ll need to have the right tool for the job. Manual hedge trimmers are probably the simplest and least expensive ones to use. They’re great for small, low growing hedges like boxwoods. If you have a large hedge, you’re going to have to have some kind of powered hedge trimmer. There’s three different types. There’s a gas, electric and battery-powered trimmer and each one has its own advantages. The gas-powered trimmers our large heavy, noisy, but very powerful. They’re the type that landscape professionals use. They really aren’t for a homeowner. For a homeowner, the best type are the electric hedge trimmers. The most common ones that are the lightest weight and least expensive are the corded ones. You simply put the cord in the back and it’s ready to run. These are great for hedges that are close to your house and, of course, you have to watch out for the cord. You don’t want to cut it as you trim your hedge.

If you have hedges that are further away from the house, a battery powered version of this electric trimmer might be best. These have little battery packs on them that have to be recharged after so many minutes, but they’re very portable. Whichever type of hedge trimmer you use you want to make sure you have safety goggles and gloves to keep your body protected.

Now we’re getting down to business. When trimming you want to prune your evergreen hedge into the soft, new  growth. That will allow the side branches to form and it will actually fill in better. There are a few types like the yews where you can actually prune into the old growth and have it fill in again. You want to prune your evergreen hedge when it’s still small like this one so it won’t get too big. If you wait until it gets really huge to the ultimate size, then it’s going to be hard to keep it the right size and you may end up scalping it. When you’re pruning this one, you’re going to want to start by having the bottom branches a little bit wider than the top. This will allow the sunlight to reach the bottom branches and keep it filled out. If not the bottom branches die and you have holes in your hedge. Cut into the new growth so you can create an even line from the bottom to the top. In cold, winter areas round the top slightly to prevent snow from accumulating on top of the hedge and potentially splitting the branches. Trim your hedges once or twice a year, depending upon the amount of new growth you have. You want to collect and compost the trimmings because they’re high in nitrogen, a good fertilizer. In no time at all you have a green wall of privacy and beauty right in your backyard.