Properly Prune Your Hedges
Post by Bob Mertens; Horticulture Program Specialist
We often receive calls from customers complaining that their hedges are leggy and leafless at the bottom and what can be done about it. Some people even ask us what small plants could be installed in front of the hedge to block the leafless area from view. The answer is not to hide the offending hedge but to prune it properly in the first place.
Unfortunately, too many hedges are pruned upside down with the top of the hedge wide and the bottom narrow. This causes a slow decline because the sun is unable to get to all parts of the hedge equally resulting in sparse, leggy growth and few leaves at the bottom yet plentiful growth at the top. Keeping the top of the hedge narrow and the bottom wide is vital to the health and proper look of the hedge.
Plant selection is an important consideration when planning a new hedge. The ultimate height at which you will maintain the hedge, the texture of the foliage, and whether or not you want a flowering hedge are all factors to be considered. Soil type, drainage, and sun or shade patterns will also be important parts of your plan. In other words, be sure to install the right plants in the right place.
Planting distances will vary depending on the initial size of your shrubs and how quickly you need them to fill in, however, do not install your plants too close together. Keep the mature size and shape of your shrubs in mind. A formal clipped hedge will require shrubs planted closer together than an informal hedge that maintains the individuality of the plants.
Always keep two rules in mind though: Trim hedges while the new growth is succulent and green and prune so that the top of the hedge is narrower than the bottom of the hedge. Also, over-pruning or pruning at the wrong time of the year may cut off flowers or flower buds thereby eliminating blooms.
Old hedges that have become leggy and worn out looking can often be rejuvenated by careful selective pruning. Rejuvenation usually is carried out in the late winter or early spring over a three year period depending on the type of shrub of which the hedge is composed. One third of the old stems are removed the first year then one half of the remaining old stems are removed the second year. All of the remaining old stems are removed the third year. In the interim, any new shoots that grow out of bounds can be headed back.
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For more information on pruning hedges, see the publication below: