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The Right Garden Tools for Joyfully Trimming Your Hedges

Cutting hedges and mastering how to trim hedges can be both an art and a science. There’s something uniquely satisfying about sculpting, pruning and trimming your greenery into elegant hedge forms, lines and boundaries. But it’s a task that demands the right tools. In this guide, we’ll explore the tools that will turn your hedge-trimming chores into a joyous, creative endeavor. Whether you’re a seasoned landscape designer with over two decades of experience like me or an enthusiastic home garden maker, the perfect hedge-cutting equipment can make all the difference. Let’s transform your outdoor space and take pride in the beautifully trimmed hedges that grace your garden

(personally, I find it to be one of the most satisfying and addicting of the garden maintenance tasks)

How I trim the Hedges in my New England Garden

Don’t be fooled – New England is a jungle.

Ok, maybe not a tropical one (though give climate change a couple more years and who knows!) – but a jungle for sure.  

It took visiting a real live inextricable, impenetrable, jungle (aka the Peruvian Amazon) to realize I live in a jungle, of sorts.  

People around here like to call it ‘wooded’ and ‘leafy’,  but that’s just Yankee for primeval forest with a shin-tangle that will ‘disappear’ you.  

We also have strange violent creatures (fisher cats). Our noxious vegetation (poison ivy) can make you wish you were dead.  And, there are deadly bugs (ticks) and monstrous plants so dense they choke the life out of their neighbors. 

I’m mostly referring to Bittersweet, but in my garden there is also the formidable Forsythia hedge.  

before and after path clearing
My forsythia hedge flanks what used to be my only access path to get the mower to the back yard.

A year and half ago, when we put in a new path around the other side of the house, the forsythia path became a little less important. And I guess that’s all it took.  Hedge maintenance waned due to diminished use of the path and, well, you can see what happened.

Without regular traffic and regular trims to keep it from poking my eyes out as I rode past on the mower.  The hedge took over. 

Take a look….

before and after garden path clearing
This hedge needs to be pruned at least annually (sometimes more) to maintain a path wide enough to drive the mower around the house and not lose an eye.
Before and After - Path clearing in the Garden with pith and vigor.
Before and after – hedge trimming is super satisfying.

Trying out a machete for cutting a hedge

When I visited the actual Amazon, we hired a guide (his name was Mirco – pronounced MEER-co) who walked around with a giant machete hanging off his belt. It was very Temple of Doom and he used it to slash paths when we went searching for tarantulas and nearly extinct giant otters. 

He was elegant (in a ‘I can assassinate a panther’ if I need to, sort of way) – and his rhythmic swipes made jungle path clearing seem easy.  

Plants fell away in a quiet whoosh.  

Inspired, I returned home and was delighted to pacify my Laura Croft tendencies when I found a machete with the gardening tools at the hardware store. I couldn’t wait to hack my herbage with my own giant knife. But instead of powerful swipes that cleared everything in reach, I could barely muster clean cuts of jewel weed. 

I was a danger to myself.

battery powered hedge trimmer blades
The best tool for cutting hedges is a battery powered hedge pruner.

Here is a garden truth: Good Tools Make Good Work

It’s too easy to get burned-out, tired & frustrated with manual labor of garden maintenance.  And when that happens it is easier to call it a day and just go back inside.  We’ve all been there.  

I’ve learned over the years that knowing what tools to use, and investing in them can change everything.

It is the difference between quitting in frustration and exhaustion and instead feeling so empowered that you start looking for new ways to put your delightfully easy tools to use.

stihl battery powered hedge trimmer
Look for hedge cutting tools that are not gas powered. They are easier to maintain (no oiling required!) always at the ready (no stupid pull cords to start) and improvements have made them as effective and powerful as their gassy counterparts.

My forsythia needed a serious electric machete type of intervention and I was happy to see if the Stihl HSA 56 hedge trimmer could do the job. 

Could a battery powered hedge trimmer restore my swallowed up path? 

The HSA 56 arrived a few rainy days before I was set to leave on vacation.  Frustrated at wanting to use my new tool before I left, I was relieved to finally find a few hours of dryness at the last minute.  

Who knew I really only needed a few minutes? 

Rochelle Greayer using the stihl garden hedge trimmer form stihl
Me, hedge shaping like I was born for it.

Using an Electric Hedge Trimmer for Hedge Pruning

If you haven’t used an electirc hedge trimmer, you really ought to give yourself the joy.  It’s like a hot knife through butter.  Except the butter is a rangy mess of chewy branches. 

Pruning by hand was tedious and took hours and I avoided it (hence the overgrowth).  

Pruning by hedge trimmer took less than 15 minutes (maybe even less than 10!).  And it looked so much better.  Hedge shaping was easy (by hand you have to be some sort of zen master with clippers to get a smooth surface… but with electric hedge cutting, it is super easy)

And I felt elegant doing it. Like Mirco with his machete.

Before and After - Path clearing in the Garden with pith and vigor.
Before and after – hedge pruning is super satisfying. My path was safely resorted in a few minutes.
before and after garden path is restored
You will need to pick up all your branches – but a quick racking cleans up the mess.

Maintaining and pruning hedges in minutes

It was all over too fast.  I wanted more and I immediately went after anything that looked messy. 

Wild raspberries fell.  

Weeds were no match.

I even made something of that winter smashed boxwood ball that I was about to rip out. (I took off about 18 inches in diameter in less than a minute and I’m optimistic about a cute ball recovery) 

Wandering around the garden, I wondered what what else I can prune?  

The bittersweet running through my rhododendrons is about to get its comeuppance…  

I am starting to question my long standing stance that boxwood is better when naturally shaggy… 

Should I plant hedges for the sheer joy of cutting them into tidy lines?

I love wild meadows and naturalistic plantings that are embedded with neat shrubs (like may beloved Dutch Style Garden Design). That kind of contrast always catches my eye. 

I’d never have expected that a tool could be so inspiring that I’d want to create and plant things to use it on. 

Organizing the Garden Maintenance Tools

before and after garden too storage
Garden tool organization disaster.

Now that I have three battery powered tools, I’ve also added a Stihl battery powered tool wall organizer for the whole set. My garage is normally a cluttered mess and the tool hanger inspired me to get organized.

The batteries, charger, and all the tools have their own spot.   

Garden tool organizer makeover
After – the battery powered tool charging station that keeps everything powered and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

So now my garage is cleaner and tidier too.  Ahhh…

More Information about How to Trim Hedges:

When it comes to shaping and maintaining hedges, precision is key. Begin by selecting the right time of year for your region, typically during the late spring or early summer (but this varies and can often be fall or winter too), to ensure optimal growth recovery. It really depends on what you are pruning.

I often get asked – when it the best time for cutting hedges? There is no universal answer because plants need specialist care – but one sure time that is typically right for most trees, shrubs and plants is right after they bloom. If you prune before a bloom, you can stress a plant out, disrupt it’s cycles and miss out on it prettiest features.

Equip yourself with sharp, high-quality hedge shears or trimmers. Start at the bottom of the hedge and work your way up, using a smooth, sweeping motion to create a slightly tapered, wedge-shaped profile. (Cut hedges narrower slightly at the top than at the bottom – this will help the plant retain its ability to shed snow and water and not lose its structural integrity)

Remember to step back occasionally to assess your progress and maintain an even form.

For formal hedges, a taut string or guide can help achieve uniformity. Lastly, take care not to cut into old wood, as it may not regrow. With patience and attention to detail, your hedges will not only serve their practical purpose but also become stunning focal points in your garden design.

Other Garden Maintenance Tips and Trick can be found in these posts:

This post was sponsored by Stihl.

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  1. gardener says:

    This is such a nice article. Thanks for sharing it.

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