How to trim hedges and bushes: tips and tricks

How to trim hedges and bushes: tips and tricks

Good weather spells are on the way: barbecues, summer parties and sunbathing – which means that you’ll need your garden to be guest-ready for when the sun comes out.

Along with pruning flowers and freshening up patio furniture, there’s also the matter of manicuring any overgrown hedges and bushes. Whether you’re cutting back branches, trimming foliage, looking at how to cut tall hedges or trim an overgrown hedge, you’ll want to get it right the first time. To learn how to cut a hedge like a pro, read our top tips, below.

How to cut a hedge


While it might seem like a daunting task, there are, in fact, only two tools you need to trim foliage: hand shears and a hedge trimmer. If you’re snipping away at small, untidy shrubs or have a few thick branches you can’t stand the sight of, then you’ll need shears. If, on the other hand, you’re cutting long and tall hedges, you could benefit from a wide-sweeping hedge trimmer for an even cut.

Not sure what to look for in a quality hedge trimmer? Keep an eye out for ergonomic features, such as extendable arms and adjustable cutting heads. The Gtech HT50 Hedge Trimmer, for instance, has a long-reach telescopic arm (cutting up to 10ft tall) and comes with a cutting head that rotates at 135° - ideal for reaching awkward angles. Best of all, as it is a cordless hedge trimmer, you won’t run the risk of tripping over leads or feeding cords through windows.

TOP TIP: Whether you’re using shears, hedge trimmers or both, you should keep your tools sharp and well-lubricated. Leave them untended and you could end up with a dull blade and frayed finish.

Formal hedges

When trimming a formal hedge, you’re best off using a hedge trimmer. Knowing how much to trim hedges isn’t always easy: really it’s personal preference. If hedges mark boundaries between yours and your neighbours’ gardens, don’t cut them too short if you want privacy!

  • 1. Decide how much you want to cut off your hedge.
  • 2. If the hedge isn’t too big, you can probably trim it by eye. If not, put two wooden stakes in the ground and attach a piece of string and put it a centimetre or two below your desired height.
  • 3. Start trimming the top of the hedge to make it flat.
  • 4. Cut along the sides of your hedge. Make sure that the bottom of the hedge is wider than the top, so it is in a wedge shape.

Informal hedges

To keep an informal hedge’s shape, make sure you prune it after it has flowered. These hedges should only be trimmed once a year, but you can leave them for longer if you prefer. You’re best off using hand tools rather than a hedge trimmer, because you don’t need to take as much off as you would with a formal hedge. Use appropriate hedge trimming equipment for the thickness of your branches.

What hedge trimming equipment do I need?

From light pruning to more radical changes, you’re going to need different tools to get the job done. We recommend getting the following hedge trimming equipment for the best results:

Secateurs: also known as pruning shears, secateurs are basically scissors you use in the garden. They are ideal for cutting small bits off your hedges and bushes to smarten them up. Secateurs are perfect for branches up to 2cm thick.

Loppers: loppers are essentially long handled secateurs, but capable of tackling thicker branches. The longer the handles, the less effort you have to put in yourself. Use loppers for any branches up to around 5cm in diameter.

Curved saw: for thicker branches, use a saw with a curved blade. For best results, do long, slow strokes – making use of the whole blade. Even the thickest branches won’t stand a chance.

Shears: think of your shears as a bigger version of scissors, ideal for cutting back overgrown hedges.

Hedge trimmers: unlike the other tools, hedge trimmers are machines, designed to make trimming easy. Their steel blades are powered by electricity, petrol or battery, and are perfect for tidying up your largest hedges and bushes.

How to trim tall and overgrown hedges

We recommend starting with the sides of the hedge first and working your way to the top. Cut flat along the tops of hedges up to 10ft tall, with our HT50 Hedge Trimmer using its adjustable cutting head. The head rotates through 135°, putting you in control of cutting the top of the hedge. The precision blade on our trimmer can cut through stems up to 15mm thick, making short work of overgrown branches.

How to trim hedges with electric trimmers

While precise hedge cutting might look challenging, it only takes a little know-how to finesse your technique. If you’re new to trimming, the first thing you should learn is how to hold your tool correctly. For hedge trimmers, the golden rule is to always keep the blade parallel to the hedge. This ensures a clean, evenly-shaped cut. You can also make the job easier on your arms by using wide, sweeping actions.

You’ll also want to cut the bottom wider than the top. Don’t worry, this won’t make your hedge look uneven. In fact, if you cut your hedge completely even, your top branches will eventually hang over the lower branches, leaving them in the shade (and we all know what happens when plants don’t get enough sunlight).

Struggling to cut through tough branches at the top? Just add on a specialist branch attachment. Our HT50 hedge trimmer, for instance, uses a branch cutter than can chop through branches up to 60mm thick.

TOP TIP: Remember to brush off trimmings as you go. Dead ends could spread fungal diseases later down the line.

When to cut hedges

There isn’t a right or a wrong time to cut hedges – it’s best to cut them when they need it. You may want to cut your formal hedges twice a year – once in the spring or early summer and again in the autumn, in preparation for the winter.

Informal hedges won’t need doing as often, so give them a tidy-up in July or August.

Animal wellbeing: when not to cut hedges

Wildlife, especially birds, tend to find a home in bushes and hedges. Before undertaking any hedge maintenance, always check to see if there’s a bird’s nest in your hedge. Deliberately damaging a nest is illegal, and disturbing birds may lead them to abandoning their eggs. If you’re planning to trim your hedge, keep an eye on it in the days leading up to it for any wildlife activity. If there is a nest, you’re best off extending your hedge cutting dates until the birds move on.

Hedge cutting tips

  • • Always check for neighbouring wildlife. It is a criminal offence to intentionally damage or destroy a nest, so keep a keen eye out before embarking on any trimming or pruning. You can read more about this in our blog post on hedge laws.
  • • To maintain your shrubs, lay down a mild feeding of compost or slow-release fertiliser before new growth begins.
  • • Struggling to keep a straight line? Simply attach a string to two wooden stakes. Drive them into the ground at either end of the hedgerow to give yourself clear boundary lines.

Ready to make the most of trimming season? Browse our cordless Hedge Trimmers to make the most of your outdoor space this summer.