How To Prune Hedges To Grow Fuller

As with most answers to most situations in life, the answer to the seemingly simple question of “how do I prune a hedge to make it grow fuller and thicker?” is wonderfully complex and interesting.

To begin with, it does depend on what sort of hedge you have or want. The great garden designer, Beth Chatto, was famous for her ethos of “right plant, right place” and following this dictum already sets your hedge up for good health and thick foliage. If you are unsure what would suit you, do browse our extensive range of hedging plants. Each page has details concerning the best environment for that plant’s particular needs as well as trimming times for established hedges.

Having decided on your hedge, ordered it and planted it in the best way possible to give it a strong start in life, it is important to attend to some initial pruning. Now, before you run for the petrol-powered hedge trimmer, have a pause and think about the needs of your particular hedge.

Initial Pruning in Upright Plants

If it is an upright deciduous plant, such as a hawthorn or privet, then you’ve committed to the most complex formative pruning of them all. Stick with it though; it is worth all the hard work in the end.

To begin with, cut back the plant by about one third as soon as it is planted in winter. That first summer, gently trim the side branches to encourage thick and full growth. The following winter, ideally between February and March when the plants are dormant, shorten the new growth slightly and they will continue to bush out next season. Over the second summer, just trim the side branches again to make sure that the hedge tapers upwards with a broader base. This will mean maximum exposure to sunshine for your whole plant. Finally, during the plants’ second autumn, cut the leading shoots to the height you want your hedge to be; this will stop the plants growing too tall and encourage the hedge to grow outwards and thickly.

Evergreen upright plants, like Box, Escallonia and Lonicera Nitida, demand less rigorous initial pruning; cut back by a third once planted and do the same thing at the same time the following year.

Stocky Deciduous Plants

These plants are bushy at the base and include species such as, Forsythia, hazel and hornbeam. Initially prune immediately after planting by cutting back leading shoots and any side shoots by a third. Make sure you cut to a well-placed bud to encourage fulsome and healthy side growth. Do this again the second winter and you’ll have thwarted any hint of straggly plant and be rewarded with a thick hedge base.

Conifers and Evergreens

Plants such as the bay, cotoneaster, Leylandii, Pyracantha and yew all respond well to an initial prune. As soon as they are planted, don’t cut the leading shoot but prune any sprawling sideshoots. During the first summer trim those sideshoots as and when needed (using secateurs for broad-leaved evergreens like the bay and laurel). You will also want to tie the leading shoot on to a supporting cane to make sure the plants grow strong and tall.

Now What?

Well done! You’ve now set your hedge up for success. Once your hedge is established and flourishing then look at our When to Cut a Hedge information page for help maintaining all that thickness, health and vigour for years to come. Regular trimming at the right time of year will ensure a thick and full hedge that will be the envy of all.