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How to Perfectly Trim Your Shrubs, Hedges, and Trees

Depending on where you live in the world, yard work can just be ending or just beginning, but one clear thing is that work is in the title that means you’re going to sweat a little bit when mowing your yard, trimming your hedges, and weeding your gardens.

The important thing about yard work is not that it will take up some great relaxing time because some people look at yard work as their downtime, it is the fact that doing it right can save you a lot of hassle and heartache at the end of your projects.

When you have hedges and bushes that need to be trimmed, it can be a little nerve-wracking due to a few questions like: how often do you trim these? How much should you trim off? How can you trim the hedges straight? And many other questions. Cleaning up can also be a bit of an overwhelming thought–however, if you continue to read on, you’ll find some quick and helpful tips on how to perfectly trim your shrubs, hedges, and trees each time.

Trimming Times Depend on the Plant

Trimming can (and should) happen throughout the year. However, if you have a plant that blooms early in the spring, make sure to trim those right after they bloom. Summer flowering plants should be trimmed in early spring, or the winter and non-blooming hedges or shrubs can be clipped after new growth has fully formed—this growth will be done when you begin to see a brighter color of your shrub formed over the entire plant.

Continue trimming the non-flowering shrubs anytime the plant seems to spawn overgrowth. You can trim these plants until about six weeks before your region’s first frost.

Avoid trimming when it’s not the plant’s normal trimming time. Light trimming to keep it from overgrowing is okay, but too much trimming will damage your shrubbery.

Make a Guide Post

To make things easier on you and to be able to cut straight across your bushes, add two guideposts at the end of your plant and tie a string across the expanse. When you are trimming, don’t go below the string length.

A good idea if you aren’t able to set up a guide and string post is never to cut off more than one-third of the plant. When you go below that, you are cutting off the newer growth, which may give expose this part of the plant to the sun and elements before it is ready.

A final note when you are looking to straighten up your plants is to look for any dead, broken, or diseased looking parts of your bush. If you see those, cut those off at the pass. This action will help let the rest of your hedge grow without taking the energy to hold onto dead leaves.

Remove Growth You Don’t Want

When you first begin trimming, shallow cuts are the best. Keep in mind that newer growth is underneath what you are cutting off. The newer growth does need light and air to maintain health. Once you cut off the growth you don’t want, the next best idea will be to thin out thicker parts.

When you are trimming these smaller areas and not evening your hedges out, make sure to use hand-held clippers and not electric trimmers as these can damage the plants when you are trying to make specific cuts.

Six is the Magic Number

When you have hedges, trees, and shrubs that butt up against your home, keeping them at least six inches away from your house is a good rule of thumb. Doing this will help keep the siding nice and avoid any other damage from sticks or dead leaves sticking to the side of your house.

Depending on the plant and how large it is, you can always trim up to twelve inches back. Just be aware that cutting deeply into smaller plants could cause irrecoverable damage.

Although six is the magic number to think about when you are trimming hedges close to your house or even when you are trimming any hedge around your property, remember to make shallow cuts. You don’t have to cut all six inches away from the house at once. Using small cuts will help you keep your bushes undamaged and will give you an even looking trim.

Tarps Can Help You Clean Up

Your first step can always be adding a tarp down to catch the clippings of your trimmed plant. Adding a tarp down first will help make cleanup easier and will give you less time doing the grunt work.

Always Go Bottom Up

This is fairly self-explanatory, but you should always start at the bottom and trim upwards. If you don’t have a guide, this action will help you keep your hedges similar and looking even.

When you are trimming from the bottom up, make sure to keep your base broader than the top of your shrubs. This shape will help keep a sturdy foundation to your plants and will help keep the healthier part of your plants covered well.

If you finish your trimming and notice that your shrub is more top-heavy, go back and thin out the top. This action will help keep your shrubs lasting longer too.

Helpful Tips

Remove suckers from the bottom of your plants. Suckers are small branches that grow at the base of the trunk and are too small to grow anything else (like leaves) on them. Suckers (or water sprouts) will take nutrients away from your plant and can reduce the amount of healthy growth your plant has.

Pruning and trimming are important because it removes excess weight on your plants, and allows light and air to reach the healthiest part of your plants. Giving your plants access to air and light allows your plants to remain healthy for years to come.

If you have taller hedges, purchase a hedge-trimmer with an extended reach and pivot cut. Getting these accessories will allow your hedge-trimmer to do most of the work and will help you avoid having to climb onto a ladder.

Resources—Lowes, This Old House, WikiHow

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