Hedges are so much more than just boundaries. In spring, flowers from hawthorn, blackthorn and wild cherry fragrance the air and feed busy pollinators. In autumn, bramble, hazel, dog rose and elder drip with fruits and nuts that are welcomed by us and animals alike.

Explore when and how to prune and plant hedges so that you can make the most of them year-round!

Take care

It is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.

When to trim native hedges

Don't prune to soon! If you live in the countryside you may have noticed that some hedgerows are cut after harvest, in late summer or early autumn, but this can be really harmful for birds.

Cutting between March and September may disturb nesting birds, and cutting after harvest seriously reduces berries available to overwintering birds that rely on this food source, such as fieldfare and redwing.

If you want to help out our feathery and furry friends, trim your hedge in February or March. A winter cut is also great for the hedge itself as the trees and shrubs are dormant so a shape-up won't stress them out.

How often should you prune your hedge?

A lot of native hedgerow shrubs only flower and fruit on the previous year's woody growth. With this in mind, you should cut hedges no more than every other year to help some species like hawthorn flower and fruit. 

If you're looking for a more formal look you may need to do keep things trim once to twice a year. Stay on the good side of birds and do this before and after nesting season!

Bear in mind though, that if hedge cutting is left until late winter it will help:

  • birds and mammals that rely on fruit to survive winter
  • early emerging insects that rely on spring flowers
  • moths and other animals that need shelter.
Did you know?

Hedges are generally 2m tall and 1.5m wide, and are continuous stretches of shrubs dotted with taller trees. 

Before you start

Pruning needs to be done correctly so that you encourage blossom and fruit, while improving the structure and overall habitability of the hedge. Remember that we recommend that you do trimming in February and March.

What tools do you need?

There are a range of tools that will help with the task of trimming your hedge:

  • secateurs - perfect for fine cuts
  • hand shears - great for small hedges.
  • electric or petrol trimmer - for tackling a large hedge
  • twine or string - good for setting out a line to follow
  • ladder - so you can approach cutting from the right height
  • Personal Protective Equipment. 

Safety first

Consider safety at all times, from how you're holding your equipment to the people around you.

  • Wear protective eyewear, heavy-duty gardening gloves and make sure your path is clear.
  • Check your shears, secateurs and hedge trimmer are in working order, well adjusted, clean, sharp and lubricated.
  • Make sure you have solid footing so you're not at risk of falling.
  • Get to know your hedge species. Make sure you know if you have any plants that are harmful, like laburnum.
  • If you're using an electric hedge trimmer place the cable over your shoulder so you don't trip up or cut it in half.
Did you know?

You should try and cut different sections of your hedge to different lengths every year so that there is a good structure.

How to trim your native hedge

Hedges could easily get out of hand, become leggy and turn into lines of trees. If you trim them right they will keep their structure.

Hedge trimming tips:

  • Assess and plan: start by looking at the shape of your hedge and how the limbs sit. Consider that your hedge's structure will attract different species – wren prefer the lower sections while bullfinch like the taller parts of a hedge. Set up your string line which will act as a guide and help keep your cuts level. Another thing to think about is whether you want to retain some of the current year's growth in order to see flowers and fruit next year. If you do you could plan to trim one side of your hedge in one year, and the other side the next. 
  • Shape your hedge: make a decision on the height and cut the topmost branches off to encourage the hedge to grow outwards rather than upwards.
  • Get your trimming technique right: when it comes to trimming your hedge you need to choose the right tool (see above). Keep the blade of your shears or hedge trimmer parallel and cut in a sweeping motion from the bottom of the hedge upwards if you are using an electric or petrol hedge trimmer.
  • Create internal structure: after you have given your hedge a good shape, reach into the hedge every metre and cut a stem just above a bud at a 45-degree angle so that rain can drip off away from the bud. This will make your hedge light and airy inside, instead of lifeless.
  • Keep trees in hedges as trees: they should be tall and can overhang, but should be trimmed if their growth interferes with public areas, such as roads or paths. If you're cutting back overhanging branches avoid removing the main structure of the hedge. Take branches that stick out back to where you would like them.
  • Maintain perspective: take a step back every now and again to get a better view of the overall result of your cuts. It is good practice to leave the base wide and taper upwards so that sunlight can reach all parts of the hedge.

How to plant trees and shrubs in a native hedge

When hedgerows become gappy they don't tend to perform very well as green corridors for wildlife. Poor maintenance or dieback due to pests and disease can cause this problem. Use native UK sourced and grown species that grow in the local area if you need to fill a gap.

Are there fast-growing shrubs and trees?

Willow and hornbeam are particularly fast-growing and can often be planted with blackthorn, hawthorn and hazel. These plants will most likely arrive as bare-rooted whips (800mm tall), so don't be surprised if they're small and twig-like! If planted and maintained correctly, they'll soon grow.

When and how should hedge species be planted?

These species should be used to fill in gaps during the dormancy period, from November to March. Use our tree planting advice or follow these six steps: 

  1. Plan your planting and order your bare-rooted whips at a time that you know that you'll be able to plant them. If you cannot plant them immediately you will need to keep their roots moist or 'heel' them in if you need a lot more time. 
  2. Set out two parallel string lines.
  3. Remove any weeds and roots from this area and, if possible, mulch with organic matter as this will help with water retention and feeding the roots.
  4. Plant in a zig-zag pattern, maintaining a 330-400mm gap between each plant.
  5. Water in your plants and if you're in your garden add a bit of bark mulch, to reduce water loss and weed growth.
  6. In the following spring, cut the shrubs above a growth point (bud) so that they are around 600mm tall – this will help the plant to bush out. Let your new hedge settle in for two years before you start trimming it.

Plant your own hedge

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