Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

February ‘is a great time to trim hedges’

After the cold winter season, green-fingered enthusiasts and gardening professionals alike are undoubtedly going to be very welcoming to the concept of getting back to work outdoors as the spring starts to make its presence felt.

However, before flowers really start to bloom as the season gets into full swing, there are some really important tasks to be getting on with to ensure that the green space is very thoroughly prepared.

First and foremost among these is undoubtedly making sure that all hedges are trimmed and kept in as best shape as is possible.

The UK's Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says that maintenance trimming should be carried out at least once a year for informal hedges and twice a year for formal growths – as these require a great deal more attention. Indeed, the RHS noted that some formal rows need to be cut back as much as three times a year – although this kind of maintenance is usually carried out between spring and summer.

It was suggested by the gardening charity that people with newer hedgerows may be well advised to trim earlier in the year than this. This is because new hedges need formative pruning in order to give them the shape that is desired. This is likely to be a requirement for the first couple of years of their life – and the task is best carried out at the end of winter or the beginning of spring – ie now!

Damian Mitchell – the gardener in charge of Lytes Cary Manor – emphasized the fact that February is the ideal month for tidying up hedges. In an article for the Daily Telegraph, he explained that the work should really be completed before the full onset of spring.

When it comes to the upkeep of formal hedges, the RHS suggested a guideline width of 60 cm – or two feet – adding that there is no need for a row to ever exceed this if it is regularly maintained.

They should also be slightly tapered at both sides so that the bottom – or base – of the plant is wider than the top. The importance of this consideration cannot be overstated, as this way all of the plant will have access to the sun's rays.

Informal hedges do not require quite as much attention, as maintaining them is much more akin to the pruning of regular shrubs. However, a degree of care and vigilance still needs to be exercised.

Misplaced shoots should be removed – and of course, the hedge will always need to be kept back to its required size. Secateurs or loopers are a good choice of gardening tool for the task, provided it remains practical to make use of them. This is particularly the case if the hedge has large, evergreen leaves, as this can help to avoid damage being made to them.

"Cut from the bottom of the hedge upwards, using the lower section of the shears, not the tip (that is what causes dig-in, or a pockmarked finish on the hedge)," Mr Mitchell advised, adding: "The tip is generally used later on in the cutting or on topiary."

"When cutting by hand you can spot problems and deal with them. At Lytes Cary gardeners train by hand first because it's more difficult to make a big mistake. With a powered piece of kit you can take out a big chunk very quickly, whereas it's a lot of effort to do that by hand, and I find that people learn to respect the hedge."

The expert added that straight lines are also desirable in a hedgerow – but this can be achieved through careful observation while cutting.