Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

Now that September is upon us, it’s a great time to give your ev­er­green hedges a fi­nal trim for the year. This way, you will have a fresh-look­ing but tidy hedge through the au­tumn and win­ter.

Cut­ting now al­lows time for plants to harden off — there’s still a lit­tle warmth in the soil to al­low for some new growth, and tem­per­a­tures should slowly cool, al­low­ing your plants to ad­just with­out too much of a shock. So whether it’s a privet, box, Ley­land cy­press, holly, lau­rel, yew, vibur­num, thuja or Law­son’s cy­press that you need to tackle, here’s my handy guide.

What equip­ment do you need? A hand­held shears, if suf­fi­ciently sharp, will be fine for smaller jobs. Th­ese are im­ple­ments which are easy to have good con­trol over, and would be my pre­ferred op­tion for jobs that re­quire pre­ci­sion, such as clip­ping box balls. How­ever, big­ger stretches of hedg­ing will ben­e­fit from some power tools. Safety with power tools in a gar­den must al­ways come first, so if you are us­ing an elec­tric hedge trim­mer, al­ways use an RCD — this is a cir­cuit breaker that will au­to­mat­i­cally dis­con­nect the elec­tric­ity if you ac­ci­den­tally cut through the ca­ble. This, un­for­tu­nately, is a more com­mon oc­cur­rence than you may think.

A safer op­tion is a bat­tery-op­er­ated cord­less de­vice: th­ese are lightweight and, with lithium bat­ter­ies, can keep go­ing long enough to get the job done. There are also petrol-op­er­ated trim­mers but th­ese tend to be a bit heav­ier. And put a tarp or bit of plas­tic down to col­lect the clip­pings, which can go straight to the com­post heap after­wards.

Next, what shape do you want to achieve? A wedge shape or flat-topped A-shape is best for hedges — in other words, you want the base to be a bit wider than the top, so it should ta­per slowly in­wards. This is also known as putting a ‘bat­ter’ on a hedge. The rea­son for this is to al­low sun­light to get to the lower part of the hedge. If the base of the hedge is be­ing shaded by a wider top, it tends to get bare-stemmed. ‘Bat­tered’ hedges are also less likely to suf­fer snow dam­age.

Of course you may not want a flat top and pre­fer a dome shape. This is trick­ier to man­age, but a card­board tem­plate of the shape you like is a good way to achieve this, mov­ing the tem­plate along the top of the hedge as you pro­ceed.

Height is another con­sid­er­a­tion. There are reg­u­la­tions when a solid ev­er­green hedge climbs over two me­tres, as this can cause light- or view de­pri­va­tion to your neigh­bour, so keep this in mind.

If you share a bound­ary hedge with a neigh­bour, both of you are re­spon­si­ble for its up­keep, but you aren’t al­lowed to clip any part of the hedge that falls on your neigh­bour’s side with­out per­mis­sion. If a neigh­bour’s hedge is over­hang­ing into your gar­den, you’re en­ti­tled to re­move any branches that stray into your bound­ary.

Be care­ful when trim­ming conifers that you don’t cut back into old wood: they don’t re­ju­ve­nate from old wood and you’ll be left with bare patches. Yews are the ex­cep­tion to this rule — they can be cut back hard if you deem it nec­es­sary, but such a hard prune would be bet­ter done in spring.

If you’re grow­ing a conifer hedge and it hasn’t achieved the de­sired height, don’t cut the leader shoots at the top yet as this will sti­fle growth; just clip the side of the hedge. When clip­ping cherry lau­rel ( Prunus lau­ro­cera­sus), you might no­tice that, be­cause it has large leaves, some of th­ese get cut in half. It’s a good idea to go over the hedge with a se­ca­teurs and re­move th­ese, as they will de­velop a black mar­gin that spoils the look of a hedge. Don’t be tempted to feed hedges now — new fresh growth en­cour­aged by ni­tro­gen-rich fer­tilis­ers can be burnt in early frosts.

And, fi­nally, re­mem­ber the birds. For them a hedge can be a home, a nest­ing place. The Royal So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Birds rec­om­mends leav­ing hedges alone from March to Au­gust, which is the main nest­ing sea­son, but it is an of­fence at any time of the year to in­ten­tion­ally de­stroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use.

It’s al­ways a good idea to wear pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and even ba­sic safety equip­ment for hands, ears and eyes. Never have loose bits of fab­ric, such as sleeves or even rope-type ties from hood­ies, flap­ping about. Th­ese can get caught and pull you to­wards mov­ing equip­ment, re­sult­ing in in­jury or worse.

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