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Box hedge topiary
In this guide we will show the benefits of hedge trimming and topiary to allow you to feel more confident in your own pruning practices.

Pruning can take place between early spring to late summer. The plants natural dormancy means that trimming in winter months is unnecessary.

  • Whether using shears or mechanised tools, hedge trimming makes for a great upper body workout. Make sure to take breaks if working over a prolonged period and not overexert yourself.
  • Hedge trimming can be creatively satisfying. Whether it be creating cubes, balls or thinking further outside the box (pun intended) to create caterpillars or arbitrary shapes, it’s your imagination that leads the way to the outcome.
  • Even if you make a mistake, nature is forgiving and few things are finite when working with it. It shouldn't take long for a correct shape to be restored from the hedges as they grow out naturally.
  • The tender green growth collected at the end of the day is great for composting. The greener leaves provide nitrogen and the browner woodier growth gives carbon to your compost pile.
  • If the cuttings you have are overly leggy or twiggy, you can go over it with a mower to make it easier to break down. If you do not have a compost pile, the cuttings can be placed in an unused corner of the garden to provide dense habitats for wildlife to enjoy.
  • Due to risk factors concerning sharp tools this is not the most obvious choice of task for younger ones to take part in. Should your child feel they particularly want to be involved in hedge trimming, you can utilise small scissors to let children tidy up the base of a hedge.
  • Children may also enjoy being involved in leaf clearance once the pruning has been done. Small rakes or two pieces of cardboard to act as leaf grabbers mean little ones can find occupation in stuffing and stamping leaves into bags and gain a sense of accomplishment from it.

Tools of the trade include hedge trimmers, shears (single hand varieties are available) and secateurs. Hedge trimmers are good for working on large areas and run on either electric or petrol power. Try to avoid using hedge trimmers above head height as this can increase the risk of injury.

Shears work well on smaller hedges and are good for cleaning up corners and harder-to-reach areas. Secateurs are good for specific cuts on laurels or larger leaved bushes to get a more precise finish.

The more you trim your hedge, the denser and more compact it remains. Otherwise it can become bushy and uncontrolled. Three trims should be the minimum requirement to keep your hedge looking tidy throughout the summer.

Make sure your tools are sharp and oiled to ensure you get a clean cut and avoid damaging your plants. It’s also worth being safety conscious and wearing gloves, goggles if available and avoiding open topped shoes. Make sure if using an electric hedge trimmer to be aware of where both the blade and electric cord are at all times and do not work in wet weather.

Use canes, string and spirit levels if necessary to help you get a clean straight line. This should only be needed on the first cut in spring to establish shape over the coming summer. Cardboard templates can also be useful to cut out more imaginative designs that can be laid over your hedge and cut around.

Make your hedge taper in towards the top slightly. This ensures the base of the hedge is still able to get sunlight and does not end up lacking compared to the rest of the hedge.

Topiary hedge cutting

Box hedges commonly used in low level hedging for bedding and borders, as well as creating smaller sculptural designs. Small densely bound leaves create a clean line but will not act as screening around properties. Sadly, this hedge has recently been susceptible to the Chinese box caterpillar, which has laid waste to many box hedges around the country.

Euonymus acts as a good alternative to box with its low growing habit and compact leaves. It can grow up to 1 metre in height and is shade tolerant in habit.

Privet is similar to box but grows larger in size and is commonly seen in many gardens. It is used effectively in large mazes and to create larger topiary designs. It can grow in full sun or partial shade and can grow up to 4 metres tall and 4 metres wide.

Yew is fast growing and can be used for either large or small hedging needs. There are also ‘arils’ that look like berries but are inedible that are present from late summer to autumn.

Griselinia is also worth a mention due to its attractive, bright and smooth leaves. The leaf size allows for it to be pruned with shears or alternatively it could benefit from a more precise and considered cut using secateurs.

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