General Advice

Pruning Hedges

Tony Matson - Friday, March 16, 2018

Hedges are very popular as they not only can provide a formal element to your garden design, but provide privacy and screening from your neighbours.

When to Prune?

There are lots of times during the year when you are able to prune - during the dormant season, all the way to spring.  Pruning promotes new growth.  You don't want to prune in Autumn - reason being is that it will promote growth and the winter temperatures will damage the new growth.

How Often?

Most well established hedges should only require pruning twice a year, once at the beginning of Spring, when the plants are showing new growth, then once again at the beginning of summer to maintain shape.

Newly established hedges do require a bit more attention in their first few years.  Tip-prune all the plants regularly in the first few years before they have reached their final height.  This encourages thick healthy growth and is important to establishing an attractive formal hedge.

Tools required:

Hand shears are the best choice for the home gardener.  They allow much better control and allow a closer and cleaner cut without the noise.  You will not get shredding or burning that some motorised hedgers will give.

Secateurs - recommend a ratchet or normal pair of secateurs to cut larger branches which are too big for hedging shears.  

Rule of thumb is that you shouldn't cut branches which are bigger than a 'lady's little finger' in width with hedging shears.   This will preserve the scissor type cutting action of the shears.

Pruning Saw - can also be used for the woody sections of a hedge if cutting right back.

String and 2 stakes or poles to create a straight line as a guide to pruning.

Motorised hedger if hedges are extremely long.

How to Prune?

  1. Prune out dead or diseased branches first
  2. Set up your stake and cord to get your height/ line
  3. Start at the top - flat along the top.   Decide if straight or round/ curved edges are required
  4. Trim back new growth by tip pruning, work down sides
  5. Feed and mulch after hedging plants to encourage healthy and vigorous new growth
Ref:  Angus Stewart, "how to prune a hedge in 7 simple steps"

Anvil versus Bypass Secateurs

Tony Matson - Tuesday, November 07, 2017
I often give talks at Garden Clubs and ask the question "What is the most important tool in the Garden Shed?"  Invariably the answer is 'secateurs' so I though it would be worth discussing the merits of Anvil vs. Bypass Secateurs.  Many people have more than one pair. 

Anvil secateurs have an upper blade that is sharp both sides and cuts down onto a flat lower 'anvil'.  This anvil can be metal or have a hard plastic insert.  The action is much like a guillotine or a knife on a chopping board.  With a blade sharp on both sides, pruning harder stems will be easier. For tougher or woodier stems, a pair of anvil secateurs is recommended. The majority of ratchet secateurs are of the anvil design.  Some people suggest that anvil secateurs shouldn't be used to cut green material because it will be squashed rather than cut.  However, there are a lot of experienced (mature) gardeners that find the ratchet anvil secateurs very useful. Anvil secateurs are also good for both right and left handers.  The top handle is flat and the safety latch is in the central position.   As indicated, ratchet secateurs are extremely popular with gardeners with tendonitis, arthritis and/or those with declining strength.  Most of these people have lovely gardens and are not causing their plants to die by using anvil secateurs. 

Bypass secateurs have a convex shaped blade, sharp only on the outer edge cutting down beside an anvil or non-sharp hook concave in shape.  The anvil or hook is typically smaller on bypass secateurs.  Bypass secateurs are the most common type, used for pruning live stems and where you need to make sharp, precise cuts.  They are more suitable for cutting softer, stringier living stems as the blade cuts all the way through the stem.  Bypass secateurs can cut smaller stems right against a larger stem and due to this functionality nursery people will typically use this type of secateur. The majority of bypass secateurs are designed for right handers with a tapered handle, with the outside edge of the blade on the right side and safety latch controlled by the right thumb.  Harder or dead stems may cause the stem to bend rather than be cut, and get caught between the blade and the hook.  This can cause the two sections to separate resulting in damage to your secateurs.

In summary - for the average gardener who is not grafting or propagating either the anvil or bypass secateurs will be suitable.  In an ideal situation where either blade is sharp you will get a nice clean cut on living tissue.  The anvil secateurs are more useful for harder wood as both sides of the blade is sharp and since the blade is like a guillotine, is less likely to cause damage (separation of the blade and hook). These are very effective with lots of shrubs to prune, or cutting up to stems for the compost bin.  They also are invaluable if you are loosing strength or have arthritis or tendonitis.   If you are cutting flowers and herbs/ spices I recommend bypass style secateurs.  Whilst there is a lot to be said for using the "right tool for the right job" it is more important to get the right secateurs for you.  In addition to cutting action, check hand size and weight of the tool.