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Trimming back hedges and woody plants

Cutting back woody plants is one of the first tasks to be conducted as the gardening year commences. Whether hedges, shrubs or trees; the correct cut is enormously important for new growth.

When trimming back hedges and woody plants, consider what wildlife my nesting.

During the nesting season, consider the wildlife that maybe using the hedges and woody plants as  breeding areas before you clear or cut them down.

Professional trimming

When cutting back the woody plants, we distinguish between: 

•  Cutting back to the trunk
•  Selective trimming 
•  Shape and care pruning

1. Cutting back to the trunk

Here the woody plants are sawn off at hand’s width up to approx. 20 cm over the floor, after which they will bud again later. In order to protect wildlife, however, no more than 1/3 of the length of a hedge should ever be cut back this far, as its inhabitants would otherwise suffer the sudden loss of their homes.

2. Selective trimming:

Varieties such as elderberry, dog rose, hazelnut or guelder rose, which rejuvenate themselves with the aid of soil-borne new shoots, are now thinned out. Here, thick, older branches growing too close to one another are removed, thus leaving the thinner and younger branches more space to grow.

Thin out other varieties which do not form such soil-borne shoots, e.g. the hawthorn, blackthorn, cornelian cherry or the black alder, by removing branches which are too close together, and by trimming back the remaining branches to the appropriate length.

In order to keep the plant looking attractive, always ensure when cutting back that you thin out the woody plants and adapt their size, but do not destroy their natural growth shape.

3. Shape and care trimming:

Here only the fresh new growth from the last gardening year is gently cut back in order to keep hedges and individual shrubs (e.g. box-tree spheres) in shape. 

Where should I put my cuttings? 

Cuttings can be chopped and small quantities can be added to the compost in stages, or the finely chopped material can be used in garden beds as a mulch cover. You can chop up small quantities of cuttings finely and put them in your organic waste. It is better to take larger quantities to the organic waste collection point.
Environmentally-conscious citizens can erect an ecologically-valuable heap of brushwood from the cuttings, which for example can provide birds with shelter.

Tip: Use your woody plant cuttings to create a deadwood hedge (the so-called “Benjes hedge”): stack the cuttings in a row and on top of each other. Soon, lots of different small animals and birds will inhabit the hedge, and it will provide refuge for herbaceous plants and woody plants which will continue to vitalise the refuge.


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