Trimming back hedges and woody plants

Garden Life
Cutting back woody plants should be the first port of call for all gardeners as the new gardening year commences. Whether hedges, shrubs or trees; the correct cut is enormously important for new growth.

Observing rest periods when trimming

The rest periods of plants are less important for the plants themselves; rather they are far more vital to protect the birds nesting in them. During the nesting season, hedges and woody plants shouldn’t be cleared or cut down. This is because bird breeding areas are all too easily disrupted through hedge trimming.

Professional trimming

When cutting back woody plants, you should distinguish between three different types of trimming;

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

Cutting back to the trunk

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

Selective trimming

Varieties such as elderberry, dog rose, hazelnut or guelder rose, which rejuvenate themselves with the aid of soil-borne new shoots, should be thinned out around this time. Remove thick, older branches growing too close to one another and this should allow the thinner and younger branches more space to grow.

Other varieties which do not form such soil-borne shoots, e.g. the hawthorn, blackthorn, cornelian cherry or the black alder, should also be thinned out. Trees (such as the rowan) should be thinned out as well 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 take care to not destroy their natural growth shape.

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 your compost heap in stages. Alternatively, the finely chopped material can be used in garden beds as a mulch cover. Also you can chop up small quantities of cuttings finely and put them in your organic waste. If there is a large quantity of cuttings, it is better to take it all to your nearest organic waste collection point.
To further help the wildlife in your garden, an option is to erect an ecologically-valuable heap of brushwood from the cuttings, which for example can provide hedgehogs and birds with shelter.

Tip: Use your woody plant cuttings to create a deadwood hedge (the so-called “Benjes hedge”). Simply 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 and woody plants, which will continue to vitalise the refuge.