Proper trimming techniques will keep shrubs and hedges healthy and liven up your landscape. Here's what you need to know.
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The best time to prune depends upon the plant.
You can do light trimming throughout the year.
Pruning directs growth, allows light and air to reach the plant and removes the excess weight of damaged and diseased branches.
Before you start, lay a tarp down to make cleanup easier.
Remove growth you don't want, then thin out spots of thick outer cover. The inner limbs need air and sunlight, so cut back along the branch just above new growth or at the plant base — avoid electric trimmers for this. Trimmers just top the shrub, encouraging new growth near the cut. Cutting farther back will encourage growth along the limb.
Remove suckers — small branches that grow at the base of the trunk — and watersprouts — small limbs that grow vertically on dominant branches. Both take nutrients away from the desirable portion of the plant.
Remove any dead limbs near the base. If possible, avoid making the top of the shrub wider than the base — you want sunlight to reach the entire plant. Cut only about 1/3 of the shrub each year. The holes you're creating will fill in with new growth, making the plant fuller and stronger.
Bushes such as boxwoods can be shaped for a more formal look. First, do some general trimming as described above.
To cut straight lines, you can use your house, siding or other objects as a guide. Some pros use stakes and strings as guides. Set them up along the hedges but don't set them too deep into the cover. Use a level to position the strings if you really want perfection.
Slowly run a hedge trimmer along the top and sides, letting the blade do the work. Again, keep the base wider than the top. Step back every once in a while to check your work.