Hedge your bets

Hedges are living barriers with many uses. You can plant them to divide the garden, provide shelter or simply as a border around a flower or veggie bed. Whatever your hedge’s purpose or its height, the following tips apply.

Start trimming young hedge plants soon after planting and long before they reach the final height of the hedge. Regularly snip back long shoots to encourage early branching and bushy growth. With large-leaved plants like this bay laurel you can simply pinch out the soft growing tips with your fingers or use secateurs.

When the hedge is the required height, trim it with hedge shears. To keep it neat, bay laurel often needs cutting about three times in the growing season. To make sure the top of the hedge is flat and level, keep cutting blades parallel to the top of the hedge. If necessary, run a string line between two sticks as a guide.

Timing is crucial with flowering hedges if you want them to flower. This camellia hedge receives only one good trim a year, immediately after flowering in early spring – camellia flower buds are initiated in summer on the ends of new shoots that grow after the trimming. Note the fat flower buds forming at the end of current season’s growth in this February photo. Any odd untidy long shoots can be cut off with secateurs in late summer or autumn.


You can get away with trimming box hedges twice a year, in spring and autumn, but if you want a very formal  formal, straight-edged look you might have to cut lightly more often. As with any hedge, it’s better to cut a little and often than to scalp it occasionally and leave unsightly bare patches.


There’s a wide range of plants you can use for hedging. Pictured (left) is the dwarf heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica ‘Pygmaea’ at Cornerlea Gardens in Auckland. It’s not a true bamboo but performs well in this shady spot. It needs trimming only once a year but is slow to reach this height. There are many native shrubs suitable for low hedges, including Coprosma cultivars ‘Cappuccino’ and ‘Royale’, and Pittosporum ‘Elfin’, all of which have very small leaves and a dense growth habit.


If insufficient light reaches the lower portions of a hedge, bare patches that are difficult to rectify can occur. To avoid this, cut the sides at a slight angle so the hedge top is narrower than the bottom.