Well it's the time of the year when all you can hear is the roar of petrol hedgecutters or the buzz buzz of the electric hedge cutters echoing around the neighbourhood. Indeed now is an ideal time to tidy up your hedges, most of the birds would of finished nesting (apart from pigeons!) and the plants themselves have finished their main growth spurt for the year and if trimmed now, will delightfully hold their shape and form until they start growing away next spring, giving our gardens both shape and structure during the shortened days of winter, after all the herbecous plants have died down and the deciduous shrubs have lost their leaves
Now this isn't a step by step guide but just a few little things that I do and have found, that makes the job a little easier and safer
Check the hedge out first.
We all walk by the hedges at all times don't we and the chances are you have cut the hedge before. But a lot of things can happen in a year, just have a look though the hedge checking for bottles, cans, odd bits of metal thrown in, footballs etc anything that could damage the blades of the cutters. Also see if there's any new holes or dips appeared in the ground near the hedge, may save a twisted ankle once the dip is covered up in clippings and you find it again! Lastly get a big stick (take handle will do) and smack it along the hedge, this isn't an old fashioned gardners tradition to produce a good crop next year but a way to check there are no birds nesting or even worse no wasp nests in there! Nothing worse that being surrounded by pesky 'flies' up a stepladder and finding out there are wasps!
Sharpen the blades.
No matter what hedge cutter you use, whether it's electric, battery or petrol, it will always cut much better and easier with sharp blades and leave a much cleaner finish to the hedge. If you don't want to do it yourself, most garden machinery dealers will do it for you, for a small cost. Otherwise you can easily do it for yourself using a diamond file like the ones sold by Niwaki. Once your blades are nice and sharp, do the fine hedges like Yew, Box first before moving on the rougher stuff like hawthorn, beech, holly etc. The finer stuff do need sharper blades and done first they will avoid the dulling that happens with time and when doing the rougher hedges
Where to start?
First of work out the way you like to work, my natural working way is left to right, so I will start on the left hand side. I then cut from bottom to top, this helps to allow foliage to fall down once it's been cut unheeded and not pulling any other bits out with its weight. If there's rather a lot of foliage to get though, will do a rough cut first to remove the bulk before doing a finer one to finish. Once the side is done, I then start of the top, on the right hand side or just where I have finished doing the side. Then I cut the closest bit to me, working my way across, sweeping the clippings off the edge as I go.
When cutting an old established hedge, one that I have trimmed before or one cut last year, I always try and cut as close to the last years cut as possible, ideally to within a couple of mm of those last cuts, yes it may leave the hedge looking a little barer than a lighter trim but it will help to keep the hedge tighter and more compact within the space, think about it, leaving 10mm new growth on each side every year for the new ten years will make the hedge 200mm wider, 50mm would be 1000m or a metre! 2mm would just 40mm. Big big differences.
large leaved shrubs These are shrubs like Bay, cherry Laurel, tradionally are done by hand using secatuers as the use of hedge cutters tend to tear the leaves, cutting by hand is pretty time comsuing and lets be honest, we dont all have the time to do it by hand. using the hedge cutters will leave the leafs ragged but the new ones will soon come though ok. only word of warning when using a hedge cutter on cherry laurel, the leaves do contain amount of cyanide, which on a hot day can cause a bad headache or feeling sick, indeed there have been cases of gardeners being sacked from being drunk, when indeed it was cyanide poisoning from the fumes from the laurel leaves when being cut on a very hot day.
Use the right access equipment.
It so much easy to get hold of access equipment now, either though hiring or buying. I am lucky, being a professional gardener, I own a couple sets of tripod ladders, a 20ft access tower and a stepping stool, all of which cover any height needs I have. It's not worth the risk of leaning a ladder into the hedge or grabbing the patio chair and doing a little balancing dance whilst standing on it. Hedge cutters are pretty horrid things to fall on and they do hurt! Just try and find the right bit of gear to suit your garden and either make a long term investment or hire in. One other thing is getting your cutters up to your working height, when working on step ladders, platforms etc, you ideally need 3 points of contact from your body to the equipment, again makes carrying anything up the equipment a little iffy. I have a couple of lengths of rope with a couple of karabiners tied to each end, I attach one to the tool and hold the other one whilst climbing up and then attach it to the ladder, platform when I get to the working height and just pull up the tool, un hitch, use and lower back down when finished .
Clean off my tools.
End of each day, I will brush off any loose leaves, give the blades an oil, that will help to soften any sap build up on the blades, then remove the build up using the crean block or a wooden scraper, spray with Dettol to kill off 99.5% of all know germs or indeed fungus like box blight and plant virus and then spray once more with WD-40. I then know the equipment is as clean and disease free as I can make it.
its always worth taking a step backwards to make sure the hedge is pretty level and the sides are pretty level, theres no bit missed and its all looking good. its also a damn fine time to admire your handy work!
I hope you have found the above tips useful and happy hedge cutting