As soon as the Mock oranges finish flowering, hedging season begins. Way back at the beginning of March we learned the rules of pruning. Never cut more than a third, don’t prune Birch and Maple until June, plants either grow up or out, spring pruning invigorates, and July pruning slows plants’ growth rate. Once our plants reach the height or spread that we want them to be, then we no longer want to prune in late winter or early spring but rather we want to trim in July so that we can maintain them at a certain height. Shearing (more or less the same meaning as hedging or trimming) at this time will cut the plants’ energy levels and slow them down. Also, after June 21 most shrubs and trees are done with their major grow spurt so they will hold their shape longer. Usually we follow with another touch up hedging in mid-September.
There are a couple of important rules you need to understand when hedging. One, the prairies, both in Canada and the northern US, are not England. We simply cannot have the perfectly straight up and down hedges that they have. Our hedges must be cut at an angle, i.e. slightly pyramidal, otherwise the hedges will die out at the bottom because they won’t get enough sunlight. Any pruning book will have detailed pictures about the correct angle, but suffice it to say, they cannot be perfectly straight.
Also, you must account for how your body moves. When trimming along the sides of your hedge you need to realize that your body seesaws back and forth from left to right. So your hedger will wave in and out as you walk. Paying attention to the movement of the hedger is all-important to being able to cut a clean line. Ensure that you have good body posture. Keep your back straight, shoulder’s relaxed, and knees slightly bent. The hedger itself, whether a machine or shears, must be perfectly level.
When the movie Edward Scissor Hands came out I was awe struck. When I grew up, I had to create hedges like that, but in the real world, I realized it is a little harder than they make it look in the movies. Being able to see the form before you trim is so important. If you are creating a ball then you must see the ball in your mind’s eye first. Then begin trimming from the top down. If you make a mistake, stop. Far too often people start out with a four-foot shrub and then after a series of mistakes and aggressive over corrections they walk out with a one-foot shrub.