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Formal Hedges

I was pruning at the Roque Garden recently where the landscape is very formal up close to the residence. There are layers of plantings starting with low, clipped boxwoods framing the beds, then stunning mature azaleas set off by beautiful tall privet hedges that act as a lush backdrop. It was time to prune the privets of their bushy summer growth.

As an Aesthetic Pruner, I rely on my hand tools — hand pruners and various sized hand saws. In an estate garden you just can’t buzz through these formal hedges with power tools. The power clippers tear through leaves and leave woody branches and stems poking out. Also, when the fall leaves pile up on these big shrubs, they weigh down and lean forward. So buzzing through with power tools can sheer off branches that simply need to be lighted up to naturally bounce back to their upright positions. Those power clippers in the hands of hurried landscape crews often leave formal hedges chewed up and patchy, not looking like the lush, healthy backdrops they are meant to be.

So I typically start at the top, shaking branches to get fallen leaves out, then thin out the thicker stems, cutting the bushy new growth of each branch back to just in front of a leaf node (so you see only leaves facing out, no stems or branches poking through). That thinning will lighten up the branch and you’ll see it bounce up naturally. No need to buzz it off. That’s how you get a nice healthy, stunning hedge.

I took these pictures mid-way through. You can see the left side is still bushy and the right is clipped tightly with plenty of air circulation possible which allows light inside as well. I finished the front of that lovely hedge and will clip the top at about 8-9 ft or so next visit.

It’s such a lovely garden! This is just one tiny spot in it.


Right side has been pruned, left side still bushy. Note, the client is thinking to replace the ill-pruned Magnolias in this area. Unfortunately, the look of that tree is often what happens when landscape crews “prune” specimen trees.


View from the pruned side. You can see how that unpruned side is leaning forward from the weight of new growth and fall leaves.

Filed under: Pruning

About the Author

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Landscape designer and aesthetic pruner, living and working in the Central Valley of California.

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