GARDENING: Now's a good time to renovate your hedge

Overgrown branches ... one section before the loppers did their work.
Overgrown branches ... one section before the loppers did their work.

All it takes is a busy couple of years and a hedge can get out of control.

This has happened several times to our beech/hawthorn mix - ­I now hire a professional tree surgeon to give the top and outside its final cut of the season.

Finished article ... a cutback beech  not pretty, but neater.

Finished article ... a cutback beech not pretty, but neater.

However, this still leaves the inside, which has grown beyond measure, cutting off light and cultivation space.

It's an old hedge, packed with dead wood, infested with coral spot. With this in mind, I was determined to renovate it this winter. I'm doing it by hand, bit by bit, as it's intertwined with many other plants.

There's no legal maximum height for a hedge, but if yours is evergreen and more than 2 metres tall, your neighbours could be able to claim it is affecting their right to the reasonable enjoyment of their property.

Heavy renovation can take place only in mid-winter for deciduous hedges such as hornbeams, hawthorns and beech, and mid­-spring for evergreens such as holly, Lonicera nitida, yew, box and laurel.

If you want a major cutback, spread work over three years; a year for each side and one for the top.

Beech, box, hawthorn, holly, hornbeam, Lonicera nitida and yew respond well and can all be reduced by as much as 50 per cent in height and width in a single cut.

Check that there are no nesting birds, as it is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.


CUT evergreen hedges in mid­spring, as they respond better in active growth.

Most conifers (apart from yew) do not respond well to renovation, as they do not re­shoot from old wood ­ they need regular light trimming.

If your Cupressus, Chamaecyparis and × Cuprocyparis leylandii (Leyland cypress) hedge has become too big, here's what you can do:

* Reduce the height by up to one­third in April by thinning out side branches right back to the trunk.

* Mulch and feed to encourage vigorous re­growth.

* Beware: hedges reduced in height by more than a third may stay flat and bare at the top.

* Where bare patches have developed in conifer hedges, try to tie in a new branch to cover it.

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