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Revealed: The best time of year to prune trees & hedges

Our horticultural insider’s guide gives you the lowdown on when to prune your trees & shrubs, so join us on a journey through the joys of keeping green screens and boundaries at their sharp-suited best this autumn & winter. 

well pruned hedge

In praise of the well-pruned hedge:

Oh my, even the most relaxed and casually styled among us enjoy seeing a beautifully-grown hedge with a smart haircut. Reminiscent of a master tailor’s ability to give the silk or velvet of a suit the most impeccable cut or the top hairdresser’s finesse with super-grooming, pruning a hedge properly is nothing short of an artform and a well-cut hedge is a triumphant masterpiece. 

Our Hort-Team find it uber-satisfying to prune native hedges restoratively, then look back at their handiwork (whether it’s taken a day or a week) to see a plethora of hedges looking dapper. 

From the cleanest beech hedge with bronzed leaves in the sunshine to pleached forms gracing formal entrances, it sets the scene of a landscape. 

Often a hedge is simply seen as providing a backdrop, they can sit at the rear of the garden theatre behind all the players in the herbaceous beds and the drama of annuals, who vie for your attention most of the year. Then comes the dormant season….

….and whilst these perennials take a rest the strength of hedges take centre stage. 

Perhaps they guide you down a driveway entrance or through an archway to the welcoming doors of home? Maybe they screen secret havens or shelter kitchen gardens? Either way, they offer a comforting green gateway to homely times. 

But pruning doesn’t just keep your hedges aesthetically appealing, these plants love being pruned. Pruning encourages new growth and removes any tired edges or areas that need rejuvenating. 

But when to prune trees & hedges?

a well-pruned beech hedge

Whilst there is no one answer fits all, but a safe bet for most is late-autumn & winter, starting with deciduous trees & shrubs.   

The pruning window for deciduous isn’t as long as you might think, as you have to make sure that you’re cutting well before new leaves begin to form too, and some trees like birch and alder begin preparing for spring early, though you can’t see it. 

All of this makes November and December the optimal time for pruning deciduous trees and hedges. 

Evergreens need a different treatment, however. 

With the exception of buxus (Box), yews and some other hedges, which we prune in summer and October respectively, evergreens tend to be pruned in spring rather than autumn/winter (around March or April), which allows the plant to renew its leaves ahead of winter and keep its nutrients topped up. 

The art of the prune:

the best time of year to prune trees and hedges

We work with the habitual form of a tree or hedge, enhancing its inherent inclination for a more natural, sculptural look or training it through pruning into a more exaggerated evolution of its natural tendencies, which gives a more formal, stylised aesthetic. 

To encourage health, we are guided in our cuts by the 4 D’s: Dead, Damaged, Diseased, Deranged (i.e. rubbing, growing the wrong way or undesirably arising from the base). Looking for branches which fit these criteria is our first port of call for pruning. 

pruned trees and hedges

As we sail forth with the autumn prune, we’ll apply mulches to hedges, trees, beds and borders whilst the soil is still warm, giving them a good dose of nutritious treatment which they’ll take up during the dormant season, ready to spring into healthy growth as winter gives way to milder days. 

Soon, as the autumn rolls into winter, we’ll start to look at the winter pruning orchards of apple and pear trees and any major renovation of overgrown trees, pleached forms and hedges, when the sap is at its lowest.

However, fruit hedges need a different treatment still, as most trees & shrubs in hedges only produce flowers (and therefore nuts & berries) on growth over one year old, so annual pruning will result in less food to be foraged by you or your local wildlife. 

For more on fruit pruning, look out for our forthcoming guide. Coming soon! 

Need the helping hands of our pro-pruners to shape your trees and hedges in garden masterpieces bursting with vitality? Talk to us about your garden.

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