Pruning for Maximum Hedge Density

Pruning Early for Maximum Hedge Density

In our previous articles, we discussed the negative side effects of topping pruning, specifically topping trees. One exception is hedges; it is necessary to top them so they do not grow into tall trees but into aesthetically pleasing green walls.

I remember as a kid reading the book Robinson Caruso, about a shipwrecked man on a desert island. Struggling to survive on his own, he builds a sheltered enclave by planting trees close together in order to create a barrier which offered protection and hid him from the dangers around him. Today in our crowded world, the saying “fences make good neighbors” couldn’t be truer… But maybe even better of a saying is, “hedges make great neighbors.” Hedges provide privacy along with a soft, organic, and aesthetically pleasing barrier between us and our neighbors.

Hedges don’t just happen. In most cases, we can’t plant a tree or shrub and expect it to stay dense and aesthetically pleasing without some effort on our part. The two general categories of hedge candidates are either large shrubs that grow large, or trees that respond to topping-pruning by generating new growth along the trunk.

While the first category, shrubs, are generally lower maintenance once mature, they take a long time to grow into fences. Tree-type hedges generally grow faster, so are often more popular. However, the tree-type hedges can’t grow into proper hedges without help from us. This is where topping comes in. The first rule of pruning is, “Cut a plant in one place and it grows in another” couldn’t be more obvious than this case. Topping your tree-type hedge on a regular basis encourages them to put their energy into the lower growth, shifting focus away from their normal job of growing tall, generating dense, low growth, perfect for making a fence-like hedge. Remember to top your tree-type hedges often, as waiting too long between topping, or cutting only the sides, will result in a less dense plant. See examples below of two properties with the same plant (Ficus nitida). One has been topped, the other has not.

proper hedge pruning for density

When planting a new hedge, don’t let the plant grow upward to the desired height immediately. Allow the plant to grow in 1-foot increments, then cut back 4 inches. This forces new limbs closer together, which will create that compact, dense look, without compromising health.

While we may not be hiding from wild animals or cannibals like Robinson Caruso, with mature hedges in place, we can enjoy our yards in peace, quiet, and any state of undress without upsetting our neighbors.

Mark Meahl