How Best To Reduce The Height Of A Conifer Hedge? Find Out Here!

Written By James
Updated July 4, 2021 by James

How Best To Reduce The Height Of A Conifer Hedge? Find Out Here!

If you've been into hedging for a while, you'll know how quickly they can overgrow- and ultimately maintain.

Improper care or a lack of preliminary care can actually bring such dilemmas on, so it's important to make sure you take care of your hedge plants in their early, fundamental years. We've spoken about this here.

If you've long surpassed the fundamental stages and are now looking at an old, unruly and overgrown hedge- then renovation is what you'll need to rejuvenate and mend your tall hedge to make it look more polished and tamed. In fact, recent law changes may even mean that your overgrown hedges will need to be chopped down to a legal height- so you're in the right place

Is Renovation Right for my Hedge?

Well, firstly, many evergreen hedge types and other green foliage usual hedges are actually responsive and work harmoniously with renovation. Some of these evergreen hedge variants include the Leylandii hedge, Hawthorn, Yew (which is in fact a conifer), Lonicera Nitida, Holly, Beech, Hornbeam, and Box. In fact, these types of hedge plants are so responsive, you can reduce them by a half in both height and width in just one cutting session! If you're looking to trim down some seriously ghastly hedges/a huge hedge, you'll need to gradually cut the hedge down. 

Since we're looking at becoming a conifer-hedge's tree surgeon today, it's important to remember that most of these deciduous hedges (fast-growing hedges especially) don't respond well to renovation. Examples of conifer hedges are Leyland Cypress, Leylandii trees in general (including Leyland Cypress, Leylandii Green, Leylandii Gold, and more), Monterey Cypress, Thuja Brabant, and more. These deciduous hedge shrubs don't emerge from older wood, hence they aren't the best to work with when renovating. 

Conifer hedges will need consistent, regular, and lighter trimming from the hedge owner to help keep them as healthy as possible. When a conifer huge hedge is overgrown, some renovation is required but only a partial renovation method is applicable (and suitable) to promote fresh growth.

When to Renovate

Generally speaking, we can split hedges into two categories: evergreen and deciduous (essentially the opposite of evergreen).

  • Evergreen hedges are best renovated during the spring season, ideally in mid-spring. This is when you'll find their improved responsiveness to pruning as they're in an active growth state (and the risk of frost and bad weather has been eliminated), the best season for recovery.
  • On the other hand, deciduous hedges should be renovated in the winter season, ideally in mid-winter (late winter at the very latest). This is when deciduous trees are dormant and found without leaves, the best season for recovery. This type of hedge's green growth rate is generally higher.

How to Renovate your Conifer Hedge

The first and foremost step to undertake is ensuring you have a suitable grounds for renovation pruning. You'll be using some serious tools, so you'll have to ensure all nesting birds are removed and replaced elsewhere (especially if you're doing this in late spring, AKA. nesting season). Hedges are a popular sites for birds, especially during mid - spring and late spring. The reason why is not only because they are living creatures who've built their homes there, but also because it's illegal under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (specifically to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built).

These hedges grow best in moist but well-drained, uncompacted soil. Waterlogged soil may seem like a good fit as moisture is a fundamental element for the speed of growth, but this can drown the plants- so we suggest going for moist but well-drained, uncompacted soil to attain optimal speed of growth.  

While extreme, rushed renovation of a dense hedge is required in many cases, the process needs to be stretched over two to three years. Our guide will show you how to renovate your dense screen green shoots over a period of three years, as this will encourage healthier hedge growth in the long term for coniferous tree species.

Year 1

Once nesting sites are thoroughly checked, here are the key steps to follow in your first year of hedge renovation for your conifer trees/dense screen:

  • Begin by trimming and cutting back along the width of your hedge- only start this process with one side initially
  • You'll now need to cut down about 6 inches more than your desired width (about 15 centimetres)- in some cases, you may even have to cut down to the main stems
  • Taper cutting from the bottom (wider) and make it thinner as you near the top. This will create what's called a "batter", which refers to the sloping sides produced as a result of this tapered cutting method
  • Trim the other width of your hedge (other end) with your tree trimmers, leaving the height of the hedge unchanged
  • Aftercare: mulch the private hedge and feed it with fertilising agents to encourage a speedier, more robust regrowth (make sure adequate feed is given, as adequate feed is what's going to promote faster and healthier growth)
  • Avoid pruning errors (especially with fast-growing hedges and other private hedge options)
  • Allow at least an entire season for your conifer trees' hedge to grow sufficiently
  • Make sure you hydrate the coniferous trees during dry weather, especially within the first season of regrowth we just spoke about immediately after your first renovation. This is what will grow your hedge into an ideal hedge (a denser hedge too!)

Year 2

One the first year's steps are successfully completed, move onto these: 

  • On the other side of the denser hedge, cut back as far as necessary with your tree trimmers- even if that means down to the main stems. Use the blueprint from Year 1 above
  • The hedge height should be left unaltered, even for fast-growing hedges
  • Again, make sure you're mulching and using fertilising/feeding agents to encourage speedy and healthy growth (to help reduce regrowth of the hedge time)
  • As before, you must allow an entire season for the plants to recover- these are the skills of a head farmer like my father
  • During winter months (cold winters), take extra care- and water as necessary during difficult conditions such as dry weather or wet conditions within the fundamental years. Make sure there is sufficient feed
  • Partake in regular pruning if needed; avoid pruning errors

Year 3

The final year has some crucial steps you mustn't miss out:

  • Ensure you're cutting the hedge another six inches below the height you finally want (this is about 15 centimetres)
  • With gaping or patchy areas, you'll need to cut back to refresh a little more
  • Again, leave an entire season to see the maximum benefits from this process
  • Always stay on top of plant hydration and sufficient feed, especially during difficult conditions like late winter or wet conditions
  • Partake in regular pruning  

The only issue you may run into is the presence of brown patches. In some species of conifers, this is common (especially the fastest-growing hedges). It's often due to the environment, however, depending on the time of year and the surrounding environment, fungal diseases and aphids may cause the problem.

Factors to Consider for Optimal Renovation

  • Narrowness: When thinking of how thin a narrow hedge should be kept, we recommend going no more than about 45 centimetres, which is 18 inches. Every year, keep trimming it back and ensure optimal conditions for growth. 
  • Soil condition isn't too important for these hedges, but keeping optimal conditions is. We mentioned the ideal conditions for growth above.
  • Laying: One method to help rejuvenate a thinning hedge (near the base), is by performing "laying". This is a great way to encourage new hedge growth. As for growth in terms of which species is best, Hawthorn is the way to go. Other common deciduous hedges with plants like Field Maple, Hazel, Ash, Elm, and Blackthorn are also viable and satisfactory. You can go to a plant centre and ask for professional opinion too (most people at the plant centres will be able to offer a professional opinion on which one is best for you). Laying requires skill and experience, but there are many courses you can undergo for it. 
  • The Fastest-Growing garden hedge may or may not be an option to go for if you're in a rush- while they'll grow faster, you'll need to consider the growth in terms of the care put into it. Regular maintenance will be required to eliminate the need for renovation (a nuisance hedge). Slower-growing varieties are less likely to become a nuisance hedge as it's easier to take care of them, but you'll also have to wait a long time before seeing a completed garden hedge.

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My father, and his father before him, and his father; for the past 3 generations, my family have always been into gardening. The green fingers is a gift passed down to me and I thoroughly enjoy it! I also have worked in the manufacturing department for Bosch and DeWalt so I like to think I know a thing or two about tools and such!
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