Trimming Hedges
May 28, 2005 8:36 AM   Subscribe

There are a few evergreen bushes in front of my parent's home and they are overgrown. How do I trim them back?

These bushes/hedges are evergreen and they are getting way too big. They're overgrowing the sidewalks/yard/each other and I want to cut them back a little.

My father tried to cut them back a few years ago so he did an experiment and trimmed one back and it never filled back out... but he did it on the shady side of the bush where it meets the house and my theory is that this prevented the grow back. If I trim the entire bush back a lot, will it grow back before winter comes and kills it?
posted by crazy finger to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
My parents had a similar situation. There are just a few kinds of evergreen shrubs that can tolerate severe pruning.

Because there are so many, what kind of evergreen is it? Can you take, or find online, a photo?
posted by jerseygirl at 8:59 AM on May 28, 2005

I had an evergreen that the previous owner (an idiot in many ways) planted right at the end of the driveway such that it blocks the view up the street for someone backing out. When my son got his license, I wanted to make sure he could see, so I trimmed back all the lower branches on the tree. This not only improved visibility at the bottom of the tree, but significantly reduced its diameter further up because many of the branches that came out at the bottom went up quite a bit.

The result is kind of a "French poodle" effect. I don't think it looks too bad, but my wife isn't crazy about it.
posted by Doohickie at 9:14 AM on May 28, 2005

Are they Junipers?
Questions on Juniper

Like the page I linked, loppers & hand-trimmers.

2stroke hedge trimmers are noisey and the exhaust is noxious.
posted by drakepool at 9:52 AM on May 28, 2005

We were advised by yard care people to leave green needles on each branch, that is, not to prune to the point where the branch is bare.
Another suggestion was to "thin" the bush by removing some branches entirely thus reducing the volume. This might not be good advice for the inexperienced.
You may find that this is not a one year job and should be done in smaller increments over a longer time.
posted by Cranberry at 2:22 PM on May 28, 2005

There are very few shrubs that one can prune leaving "stubs". Of the conifers, what is what I assume you mean by "evergreen", yews are the only ones in that category. (I'm also assuming that they're in NH as well) Yews have soft flat needles arranged in a single plane along the branch, they tend to be dark green with bright green new growth (which should be apparent now). You can pretty much hack a yew to any shape you want and it will fill in, which is why they're so widely grown for hedges and topiary. Loppers, pruners, shears, hedge trimmers, it doesn't matter; yews'll sprout new growth from old bark.

For all other conifers (like pines with long needles, spruces with sharp needles arranged in whorls around the branch, arborvitaes with flat scales, junipers with short painfully sharp needles, these are the most likely suspects), making drastic changes in the shape and/or size is much more difficult, if possible at all, because you'll need to prune to a point that can still make new growth, which takes quite a lot of skill and experience. You don't want to use hedge trimmers on any conifers other than yews; you'll end up with a lot of dead twigs. It may be easier to either get someone skilled in to do it (or at least start doing it and instruct you on how to take over the job yourself) or simply replace the existing shrubs with ones more appropriate for the site. Note that pruning non-yews drastically will be at least a one year job, depending on how drastic the pruning and the type and health of the shrubs, and that they may look silly in the interim (or forever).

If by "evergreen" you meant broad-leafed flowering shrubs that keep their foliage all year, it depends greatly on what type. Of common evergreeen shrubs (that grow in NH) most rhododendrons (and azaleas) are relatively forgiving and can sprout from "stubs". Others (e.g. mountain laurel, pieris (andromeda)) are going to be more difficult and I'd make the same recommendation I did above: get someone who knows what they're doing to trim them or just replace them.
posted by TimeFactor at 6:09 PM on May 28, 2005

I realize that I left Hemlock fir off my list of conifers, which is a glaring omission when talking about shrubs in NH as they're among the most winter-hardy (and grow wild throughout the state). Also, the general description for yews fits for Hemlock: short flat needles that grow in a single plane along the branch; hemlock needles are shorter and duller and they're silvery beneath, whereas yew needles are roughly the same above and below; Hemlocks have very small "pine-cones" while yews have red berries (at least on female plants) . And Hemlocks can be trimmed with a hedge trimmer, but only if they've been trimmed regularly that way since first planted. Otherwise, they eventually become very large trees with no lower branches.
posted by TimeFactor at 5:29 PM on May 29, 2005

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