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Your Top 10 Hedge Trimming Questions Answered

side view of long row of large emerald cedars that form a green privacy wall and fence around property in Summerhill toronto

Have a hedge in your yard? Or are you looking to add one in this season? As a hedge owner, you likely have hedge trimming questions you’re looking for answers to. Hedges are a great way to add greenery and privacy to your property. Shrubs and hedges can be a low-maintenance garden addition, depending on the species you pick. We provide hedge trimming services in Toronto, and are expert in repairing snow damaged hedges and leaning hedges.

Before we get to the practical aspects of hedge trimming, we know you have one big question: What will trimming my hedge cost? Click on that link to read about all the factors in the prices of hedge trimming, or read below to learn more about the how’s and why’s of hedge trimming.

1. When should I trim my hedge?

The right time to trim a hedge depends on what type of hedge you have. Do you have a hedge that flowers in the spring? Some flowering shrubs bear flowers on last year’s growth. Those shrubs should only be pruned after flowering in spring. These include forsythia, lilac, and magnolia. Other shrubs flower on new growth and should be pruned early spring before they flower, including St. John’s wort.

Cedars can be trimmed in early summer, around June. Some varieties of yew, like Hill’s Yew, can be trimmed in early summer in June or early July, but others do best with pruning in early spring. Late fall and winter is a safe time to prune most hedge varieties, and some hedges, like boxwoods, may need pruning two or even three times a year to continue looking tidy and shapely. An arborist can give you pruning recommendations for your specific plants.

“Rejuvenation pruning” is a pruning technique to be done in the springtime or late winter, before the new growing season begins. This means trimming stems back to ground level in efforts to rejuvenate an older or neglected plant, prompting new growth over the spring and summer. Honeysuckle, spirea, forsythia, and privet are some of the hedges that can respond well to this technique.

2. Which hedges grow the fastest?

Do you want to get from the planting stage to the trimming stage as quickly as possible? Looking for some shelter from new neighbours or changing conditions around your property? We’re often asked which are the fastest-growing hedges. In the Toronto area, evergreens are a popular choice for quicker-growing hedges. These have the added benefit of not losing foliage in winter and retaining some privacy throughout the calendar year.

Eastern white cedar is one popular plant used for hedging. It’s a native species that grows well in Ontario and tolerates partial shade. Yew is another popular choice. Hick’s Yew and the Upright Japanese Yew are two possibilities, though these are slower-growing than cedars. Emerald cedars will grow more quickly in their first years of growth, though their growth slows down as they reach maturity.

Keep in mind that the faster-growing hedge you choose, the more often pruning will be required, so fast-growing and low-maintenance are not necessarily synonymous. 

3. Which plants make good hedges?

Choosing the right hedge will depend on your goals with the hedge. If you’re looking for denser greenery and year-round coverage, an evergreen hedge might be the right choice for you, including plants like cedars, spruce, yew, hemlock, and juniper.

If you’re looking for visual impact and aren’t concerned about losing foliage in the autumn, a flowering shrub may be the right choice for you. Many homeowners and gardeners like spring flowering shrubs, such as spirea, hydrangea, lilac, and forsythia. 

Choosing an Ontario native species will help contribute to the local ecosystem and gives a better chance of thriving in the climate. Native species are also more resistant against pest and fungal infestations, whereas non-native species like boxwoods can be vulnerable to pests like the box tree moth. Plants like serviceberry, dogwood, spicebush, and sumac are all Ontario native shrubs that can do well in Toronto gardens.

4. Which hedges are low maintenance?

5. How do I trim a hedge?

You’ll want to start at the bottom and work towards the top when trimming a hedge. Contrary to what you might think from looking at photos of pristine symmetrical hedgerows, a hedge should actually be narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. This encourages even growth and gives you the tidy, symmetrical look.

To trim a hedge, you’ll likely want both a hedge trimmer and pruning shears. The trimmer will work for larger areas, while the shears will help you shape smaller branches and ends. You’ll want to ensure your equipment is properly sharpened and maintained and wear protective gloves and eyewear.

6. Can I trim my hedge too much?

Yes, you can trim a hedge too much. As with tree pruning, there are general guidelines for how much you can safely prune off a hedge annually without causing damage and allowing it to grow back healthily. Up to a third of new growth can safely be trimmed back on most hedges.

Typically, you want to trim back smaller, newer branches, and not the thicker structural growth (skeleton) of the hedge. If you cut back too much of your hedge, you can prevent it being able to develop new shoots. This can lead to a deficiency in the hormones (cytokines) that assist root growth, causing diminished leaf and shoot growth next year.

A hedge can also be damaged through overtrimming by cutting back too many leaves and leaf shoots, affecting its ability to absorb sunlight. Cutting too deep into the structural branches can damage the plant.


7. Why is my hedge brown?

Some hedges, including coniferous plants like cedars, junipers, and hemlocks, can brown slightly after pruning. Pruning in early spring can help prevent browning, but pruning in fall may lead to more browning. Other than aesthetics, though, this browning isn’t typically a problem.

Overwatering, and over- or under- fertilizing a hedge can also cause browning in most species. Check the soil dryness, or give your local arborist a call. Browning on one side, especially in boxwoods, or all-over browning and needle drop on cedars and coniferous plants, may also be indicative of a pest or fungal issue. It’s a good idea to have a professional investigate who can diagnose problems like boxwood moth or cedar mites and recommend treatments.

8. Why is my hedge dying?

Die back in your hedge can be caused by many different issues. Improper care, poor conditions, infestation, and lack of pruning can all cause issues. Hedges need regular watering and maintenance and should be pruned at least once a year. Fertilizer may help a hedge that’s struggling in soil conditions.

Cedar hedges pulled apart by wind

Lack of sunlight can be another issue, if you have a relatively new hedge and selected a species that wasn’t appropriate to the growing conditions. Too much or too little water can also kill hedges. Mulching can help with water retention in some cases. Hedges can also be affected by cold and frost after a particularly harsh winter. Winds, ice, and sudden temperature changes caused extensive damage to cedar hedges and other evergreens in Toronto in winter 2023. 

If your hedge is suffering from a pest infestation, an arborist can help diagnose and treat the issue. Boxwood moth, cedar mites, scale, and weevils can all affect different hedge varieties. Ontario licenses pesticide application, so for many treatments, you’ll need a licensed professional to provide and apply the treatment.


9. Do I need a professional to trim a hedge?

You don’t need a professional to trim a hedge, but as arborists, we’re frequently called in to repair DIY pruning jobs gone awry. An arborist knows how to prune a hedge to ensure healthy growth, aesthetics, and long-term survival. We’re trained in managing shrub and tree care and know the best scientific pruning practices.

Another plus of having a professional hedge pruner is our training in other plant healthcare. If there are other issues affecting your shrub’s health, like pest damage, fungal infestation, or soil quality, an arborist can help spot these problems, diagnose them, and recommend treatment or care. With a trained eye on your hedge, you can help problems be diagnosed early on.

Professional hedge trimmers and pruners have the correct equipment and tools for the job and keep them well-maintained. If you’ve been working with your father-in-law’s old pruning shears from the back shed, a professional may offer an equipment upgrade that’s quicker and more affordable than investing in equipment yourself. As arborists, though, we always love to share our knowledge when clients are interested in learning more about maintaining their plants.

10. How do I care for my hedge after trimming?

If you had winter or early spring pruning done, consider spring fertilizer to give your newly trimmer hedges a nutrient boost. Don’t forget to water your hedge after pruning. It’s a common mistake to neglect watering trees and hedges. Even if you have winter pruning done, during dry spells when there is no snow on the ground, hedges and shrubs can be watered once a week. Mulch can help the hedge to retain water as well.

Ready to solve your hedge problems?

Are you ready to take the next step with planting, pruning, fertilizing, or maintaining hedges? Learn more about Vista Tree’s hedge trimming services and contact one of our arborists today for your hedge care needs!

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