Hedges are usually planted for a purpose such as to screen out an unsightly view, block the wind or highway noise, or provide some privacy. To accomplish these goals they must be dense from top to bottom and the appropriate height. Proper pruning accomplishes both of these goals.
If you have planted a hedge in the last couple of years or are planning to this year its important to do a few things correctly from the start.
A common error with new hedges is to wait too long to begin pruning and training it. The young plants are shorter than you ultimately want them, so it may seem crazy to do any pruning until they have reached the proper height. But you need to begin long before this time!
The first year the hedge doesnt need pruning, give it this year to get established. But get ready to start pruning the following spring.
Since one of your goals is to make the hedge dense from the ground up you need to prune it early to encourage that lower growth to fill out. Just like cutting hair, take a little off the top and a little off the sides each spring before new growth begins.
You also need to develop a tapered shape from the very beginning. The tendency is for the plants to grow the most at their tops where they get the most sun. Left alone plants will develop a shape that is wider at the top than at the bottom. The wider top blocks sunlight from the lower branches, making them thin out even more. This vicious cycle continues until your hedge has a dense top and bare bottom and this is not what you want.
With your very first pruning keep the idea of this taper in mind. The plants will naturally grow more on top, so youll have to more off there than off the bottom. Using manual long-bladed shears, start from the bottom and gradually work your way up. With evergreens be careful to not remove all the green leaves or needles. Few evergreens will push out new growth if you cut back to bare branches. A light touch is plenty, especially at first.
Amy Ivy is executive director with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County 561-7450, Essex County 962-4810, Franklin County 483-7403. Visit the local Web site at http://ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or email questions to askMG@cornell.edu