Alex 'Hedgecutter' Hands

The time has come round again when everywhere starts getting a proper tidy up and the hedge cutting season is in full swing

Rosemoor from aboveThe majority of hedges we have here at Rosemoor only get one cut a year – mainly to avoid the main bird nesting season (March – August), but also due to the sheer number of hedges we have. Therefore by early autumn, they are all in desperate need of a trim. We start by getting the sides of the hedges cut and then it’s onto the tops.

Using the MEWP to cut hedgesEvery year we hire in a 6.5 ton, 15 metre (50 foot) lift, cherry picker/MEWP (Mobile Elevating Work Platform) to cut the tops of our hedges. Fortunately, the hedges aren’t anywhere near that height, however we often need the reach to avoid obstacles such as trees, shrubs and plant labels. 

We have three days to complete the tops of the hedges in New Garden before we have to hand it over to another garden team. We start off by tackling the vigorous beech and hornbeam hedging. A single year’s growth on these hedges can be up to 1m (3ft) high and nearly 5cm (2in) in diameter, so it’s important we get down to the old wood. 

The tenets of trimming

My philosophy with hedge cutting as with most things in our trade is, “You’ve got to show it who’s boss” and this couldn’t be more important than when you are dealing with beech and hornbeam. If you don’t, they only get higher, wider and harder to cut with every year that passes. This is hard work, especially where we make corrections below the old cuts into gnarled wood; but the reward of a level top makes it all worthwhile.

Rosemoor from aboveThe finer forms of the box and holly hedges requires a different approach – a more delicate, gliding action, rather than a swinging, thrashing action, due to the less vigorous growth.

It is easy to make visible mistakes when cutting hedges, and that’s where our man on the ground is a real help – providing a different perspective for us in air and eyeing up the level along the hedges making sure they are all going to match up. 

By the end of the third day, the weekend never seems close enough - as I always feel like I could easily sleep for a day once we’re finished and the adrenaline has worn off. The end result though is always well worth the hard work and leaves the garden looking sharp. The other bonus to this job is getting the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the garden and a selfie 50 feet above the gardens – not something many can boast!

Useful links

RHS advice: Hedge trimming

When should I prune my hedge?

How do I renovate an old hedge?

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.