How to prune dwarf box hedging

The neat lines of well trimmed box hedging contribute so much to a garden. By contrast they seem to emphasise the form of adjacent plants whilst providing a direct link to the formal lines of nearby paving and brickwork. The architectural quality of clipped hedging connects the garden to the house geometrically.

Here’s how to get your clipping perfecting…

Getting started

Tools: The main tools you will need are a hedge trimmer, sharp shears and garden scissors. It’s also useful to have sheets or mats to catch the clippings. For precision I use a timber jig that I made up out of bits of tile baton.

Timing: As explained in my post on pruning box balls and topiary it’s best to put off pruning your box until June as the main flush of growth is over and you probably won’t need to do it again later in the year.

Step 1: Trim the sides

▲ Using the hedge trimmer I tackle the sides first. I like to have a fixed edge such as the bricks above which I can run the tip of the blades along to give me a guide. If there are no suitable straight edges already available, consider using a timber board like the one to the left of the picture. It will need staking otherwise it will move and you’ll end up with a wobbly (h)edge. If that’s not possible then you will have to go by eye and take more care. A string between stakes can be useful, but your likely to cut it pretty soon with the hedge trimmer.

Step 2: Cut the top

▲ For several of my hedges I use a wooden jig that I made up to give me a consistent height. It takes a bit of time to set up, prop in place and check it’s level, but it makes it very easy to get a consistently neat top. Once in place I can concentrate on keeping the blade of the hedge trimmer horizontal so that the top is nice and flat. I run the blade of the hedge trimmer back and forth along the top rail which ensures a very even horizontal line.

Step 3: Cut the back, then tidy with shears

The back, inside faces can now be cut. I do these by eye, aiming to keep the line parallel with the front, which is easier once the front and top are complete so their is a neat line to follow. I tend to make the inside back surface slope at about 10° rather than cutting it vertical as this helps the back of the hedge to get more light.

I then go over the faces lightly with the shears to get a nice tight finish, whilst tidying up any straggly bits missed by the hedge cutters.

Step 4: Tidy up carefully

To reduce the chance of box blight all clippings should be removed. Giving the hedge a really good shake will dislodge any clippings that have become lodged inside. The path is the easiest to clear up as it can simply be brushed.

Where clippings fall on soil they are a real pain to pick up. Putting down a sheet or mat first makes lifting them much easier. I have used a Henry vacuum to clear up the last little bits, but it will readily suck up gravel and soil too, so caution is required.

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