Hedge trimmer techniques and tips

An electric hedge trimmer is an essential piece of garden equipment, making it that bit easier and quicker to keep hedges and garden growth under control. However, power garden tools have to be used safely and correctly if they’re to be effective, so how do you get the most out of electric hedge cutters?

Whether you’re using a cordless hedge cutter or a mains-powered model, there are tried and tested techniques you can apply to make sure you get a neat finish. Though it’s mainly a case of common sense, there are also a few rules on hedge trimmer safety you should be aware of before you start, as well as knowing how to clean and maintain the blades for better cutting. With all this in mind, we’ve put together this step-by-step guide on using all types of electric hedge trimmers from Bosch AHS to Black & Decker, so you can get the best results for your garden.

Before you start

  • Hedges should be trimmed regularly from when they’re young, to spur new growth, particularly evergreen varieties like laurel or privet bushes.
  • The time it takes to cut back using electric hedge trimmers will obviously depend on the size of the area, but for a hedge of about 4-5 metres x 1-2 metres, allow about an hour for trimming and clear up.
  • Before you start, try to get a feel for the natural shape of the plant, so that you don’t cut it back too far or in a way that looks unnatural.
  • Ideally, shape a hedge so that it’s slightly wider towards the bottom, which encourages healthy growth. The best time of year for cutting deciduous varieties is July or September, with evergreen hedges best done in August.
  • Check the weather forecast before you begin – you should never use garden power tools in the rain or when the garden is moisture-logged.

Hedge trimmer safety tips

  • Safety goggles, tough garden gloves and strong shoes are all recommended. Think about ear protection if you’re cutting for long periods. You shouldn’t need to wear a safety mask unless you’re using petrol hedge trimmers, as electric varieties don’t produce gas emissions.
  • Set up a clear area or steady ladder to use for cutting. Remove any nearby garden furniture that might get in the way and make sure there are no children or animals in the vicinity. Use an extendable or pole hedge trimmer to reach a large area, rather than overstretching.
  • Carry the hedge trimmer with two hands, with your finger well away from the trigger button. Check your model of hedge trimmer has a stop blade break which should cut the motion of the blades as soon as you lift your finger from the trigger button.
  • When in use, always keep both hands on the handle and don’t clear away loose cuttings with your hands: wait until you’ve switched the cutting machine off and set it down.
  • If you’re using a mains-powered electric hedge trimmer, make sure that the power cable is running in the opposite direction to the way that you’re trimming. This means that there’s less chance of the wiring getting tangled in the hedge trimmer or causing a tripping hazard.
  • Ensure that the plug doesn’t come out of its extension socket by looping the cable in a loose granny-style knot before plugging in – this way, when you pull on the cable with the trimmer, it will tighten the knot, rather than pull the plug.

(A cordless hedge trimmer or lithium ion hedge cutter will obviously remove the need for these last steps.)

Hedge trimmer cutting technique

  • Start with the sides of your hedge or bush. The best technique if you just want a neat, straight finish, is to cut from top to bottom - dual action blades which cut both ways at once are more effective at this, so bear this in mind if you’re looking to buy hedge trimmers. However, this first cutting session is mainly to remove the bulk of the hedge – you can return and neaten the side later.
  • To get the best hedge results, use the branch cutter tool like a saw, moving it back and forth as you cut down, helping the blades to slice through some of the tougher branches and reducing the strain on the machine. You might find that there are clumps left at the bottom, but you can go along the line of the hedge and trim these sections afterwards.
  • Next, clear away the clippings, and focus on cropping the top of the bush, moving sideways along the hedge. If you want to be sure of a straight line, you can use a piece of string attached between two stakes as a guide. Sweep the trimmer back and forth across the top, to make sure the blade cuts through all the branches and leaves.
  • You should be able to neaten off any stray twigs with regular garden hand tools, such as a pair of manual hedge clippers. Alternatively, use some battery powered cordless trimming shears. These are easier to manoeuvre than full-size hedge cutters, allowing you to cut right up to the edges and trim sections growing against the wall – and often come with multiple blades for different tasks.

Tips on hedge trimmer maintenance

  • It’s important for both safety and efficiency to keep hedge cutters clean and well-maintained. Always make sure the trimmer is unplugged or the battery removed before handling the parts.
  • If your hedge trimmer isn’t cutting branches cleanly, don your garden gloves and check between the teeth or blades for trapped wood or debris. You may need to get the blades sharpened every so often – take it to an approved dealer or repair shop to do this.
  • Sap from cut branches can build up on trimmer blades over time, so regularly wipe them clean, using a solvent such as WD40.
  • Always check the manufacturer’s advice first before attempting to repair or clean your hedge trimmer.