How to Use a Hedge Trimmer – A Step by Step Guide

How to Use a Hedge Trimmer – Step by Step Guide from Preparation to Cleanup

boxwood trimmed to resemble people

Hedge trimmers are powerful tools that make hedge maintenance a breeze. If you’ve recently purchased a trimmer or are thinking of buying one, it’s important to understand how to use a hedge trimmer properly and safely.

Our thorough guide explains the best practices for hedge trimming, safety tips, and answers your most pressing questions about using hedge trimmers.

Title - how to use hedge trimmers - safety, style and trimming tips;  shown with boxwood shaped to resemble a person

Know the Basics Before Cutting Hedges

If this is your first-time cutting the hedge, you’ll want to know the basics to keep yourself safe before you start.

  • Following basic safety practices including eye, ear, hand and feet protection.
  • Wear heavy-duty clothing to better protect yourself, including pants.
  • Make sure that the power cord and extension cord are firmly in place.
  • The trimmer blades should always be well-lubricated before and after cutting.
  • Check the site of the hedges and be sure to remove any obstructions or objects that may be a safety hazard.

When holding the trimmer, be sure to use the front and backhand grip and to grip these areas tightly. You’ll also want to place your thumb under the handle. Always keep your hands behind the protective guard and away from the blade for added safety.

Keeping the blades sharp is important because dull blades can cause the blade to snag and can make cuts uneven. Resin solvent can also be used on the blades and will confidently remove sap and other buildup on the blades that can impact the trimming process.

You can sharpen your blades at home or bring them to a shop if you’re not comfortable sharpening them.

Step 1. Plan Your Hedge Design

Before you start cutting, keep in mind the overall design you want to achieve. Hedges can make excellent privacy screens, add structure to the garden or add a bit of personality to your landscape.

Take a look at some of the ways you can use hedges in your overall landscape design.

Add interest to the front of your house with carefully planted and sculpted hedges.

Plant a living privacy screen in the backyard with a tall hedge.

elephant shaped topiary

If you like a whimsical feel, you can trim hedges in the shape of animals or people.

hedge defining border of property

Add structure to the landscape with a low hedge along the border of your property line.

Create an interesting landscape is by using hedges to highlight a focal point in the garden.

Step 2. Connect the Hedge Trimmer

Of course, the first step is to connect your trimmer and make sure that you have an ample extension cord length for larger trim jobs. Make sure that the extension cord is safety-rated, and account for the height of the hedge when deciding on extension cord length.

Keep the cord behind you for added safety when trimming.

Step 3. Work Your Way Up

Always start from the bottom up when trimming hedges or shrubs. The goal is to start at the bottom and slowly work your way up. Don’t apply too much pressure to the trimmer and make sure to take your time.

Man trimming the bottom of the hedge first

Trim the hedge slowly and pay close attention to the depth of your trim.

If you cut too far into the hedges, you risk making the hedge look uneven which is not what a professional cut will look like.

Make sure to follow these tips:

  • Don’t force the trimmer- allow it to do the work for you
  • Use a sweeping action to shape thinner branches

Step 4. Angle the Sides

The sides of the hedge require a little finesse to get the shape desired. Hedges narrow at the top and widen at the bottom, so you’ll need to cut the sides of the hedge on an angle. An angle is important for aesthetics, but it’s even more important for allowing sunlight into the hedge.

shaping the sides of bushes with a hedge trimmer

When the sides are properly angled, you’ll allow sunshine to reach the hedge’s root system to allow for steady growth.

Step 5. Cut the Tops

Cutting the top of your hedges will result in a more professional look. A lot of homeowners are scared to cut the tops, but it’s rather easy once you know how professionals trim tops.

cutting the top of hedges

You’ll want to guide the trimmer left and right while holding the trimmer level at the top of the hedges.

Go slow and make sure to only trim a few inches at a time. Concentration and patience are key for an even cut. Tops are cut last because you always want to start from the bottom up with your hedges.

If you are worried the final cut will be uneven, you can use a set of stakes connected with a string next to use as a guideline when trimming.

Once you’re done with the tops of the hedges, you’ll want to:

  • Step back and view the hedge for any excessive growth inside of the hedge
  • Sweep or rake up after you’ve finished with your hedge trimming
  • Once finished, be sure to clean and oil the blade to keep it in good condition for your next trim
  • If you notice any issues with the blades or trimmer, make sure to have the unit repaired prior to your next trim

You can always go back and make any touchups necessary for your hedge at this time.

yew bushes trimmed into a clean uniform shape

What Types of Bushes Can You Trim with a Hedge Trimmer?

Hedge trimmers can trim a variety of large and small bushes and hedges, including:

  • Boxwoods
  • Hawthorn
  • Hornbeam
  • Privet
  • Holly Bushes
  • Holm Oak
  • Yew Shrubs
  • Yellow Ribbon
  • Portuguese Laurel
  • Western Red Cedar
  • Red Robin Hedge
  • Purple Beech
  • Green Beech
  • Common Laurel

Pro Tip: A general rule of thumb is to trim your shrubs outside of the dormant period. This is typically in the fall or late winter months.

Experts discourage trimming your flowering shrubs in early spring since you may cut off new growth needed for budding flowers or berries. A better time for a planned reshaping is after they are finished flowering for the year.

3 Tips for Hedge Trimmer Safety

Hedge trimmers are powerful tools with sharp blades. Safety should be your top priority. Use these three tips to operate your hedge trimmer safely.

1. Clear the Area

Before you get started, make sure that the area is free and clear of:

  • Lawn debris
  • Garden decor
  • Toys
  • Garden hoses
  • Dead or loose branches
  • Other objects

Clearing the area will ensure that you have a clear view of the shrub and eliminates any tripping hazards. It also ensures that all dead and broken branches are kept away from the blades.

2. Wear the Right Gear

It is crucial to wear the appropriate gear when trimming hedges to protect yourself from flying debris. This includes:

  • Safety glasses
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Long pants
  • Hearing protection
  • Work gloves
  • Closed-toed, non-slip shoes
  • Close-fitting clothing
Man wearing safety gear - hat, goggles, gloves and coveralls - while holding a hedge trimmer.

Avoid loose clothing, as it can easily get caught in the blades and cause severe injury.

3. Operate with Safety in Mind

Always operate your hedge trimmer with safety in mind.

  • Don’t overreach
  • Only use in dry weather
  • Keep your hands away from the blades
  • Always operate with both hands

Always remember that your hedge trimmer is a powerful tool that can cause injury if not operated properly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hedge Trimmers

What are the Different Types of Hedge Trimmers?

There are three main types of hedge trimmers:
1. Electric corded,
2. Electric cordless
3. Gas

Gas-powered hedge trimmers typically provide the most power but can be messier with the need to mix oil and gas. Electric hedge trimmers are becoming more and more popular for many homeowners since they are lightweight and significantly quieter.

See our article on the best electric hedge trimmers for our top picks in this category.

In addition to the type of power, you can also choose the type of blade.
Single-action: A continuous blade that moves along a cutting bar.
Double-action: Uses two blades to cut the hedge at the same time.

How Often Do You Sharpen Hedge Trimmer Blades?

It’s important to sharper your trimmer’s blades after every 50 hours of operation. This helps to remove sap, dirt, and build-up that accumulates over time.

How Do You Clean Hedge Trimmer Blades?

1. Start with a wired brush to remove loose dirt and debris.
2. Wipe the blades down with soapy water and a sponge.
3. Remove remaining sap with #10 light oil.
4. Dry the blades completely with a clean, dry cloth.
5. Finish the job by spraying with an appropriate lubricant.

Should I Oil the Blades?

Yes. Hedge trimmer blades should be oiled after every use, ideally after cleaning. Check your user manual to find out what type of oil to is best.

Can You Use a Hedge Trimmer to Cut Branches?

It’s not recommended. Many hedge trimmers claim they can cut through stems that are 3/4″ thick, but you should not use this tool to cut through thick branches.

walkway with neatly trimmed trees and bushes

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to understand how to use a hedge trimmer safely and properly. Use our guide to ensure that you use your trimmer the right way, on the right types of bushes and care for it properly.

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