If your garden hedge strongly resembles your Sunday-morning bed hair, it might be in need of a haircut.
For the novice gardener, hedge trimming may feel slightly overwhelming. With such a huge variety of hedge trimmers on the market, and a lot of different information online, working out how best to create a crisp, tidy hedge can be confusing.
Firstly, choosing the best hedge trimmer will require some thought – it depends what your garden is like as well as your own physical capabilities. Then it comes down to technique as well.
Here’s some useful information to help inform you on the topic of hedge trimmers:
Choosing a Trimmer Based on Your Hedges
The type of hedge you want to cut will dictate what type of hedge trimmer you need.
If you have a small hedge and don’t mind a bit of manual work (and potential arm ache), you could just reach for the hand shears.
These are good tools to have around for quick jobs, especially if there’s the odd rogue branch sticking out. However, if you’re trying to drastically cut back a whole hedge, or it’s longer than a few metres, you’ll find it easier to use a machine.
Hand-held electric trimmers are used by some gardeners on small shrubs and bushes. These are not suitable for trimming hedge rows, but can make it easy to trim short hedges or decorative bushes.
Electric trimmers with a cutting blade of 30 – 40 cm can also be useful on smaller hedges. You will find that you are able to cut the hedge quickly, and these trimmers normally have the power to allow you to cut back a significant amount of hedge.
For smaller, young hedges, the gap between the teeth in the blade should be between 15 – 20 mm. This will generally mean that the trimmer can cope with branches up to 20 mm in diameter.
You are unlikely to require a telescopic hedge trimmer if you only have short hedges.
Using an electric hedge trimmer with a cutting blade of 40 cm + will make it easier to approach medium hedges.
If the hedge is mature, you should look for a trimmer which has at least a 30 mm gap between each of the teeth on the blade. If it’s a younger hedge, you may be able to get away with a smaller gap.
Depending on the height of the hedge, you may benefit from a telescopic hedge trimmer – it comes down to whether you can comfortably and evenly trim the top of the hedge without one.
For larger hedges, you should consider a hedge trimmer with a blade length of 45 cm +. You can even find hedge trimmers with 70 cm blade which you might consider if you have a lot of big hedges.
Of course, the longer the blade, the more hedge you can cut in one go. However, larger machines are heavier machines so you may have to reach some level of compromise.
Cutting the tops of tall hedges can be made a lot easier by using the best telescopic pole hedge trimmer. When buying longer tools like these, it’s a good idea to look for one with the motor at the handle-end of the tool; they can get top heavy if it is positioned higher up.
As mentioned above, it’s not always just the physical size of the hedge that’s important, but the size of the branches you’re looking to trim.
These can vary depending on the type of hedge and its age.
Younger hedges will have thinner branches, so a small blade gap (15 – 20 mm) should be sufficient. More mature hedges may have thicker branches, requiring a bigger blade gap of 30 mm +.
Weight and Comfort
Comfort is another factor to consider – especially if you’re going to be holding the trimmer for a long time.
It goes without saying that larger tools for larger hedges will be heavier. If you need a big trimmer, choosing one with a supportive shoulder strap can make a difference; the weight will be distributed more evenly across your body.
At the end of the day, you need to feel in control on the trimmer, even if this means getting a smaller one because it’s lighter, and spending longer on a job.
The hedge trimmers featured on this page vary in weight, weighing around 2 – 5 kg. Holding a 2 kg weight for an extended period is significantly different to holding a 5 kg weight for the same time, so you need to consider your physical capabilities.
With longer pole trimmers, you should look for trimmers that have the motor at the base – you’ll find it more comfortable and easier to balance.
As with all power tools, if you find yourself getting sore or tired, take a break and come back to it later. There’s no point risking safety just to try and finish a job quicker.
Mains Powered Vs. Cordless Trimmers
You generally have three options when it comes to trimmers – mains-powered trimmers, cordless electric trimmers, or petrol trimers. For this article, the focus is predominantly on cordless and mains powered machines as these are the most popular choices for non-professional jobs around the home.
Petrol trimmers are extremely powerful, but can be too heavy for casual garden work. They are useful for cutting back very thick branches, particularly in areas that are not close to a power source.
Mains-Powered Hedge Trimmers
These are usually lightweight, with no battery to add on weight, and can be very powerful.
These are the best hedge trimmers for gardens with small/medium hedges and can often trim branches of up to 45 mm in diameter.
They tend to be lighter than petrol trimmers but also have slightly less power. However, they are generally more powerful than battery-powered machines.
The biggest downside of using a mains-powered trimmer is being restricted by the cable. Often the power cable is only around 6 m long. Of course, you can use an extension cable, and you don’t have to worry about running out of power, but you do need to be careful.
Accidentally cutting the cord is a surprisingly common incident. Working with the cable over your shoulder should make this less likely. To protect yourself in case this does happen, use a residual current device (RCD).
Cordless Hedge Trimmers
These give you more freedom to move around your garden compared to mains-powered machines. However, they often cost more than their tethered cousins.
Choosing whether a battery-powered trimmer is right for you will depend on a variety of factors.
The batteries generally last 20 – 45 minutes depending on the model. Depending on your garden size, and how many hedges you have, this might be enough or it might be too little.
However, you can often buy more than one battery, so you can charge one whilst using the other. But, of course, this is an additional cost.
Finally, if you do have a big garden you might decide it’s worth using a cordless electric trimer just so that you don’t have to deal with the cable of a mains-powered model, or the weight of a petrol trimmer. As long as your hedges don’t have very thick branches, this will also be a viable option. Big jobs will just take longer if you have to wait for the battery to recharge.
Staying on Top of Maintenance
Cleaning the Blades
Cleaning the blades of your hedge trimmer is an important, albeit mundane, job if you want your trimmer to last a long time.
Hedge trimmer blades pick up a huge amount of residue when they are used which can get jammed between the blades. Leaves, twigs and feathers can all build up, which will stop your hedge trimmer from working and drastically reduce its lifespan.
Regularly cleaning your blades is the best way to ensure your hedge trimmer lives a long and happy life.
- Ensure the trimmer is switched off and disconnected from the power source.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands around the sharp blades.
- Lay your hedge trimmer on a stable, flat surface.
Then, if you are cleaning your hedge trimmer immediately after use:
- Use a cloth or brush to get rid of as much of the debris as possible, because the debris won’t have had time to settle and stick to the blades.
- Brush as much off as you can, especially in between the blades which is where build up is usually the worst.
Or, if the debris has hardened and stuck to the blades:
- You will need to use soap and water.
- Ensure the blades are completely dry after doing this to prevent rusting and corrosion.
- If soap and water doesn’t work, other recommendations include soaking the blades in white spirit for a few hours. This should dissolve any remaining debris. Wipe off any remnants and then apply a thorough coat of lubricant.
Sharpening the Blades
Sharpening a hedge trimmer should be done, ideally, after 50 hours of work. Don’t wait until the blades show signs of wear.
- Wear thick gloves.
- Remove any dirt before sharpening.
- Only sharpen the cutting edge.
- Make sure the blades are aligned.
How to Sharpen the Blades
- The best way to sharpen a hedge trimmer is using a flat file.
- Place the file along the edge of the tooth and make long, smooth downwards strokes in the direction of the cutting edge. Maintain the sharpening angle which will be given in the manual.
- Repeat this for all other teeth, making downward strokes only.
Whilst over-sharpening is a risk, it’s unlikely to happen when sharpening the blades by hand – it’s tough enough work just to get them to optimum sharpness!
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