How to Cut Back Hedges


Gardeners cut back hedges to shape them and to encourage new growth. Young hedges become leggy and difficult to manage if left uncut while reaching maturity. According to the Arizona Master Gardener Manual, hedges do well if you follow the natural shape of the plants instead of forcing an ornamental shape such as animal figures, pyramids or even geometric shapes. Shape a hedge by gradually tapering it and making it narrower from the base to the top.

Step 1

Place a small drop of oil on a cutting stone. Place the blade of your pruning shears at a 45-degree angle on the stone. Swipe the blade back and forth across the stone. Repeat until the blade is sharpened. Wipe the blade with a clean rag. Repeat for the second blade of the pruning shears.

Step 2

Put on a pair of gardening gloves to protect your hands. Lay a drop cloth under the hedge to catch the cuttings.

Step 3

Examine the hedge for dead limbs or twigs. At a 45-degree angle, cut these off close to the parent limb or supporting trunk on the hedge. Repeat cutting back until all of the dead limbs or twigs are cut from the hedge.

Step 4

Examine the hedge for broken limbs or twigs. Cut these off of the hedge as described in the previous step. Repeat cutting until all the broken limbs or twigs are cut from the hedge.

Step 5

Use a tape measure and measure approximately 8 inches from the ground upwards on the hedge. Tie a small rag or piece of string onto the hedge to mark the distance.

Step 6

Use a tape measure to measure from the left-side of the hedge to the center approximately 8 inches. Mark with a small rag or string. Repeat by measuring from the right-side of the hedge to the center and mark.

Step 7

Cut back the hedge with the sharpened pruning shears from the edges toward the markers you placed on the hedge in the previous steps. Only cut back 1/3 of the total hedge. You might not be able to cut young hedges the full amount to the markers. Form the desired shape of the hedge while cutting it back.

Step 8

Pick up the drop cloth. Dispose of the cuttings in a manner that you select. Repeat the process to cut back the remaining hedges in your landscape.

Tips and Warnings

  • According to the AZ Master Gardener Manual, cutting back hedges too often can kill the undergrowth and stunt the growth of hedges. Do not cut back evergreen hedges that have reached a maturity age of 3 to 5 years.

Things You'll Need

  • Oil
  • Cutting stone
  • Pruning shears
  • Clean rag
  • Drop cloth
  • Tape measure
  • Rag strips or string pieces


  • AZ Master Gardener Manual: Pruning Hedges
  • URI Greenshare Fact Sheets: Pruning Hedges
Keywords: cut back hedges, cutting back hedges, hedge care

About this Author

Lisha Smith writes for several blogs and has freelanced for six years. She has a Bachelor of Arts from UNC-Greensboro in psychology. Smith has self-published several books. Her areas of experience include gardening, cooking, home improvement, pets and mental health.