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Home > Essentials of Gardening > Hedges > Pruning and shearing
Pruning and Shearing in Gardening
Pruning and Shearing Whether your hedge is newly planted or an overgrown old one, it can be made a thing of beauty. Perhaps the most important thing in achieving and maintaining this beauty is correct pruning.

First, we must learn the difference between pruning and trimming or shearing. We prune mostly to keep the plants vigorous. We shear to give them appearance.

No shrubbery can remain beautiful unless new growth is constantly replacing the old wornout branches. In deciduous hedges or flowering shrubbery the first step in promoting this new growth is to cut off the oldest branches systematically at the ground to stimulate new shoots. If this process is carried on a little each year the shape or appearance of the plant need not be marred by drastic measures made neces- sary by accumulated neglect. The best time to do the pruning varies accord- ing to the type of plant. For shrubs which are grown for their foliage only, the best time is after the leaves are dropped in the fall or before they appear in the spring. While this is the ideal time do not hesitate to prune moderately while they are in leaf. Take out a stick or two here and there, then wait for vacant spots to grow together and go at it again.

In the case of flowering shrubbery the time of cutting must vary according to the time of bloom. To trim a shrub before it blooms is to risk loss of the flower buds. The majority of flowering shrubbery blooms on the new wood produced during the growing season of the previous year. It is wise to prune within a few weeks after flowers fade to give this new wood a chance to ripen for next year`s flowering.

The general rule is to prune spring-flowering shrubbery before July and the summer-flowering kinds any time after bloom but before March of the following spring. The length of life or success of a formal hedge may be determined, to a large extent, by the way it is sheared. We must remember that each leaf and branch demands its share of light, air, and rain. Rain not only moistens the soil but washes off the surface of the leaves, allowing them to perform their part in maintaining growth.

Shearing tools should be sharp, well oiled, and clean. A pair of scissors type shears is sufficient to care for the small planting but for large jobs mechanical types are available which save much time.

In addition to correct renewal and shearing, hedges need a regular system of watering and feeding. Cultivation about the base of the plants makes plant food more readily available and helps conserve moisture. Be careful how you do it, however, for incorrect cultivation can do more harm than good.

Cultivate the area under the branches but do not hill the soil around the stem. Shape the ground so that the water will run toward the stem-not away from it. Never work with the soil when it is wet or you may have a hard time getting it to crumble again.

If the plants show signs of failing, give them a feeding of balanced plant food. Scatter a large handful under the branches of each large shrub or one pound to each 15 feet of hedge. Water it down well and repeat monthly. Discontinue all feeding or heavy shearing by August, or you may stimulate new growth which will not have time to harden before frost. This kind of soft growth may winter-kill and cause other wood to die with it. Most types of flowering shrubbery make good hedges, but occupy considerable space and require careful pruning.

Japanese Barberry is perhaps the best low growing hedge for semiformal effect, growing to four feet high in a great variety of soils and standing some shade. It is hardy almost anywhere and, if clipped, makes a dense wall. It has bright berries in winter. Plants to be sheared are set eighteen inches apart or, for natural growth, twenty-four to thirty inches. Privet of various kinds comes next in usefulness. It is the most used in the United States because of its quick growth. Carefully planted and fertilized it will give excellent results. Plants should be set rather deep and cut back to 6 in. as soon as planted to stimulate the growth of side branches. When the new shoots are a foot tall, cut them back half way; repeat as growth is made so as to develop a thick, bushy base. After the desired height is reached shear once in June and again in late July if necessary to keep hedge in form. Plants can be set from 8 to 10 or 12 in. apart depending on the size of the hedge desired. For an extra thick tight one, set 1 ft. apart in two rows about 10 in. apart "staggering" the plants in the rows.

Prune it as shown so that the lower branches get plenty of light as well as the upper ones and are not shaded by them.
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