The Q&A Archives: Sparse Hedges

Question: I recently moved into a house with a thirty- to forty-year old privet hedge. The hedge is about six feet tall and seperates my property from my neighbors. Although my neighbor's side of the hedge is full and healthy, my side is sparse. I'm pretty sure it's a pruning issue. Although I've read other Q & A's regarding this topic, can you give me some specific advice on pruning the hedges to make them fuller (without affecting my neighbor's side of the hedge)? And can I do the pruning in late May or June, or do I need to wait until next Spring?

Answer: Have you spoken to your neighbors about how they keep their side of the hedge looking so good? They may have some tips to offer you. Without seeing the hedge it's hard to direct you specifically, but here are some general guidelines. You can consult with a local landscaper on the project?they will be able to tell you if pruning during the active growing season in your area is a problem or not.

You may be able to do the job simply by thinning dead and weak, twiggy growth, and then shearing/clipping the whole shrub to stimulate new growth. If there are major holes and open spots, rejuvenation of your side of the hedge will probably take a year or so. Generally, pruning of major branches should be done while the shrub is dormant (late winter/early spring), but you can thin out the dead and weedy growth now. Next spring you can shape the hedge to be wider at the bottom than at the top. If a hedge is allowed to get top heavy the top growth will shade the lower parts of the shrub, resulting in sparse growth at the foot.

Shear your hedge monthly this summer if growth is vigorous, and that will help it fill in. Spraying the foliage with kelp/seaweed solution will provide nutrients and growth stimulants. Mulch the foot of the hedge with an inch or two of bark, and water it during dry spells. A feeding with rich compost and a slow-release organic fertilizer will further strengthen the plant. Best of luck to you!

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