A formal hedge provides privacy to the garden and serves as an aesthetic backdrop for colorful plants. However, hedges do require regular maintenance to maintain the optimal size and shape. Improper pruning can be problematic and hides a plant's natural beauty. Too often plants are pruned into balls or blocks. The plants lose their natural beauty and repeated maintenance is required to maintain the geometric shapes. There are formal gardens where this type of pruning is appropriate, but most people do not have time to maintain formal landscapes. If a sheared, geometric look is desired, however, there are particular plants that are more adaptable to this regime.
Needle-leaf evergreens, such as yew, arbor-vitae, hemlock and spruce, are often sheared to develop hedges or present a sculptured plant for the landscape. Shearing is a major commitment to a rigid, timed pruning schedule. Start shearing when plants are young. As the plant grows, shearing will need to be done one or two times a year. Generally, plant growth begins in mid to late spring and stops by midsummer. Shearing should begin soon after new growth begins. A single early shearing will result in a more naturalistic look, as later growth softens the surface and hides the cuts. A more formal look can be maintained with regular shearing throughout the growing season.
Proper shearing is important. Plants with sheared tops and sides often suffer. The sides should be sheared so they are wider at the bottom than the top. If the top is wider, lower branches are shaded and will not receive enough sunlight to efficiently produce food for the plant. The non-productive leaves will drop from the lower portion of the plant, creating an unsightly, "leggy" plant.
Flat or wide tops should be avoided. Snow and ice can accumulate and break branches. Shape the tops for a narrow or rounded form so ice and snow can shed naturally. A neglected hedge, or one that has been pruned incorrectly, may need to be severely pruned.
Figure 8. Hedge styles
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