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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Should a License Be Required to Carry a Hedge Shears?

What was not forseen in the advent of desert landscaping was the dramatic change in pruning techniques brought in by the landscape industry. Hand pruners and loppers were gone. Hedge shears were in.
I was heavily involved in bringing good desert landscaping into Las Vegas in the 1980's.  It was part of my job. One of the big advantages touted for desert landscaping was the reduction in maintenance by about 30% because lawns were either removed or shrunken in size. Lawns represented the most maintenance in a landscape. What was not forseen was the dramatic change in pruning techniques brought in by the landscape industry. Hand pruners and loppers were gone. Hedge shears were in.

Nice looking, formal hedge. This is where the hedge shears should be used. The top of the hedge should be slightly narrower than the bottom. This gives the larger diameter wood at the base a chance to maintain leaf cover for a longer period of time and allows for better light reception at the base.
Hedgeshears Logic. I have never understood the logic of using a hedge shears to prune anything but a hedge. But they are. Commercially it fits the "blow and go" logic of the current landscape industry.
Picture of  HS-3911
Manually operated hedge shears by Corona. I like Corona shears of most types, and even their hedge shears, but it is over-used in commercial and home landscapes. Even Corona would not endorse the extent to which it is used.

You carry a hedge shears around and you use it to make everything look like a ball. The "trimmings" from the shrubs are picked up and hauled off to the landfill (at least in Las Vegas).

Landscape shrubs about three years into hedge shearing. They have started to become "twiggy" and their multiple trunks are becoming exposed.

If there is anything to "blow", the guy carrying the gas engine-driven, cacophonous blower comes in some time later and finishes the cleanup. Landscape workers will start "blowing" on commercial properties where noise problems are not much of a problem, in the dark with headlamps, at 5 am or earlier. Some used have "night vision" capability. Arguably, these are the "Rambo" landscaper types (aka like the camos).

One headlamp preferred by landscape workers

Landscape in the early stages of hedge shearing. Some of these can still be corrected.
The big advantages for landscape service companies using hedge shears is that it requires carrying only one piece of equipment, very little training required so almost anyone can do it, the results of hedge shearing are immediately seen by the customer and it requires numerous repeat shearings during the season.

Disadvantages. The disadvantages to the customer are not seen at first and sometimes not cared about. Plants that produce flowers on new season growth, like Texas Ranger and oleander, have their potential new flowers removed. The plants are neatly "hedged" but flower production is later in the season than normal and usually very sparse because new growth is continuously removed.

Second, most plants pruned with hedge shears are pruned into an unnatural shape. This means more work is needed to keep them in this shape (repeat shearing during the season).

Third, the aesthetics of these plants are ruined in about five years. Shearing makes them "leggy" so that you see alot of bare, thick stems at the base and they lose their leaf cover. Basically they get ugly. At this point most plants cannot be "corrected" and they must be replaced. If replacing plants every five years is in your business plan then hedge shearing is for you!
This is what eventually begins to happen to shrubs that are continuously hedge sheared. Large stems at the base get larger and larger and lose their "ability" to produce shoots that can carry leaves.

Fourth, bare wood on the stems at the base is open to damage from sunburn and infestation by borers (if they are susceptible to borers).

Correct pruning of shrubs that are not to be used as a formal hedge is near the ground, removing 1 to 3 of the oldest stems if there are only a few of them. More than this may be removed if there oodles of these stems. Plants will show you where to cut them if you just look.

This is oleander for example. At the base of oleander there are some "suckers" aka watersprouts, emerging from some short stubs that were left from last year's pruning. This is a very good sign that if you were to prune oleander stems low to the ground that they will sucker and send up all new shoots.
This is a closeup of the base of the very same shrub. Notice the cut stub left from last years pruning cut. This person had the right idea but cut the wrong stem!. Leave the young ones. Cut the oldest ones the same way and let them sucker up to fill in the bottom. Do this on one or two of the oldest stems every other year and you will fill the shrub with blooms top to bottom and you will not see any of the base of the plant. Two cuts = ten seconds. Pickup time = ten seconds. Do not use the hedge shears on this plant.
If there are alot of stems then follow the 1/4 rule. Remove about 1/4 of the oldest stems every 1 to 3 years depending on how juvenile you want your shrub to be and how tall you want it. This type of pruning is needed from 1 to 3 years depending on how vigorously the shrub grows. level and pruning is every two to three years.

If you are not sure what will happen to the plant cut just one stem back near to the ground and see what happens. If it suckers up, do a couple more. It will not be too late. You could do this easily until about March or even April.

Cleanup is easy. You collect these few entire stems from the ground in about ten seconds. No mess is left.

I talked to one person on the phone and told him how it should be done over the phone. He was going to hire someone to do it. I stopped him and talked him out of it and he is doing it himself. Can you spare five minutes of your time on each shrub every 1 to 3 years? No one is THAT busy!

Why make more work for yourself? Unless, of course, there is a good reason you need to create more work!


  1. Lately I've been noticing a trend toward the use of electric/gas saws to trim bushes. Apparently hedge shears take too much time these days! I think we should start a photo file of "HIDEOUS TRIM JOBS" of local trees and bushes, with locations being kept anonymous. I'm sure that everyone has that cringe-worthy memory of a particular bush or tree hacked to death in the neighborhood. My example of hideous tree trims are on Decatur at the garden apartments across from Friendly Ford. The entire front row of trees has been mutilated by its annual "topping" done... they look like aliens from Area 51 now, rather than simple shady trees...

  2. I would support that. If people want to send pictures to me I can post them on this blog. I would be happy to give credit to anyone wanting it. Otherwise all postings are confidential as all pictures sent to me are.