Winter has a sharp knack of showing up parts of my garden where action is needed. None more so than the hedge and long loved shrubs. Their bare branches show what and where I need to renovate. And from now into early spring is the time to do it for deciduous (and therefore dormant at this time of year) plants.


This lovely beech hedge at Rosemooor RHS gardens needs no renovation this year! Sarah Buchanan.

The tools: good, thick gloves and sturdy footwear, sharp secateurs, loppers, a hedge trimmer and pruning saw. Possibly a step ladder.

Renovate deciduous hedges

Overgrown deciduous hedges that do well after renovation include beech, hawthorn and hornbeam. Box, holly and Lonicera nitida also do well but they are evergreen so don't cut them until around April.

Strength and energy needed: medium to high, depending on the size and nature of the hedge.

Deciduous hedges can be cut back by up to 50% height and width in one go. If your hedge needs more action do it over a few years. After renovation your hedge may have bare patches, but re-growth will quickly fill these.

Decide how high you want the hedge to be, and cut the top hedge down to at least 15cm (6 inches) less. Keep a steady eye to keep a straight-ish line. You will find it easier if you can put up a tight string at the height you want the hedge to be, and cutting below it. Decide the width you want, and where you want each side to end. Cut into one side of the hedge to reach that edge line: next year, cut the other side to the edge you want there. If you are keen for action do both sides now. Cut sides at an angle to create a ‘batter’ which is the name for a hedge shape with sloping sides (think triangle with the top cut off).

Some old hedges respond very well to 'hedge laying' techniques. It is not difficult to do but you need more information than this blog can offer.

Renovate shrubs - in hedges and those that stand alone

Shrubs with lots of thick stems and more growth at the top than the bottom are candidates for this satisfying task.

Why? Young growth has more and better leaves and, if it is a flowering shrub, flowers. And the shrub looks good.

Strength and energy needed: low to medium.

This garden task needs action every year. This year, cut down, as near to the ground as you can, no more than one third of the thickest (and oldest) stems.

Next year do the same and keep going until you are happy with the shape and growth of the shrub.


Here's one that had a hard cut! That can work well, especially where drastic action is needed. But this approach can spur a shrub to grow lots of thin shoots, which isn't what you want.  Sarah Buchanan.

Prune out of control ivy

Ivy is good for insects and birds and can be a stunning addition to any garden. You know all that? If not - read our blog here! And when it is out of control it can pull down fences, smother shrubs and hedges and be a nuisance plant.

Strength and energy needed: low.

Simply keep your ivy where you want it by methodically cutting back stems that are growing where you don’t want them. If you need to pull long stems out of undergrowth and overgrowth be careful not to break the branches of trees and shrubs. If you can't extract the ivy cut it off near the plant and the stem will die and be easier to remove.

Prune vines

Early January is the last time to tackle this task because vines ‘bleed’ when cut later in the year.

Strength and energy needed: low.

Cut down all the long ‘leading’ stems that are shooting away in to the distance. Then cut down any other stems that are growing where you don’t want them.

What next?

  • Use the straight prunings to stake your plants (read how to do that in our earlier blog).
  • Build a bonfire! (if you live in an area where this is OK).
  • In spring, mulch and water well in dry spells the plants you have renovate.