Dense is best for hedges; here’s how to prune properly

When summer arrives, it can be easy to overlook the routine tasks. June is a good month, for instance, to shear your hedges. Here are some tips on how to keep your hedges in shape before they get unruly and start to look overgrown.

I’d prune formal hedges slightly wider at the base than at the top. That way, the sides of the hedge will receive equal sun exposure, and you’ll keep the foliage full from the top to the bottom. Sometimes you’ll see improperly pruned hedges that are usually wider at the top than the base. Pruning hedges in June will help create a denser hedge. Of course, with the summer sun, you can expect more growth, so I’d plan on shearing again in July.

June is not the typical month to prune trees and shrubs, but now that plants are well developed, it’s easier to see which branches are dead. You can prune dead branches any time of year. Once they are removed, you can decide whether a damaged tree or shrub is worth saving.

Power equipment, such as weed whips, can save time, but safety is the first consideration. Please remember to wear protective glasses and earplugs when you use such equipment. Also, I’d keep in mind that the plastic line can kick up debris that could injure your eyes or sting your legs if you’re wearing shorts. The line can also damage the bark of trees and strip paint off fence posts. If you’re using electronics for a long period, try using ear protection; I use earmuffs when I’m mowing the lawn or using a leaf blower.

Fruit trees are often trained as what’s known as espaliers. Using guide wires and careful pruning techniques, crab apple, pear, or apple trees can be encouraged to grow in flat decorative patterns against brick or wooden walls. Espaliered plants are used for softening large blank spaces on walls or fences. To train espaliers, twigs and branches are bent to meet design requirements when they’re young and supple. To do so, I’d carefully tie the branches in place with raffia or plastic tape. The ties should be secured loosely so the flow of water and nutrients through the stem is not constricted. Adjust the ties during the remainder of the growing season as necessary. Most espaliers are ready to be pruned at this time.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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