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Reducing height of Conifer hedge

In the last week, I have been to view two jobs that have required me to reduce the height of the conifer hedge by about 2'. I have cut a large number of hedges, but, have never reduced the height of a conifer hedge. With business going really slow (due to the hot weather), I am looking at as much work as I possibly can. Is there any special way of reducing a conifer hedge? Or, is it simply a case of cutting from the front and working towards te back? Both hedges are about 8' deep. I have thought about the tools and think it will be a combination of chainsaw and pruner. If anyone has other tools they could recommend, I would be grateful. I really would welcome any advice. Thanks in advance.

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  • PRO

    Always found these easier using a pole pruner type chainsaw - indeed you can get a special short reach one for this task.

    Failing that a decent silky saw, decent pruner and a good eye for level.

    Really not a fan of a chainsaw per se for this as you will find you could end working dangerously close to the chain and its a big NO NO if working off ladders.

  • To my mind, there should not be any issue with using a chainsaw in this situation. Just this week I saw some tree surgeons at work. One of them was [harnessed of course] standing on a branch thirty feet up with his chainsaw in hand.

    I would never recommend a novice to use a chainsaw [at all] at height [even a few feet up as in this case], but as we on here are professionals, with years of experience, there really is nothing to fear. Just work with care, bringing skills and experience to bear, as we always do.

    The trick with hedge reduction is getting a straight line finish. Using a line along the hedge is a good idea and then cutting carefully just above the line to start with. [You can’t stick it back on if you accidentally cut too low]. Then fine tune down to the line.

    It is all too easy to remove a branch which has a sub branch attached which goes lower than you think, thus removing a chunk below the line.

  • I would trim the side(s) first, as normal. Then start at the lowest end of the top. If the conifers have never been topped previously there will be fewer upright stems than if they have. Judiciously cutting these off at this one end location, working towards the desired level, as Vic says watch out for low swooping side branches which if removed can cause a ragged finish to the edge. I use loppers and a small-ish cordless chainsaw or pole chainsaw, depending on how close I am able to get. If in doubt move a side branch slightly, whilst still attached to the trunk, to see what the effect of removal will be, before committing yourself. Once the level is determined on that first bit, the rest of the hedge is easier. On the larger hedges the centre may be cut lower than the sides so the skirt of foliage around the edge rises above and hides the ugly cut trunks. The actual cuts to the centre maybe even at slightly varying heights or angles to maintain the visual final edge level. Also an edge branch can be trimmed down to height at the top to match the others afterwards, rather than removed entirely, if doing so would have left a hole

    • Thanks everyone - really useful advice. As I may well use the chainsaw, I will not be working from a ladder. I will use tower scaffolding. The ground around allows for this. Working from a firm platform should make things relatively easier. As Bollypop suggests, I will cut the centre section lower. At the start of this year, I had to cut the front of a very tall hedge and what I thought was also the top. I found out that the customer had the hedge topped the year previous and it was only the growth top edge that needed cutting - really easy! Once again, thsnks for your time with really valuable comments.

      • PRO

        On the thicker inner stems I only use a long narrow bladed pruning saw so it doesn.t get trapped I find darlac ideal for this also a wolf garten pruning saw attached to a long shaft where long reach is required .

        Would never use a full size chainsaw (sideways ) on a hedge they just drag you in and bounce a bit hap hazzard ,conifer also secretes resin which sticks to the chain and collects debris .

        I find more control and actually quicker using a pruning saw . Silky or Darlac are excellent .

        Agree with Billybops approach to keeping the centre lower than the sides .


  • Hi, exactly as Billybop says. Also I would add that if the hedge is well established you may well be able to climb into the hedge at one end and then work your way along at the desired height.  I have often done this, so long as the hedge is thick enough that you can keep finding a good footing. It's a good workout but can be easier than using a ladder or tower. 

  • Make sure the client understands that the top will be left open and bare.  They may well be expecting it to look the same inside as it does on the outside, and blame you for the result!

    • Once again, thank you for the advice. I submitted a quote and to date have not received any form of response. I am going to assume I wasn't successful on this occasion. Interestingly, I am receiving a number of enquiries about hedge reduction. The above information s really useful. I don't think potential customers actually realise how much work is involved. 

      • PRO

        I'd go back and ask.... especially if you are short on work.

        The worst they can do is not answer. The best (which has happened to me a few times) is an answer along the lines of "will you do it by date X?" .... or we had budgeted for a bit less ... or there are pigeons still nesting in it.... 

        So many of us put in quotes and don't go back, fine if you have loads of work, but if you need work I say go back and see what you can achieve. After all it already owes you - youve taken out the time to write up the quote, post here etc etc.

        Apologies if I'm trying to teach you to suck eggs....

        • could be that the client just wants the top hacked off any old how and not too fussed about what it looks like, the main issue with these jobs is the sheer volume of waste generated, especially if large well established trees that have been neglected

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