Cutting back conifers

D CD C Posts: 17

I was wondering if any of you fine ladies and gentlemen could offer me some thoughts and advice on a situation I have with rather large conifers please.

My neighbour planted conifer trees on the border of her property and mine many years ago. For years before I moved in, the conifers have been allowed to grow and there was very little evidence of pruning. As a result, the trees look stunning, but when I moved in the branches were so far onto my property that a large part of my garden was taken up by it.

Above head-height this is not really an issue, as it provides a nice little rain shelter, but I did want to utilise the space in my garden, so I decided to cut the bottom 7 foot or so back and reclaim some garden.

I had read that you should not cut back further than the green, so I left a few inches of green and cut the rest.

The result was rather disappointing. Because I have cut it back as far as I could, it doesn't look as good (you can obviously see the brown bits), and because they had been growing for so long before I cut them back, they are still taking up a good five feet of garden I could use for something that does look good.

The option of letting it grow out again until it looks good is not appealing, as I would like the space. And as it doesn't look good as it does, I am tempted to cut the branches right back to the trunk up to a height of about 7 feet, and modestly trim higher up every year to keep it as it is.

My question is whether this would be bad for the tree, or whether the tree would start with fresh branches, or whether indeed the tree would not be able to cope with such trimming.

Does anybody have any ideas or suggestions please?

Thank you very much.


  • You don't say what type of Conifer but I think broadly speaking, cutting back into brown wood  means no new growth.

    Much depends on how you feel about the encroachment into your space and whether your neighbour is willing to be reasonable and/or is able to deal with the trees from their own side of the boundary.

    You are of course entitled to cut off any branches which overhang your boundary and a conversation with your neighbour re the height would seem to be a good idea..  

    If the trees are a shared boundary, the cost of any pruning work would be shared between you.

    On the whole, thin on the base ( as you have pruned already ) and hefty growth on the top doesn't sound like a good idea - usually the other way round.

    A photo or two may help other posters to offer some advice.

  • D CD C Posts: 17

    I am afraid I have no idea what kind of conifer it is. I was impressed with myself I knew it was a tree to be honest.

    There is no issue of any neighbourly dispute. The neighbour is happy for me to do as I wish, and I wouldn't expect her to contribute to any pruning. I am just trying to think of a way of creating a bit more living space in my garden without killing her beautiful tree.


  • The word "beautiful" is very subjective here! If it were me I would cut everything back as much as possible. If the neighbour is happy for you to encroach on their land and cut back to the trunk (assuming the trunks are on their side of the boundary - if the trunks ARE the boundary then go for it) on this side, I would do that. I would do it as high up as possible. The trimming will not harm the plant. There probably won't be any new growth from the cut back section, but if you've trimmed to the edge of the green and it's still several feet over... get rid!

  • D CD C Posts: 17

    You are right, of course. Impressive is a much better word. It's enormous, but I definitely won't be planting any of them.

    The trunks are pretty much on the boundary, and the neighbour is happy, so it sounds like I can reclaim quite a bit of garden without killing the tree. But if I cut all the way back, especially if I go higher up as well, will the tree not end up being significantly heavier on the other side?That is why I was keen to leave branches higher up as well; to keep some sort of balance.

    Or am I underestimating the strenth of the trunks?

  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 10,145

    You can safely cut all the branches on your side back to the trunk but it will look very unattractive.  However, if you erect a mesh or trellis fence or even just posts and wires you can cover it all up with attractive climber such as rambling roses, honeysuckle, wisteria, clematis depending on which way it faces and how much sun it gets.

    Be aware that these trees suck all the goodness and moisture out of the soil so, before planting anything, you will need to work in barrowloads of well rotted garden compost and/or manure.

    A row of conifers like that along a boundary constitutes a hedge and there is a regulation 2m height for those.   I would have a word with your neighbour about getting all the trees' main trunks cut back to just below 2m and then trimming the remaining branches to look more hedge like.   As stated above, conifers do not re-grow from brown stem or dried up foliage so if you do want a hedge on you side you're not gong to be able to reclaim much space and keep a green hedge - or grow much in front to make it more interesting because of the soil issues. 

    The Vendée, France
  • D CD C Posts: 17

    Fantastic information from you all, thank you very much.

    It is facing south, but in Scotland, so it gets light rather than sunshine, but I like the idea of getting a climber there, so will get working on the compost and looking into climbers that do not require excellent soil.

    Very grateful for all your thoughts and advice.

  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 10,145

    Any climber you wish to perform with god foliage and/or flowers will need a lot of improvement to soil near conifers.  Worth taking the time to get it right before you plant or you'll end up growing wimpy straggly things and having to start again.  South facing is excellent and the conifers will, at least, provide shelter by filtering strong northerly winds to less damaging forces.

    The Vendée, France
  • hogweedhogweed Central ScotlandPosts: 2,489

    Or you may quite like the row of trunks with lots of interesting plants/shrubs planted in front. Take your time in enriching the soil as much as possible before you plant anything, as has been stated before. You may find you have a problem in digging the border because of the tree roots but just do as much as you can or resort to forking it over.

    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
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