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Hornbeam hedge - Where do I start

I planted a row of hornbeam plants in my front garden in December 2016 with the wish to create a dense hedge that would provide some privacy but also give the local birds somewhere to live.  The plants have grown - up and out - and I have done nothing to them apart from water them for 2 years. Some are getting taller whilst some are squat and growing more sideways. I simply don't know where to start on pruning to shape. I am a complete amateur gardener and was hoping that a hedge would create itself - but I now realise it needs some help. Can anybody provide me with simple steps as to when and what I need to do to give these plants their best chance of a healthy life.

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  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 22,759
    Prune the entire hedge back so it is one level height and make that 6" to 12"/15 to 30cms below the eventual required height, assuming any of it is that tall.  If not do that in future years to thicken it.

    Do a similar system with the sides, cutting all the stems back to the same width from the centre and a few inches narrower than you want the finished hedge to be.  This will enable it to thicken by producing fine new growth that will be easy to trim and keep neat later on.

    Taper the sides so it is slightly wider at the base than the top so that rain and sunlight get to the lower stems and also any snow can slide off more easily and not weigh down and break or bend stems. 

    Initially, these formative trims can be done with secateurs, loppers or shears according to your preference and the thickness of the stems.   Thinner stems can be done with electric or motor powered hedge strimmers as can the whole hedge later on when it's full of fine stems at the outer limts.

    Hornbeam is lovely and worth trimming well.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • Merci beaucoup, Obelixx! Every branch which I have pruned immedeately produces new leaves, but the highest one sends out the most and these are very vigorous. Should I take out some to keep the top in shape. If I do not act the result is an upside trapezium. Hope you understand my question. Appreciate your answer! Regards, Tim
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 2,961
    edited August 2019
    I would make a string line about 2/3 of the current height of the hedge and top it dead level. Use shears but cut stems which are too thick with loppers. Then carve the sides as described by Obelixx and in the picture below. 

    You can be fairly brutal. I'm sure you've seen recently cut hedges out in the countryside - they look totally butchered when they've just been done, but it makes them grow back strong and dense. Late winter would be a good time to do it.

    Image result for hedge pruning diagram
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