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Hornbeam Pruning

I had a hornbeam hedge planted in April and it’s now grown taller than I want it to be and is rather ‘leggy’ and not really filling out. Can it be pruned at present without damaging the plants?
And is there any advice on how to prune the plants?
Many thanks for any advice 


  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,165
    I had a hornbeam hedge in my last garden. I think advice is to prune from August, we did it in September with a hedgecutter. The main thing is to do it after birds have finished nesting.

    Yours is young so it doesn't matter if it's leggy now, it will take a bit of time to fill out. I don't know how tall yours is. When mine was mature we kept it to between 5 and 6 feet.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Thanks Busy Lizzie
    It was around 90cm - 100cm when it was planted and we only want it be around 120cm which it has now passed and wondered if pruning now would cause any harm? 
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,165
    edited July 2021
    This is what a website says, I can't remember that far back.

    Caring for your hornbeam after planting

    As soon as the freshly-planted hornbeam has established itself in the garden, the next task is to shorten the long shoots of bare-root plants by around half using  secateurs, so that they bush out into a thicker hedge. Otherwise the hornbeam grows upwards and outwards too quickly, meaning plant cover in the central section can become sparse.
    Generally speaking, after the first time, you should prune the hedge little and often in the next two or three years to maintain its thickness and to avoid any bare patches. The young hornbeam will lose some of its vigour if it is cut back too frequently. Adding fertiliser in the form of compost (approx. 2–3 litres per square metre) will give the shrub enough nutrients for healthy growth. Apply the required amount of compost as a thin layer and work it in lightly using a grubber. After around three years, when the hornbeam has grown into an imposing hedge, pruning it twice a year will be sufficient — once at the end of June and once in January or February before buds form. Adding fertiliser to nutrient-rich soil is not usually necessary, but with thin soil you should add fertiliser as usual.
    After planting the shrub in autumn, you should also water vigorously by adding 10 to 20 litres of water per square meter, followed by occasional watering during its first winter on days when there is no frost. But take care — like many other plants, hornbeams are sensitive to waterlogging.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • nick615nick615 Posts: 1,500
    I think the quoted article is trying to juggle the proverbial 'best of both worlds'.  Hornbeam is one of the many deciduous varieties of tree that operate to a distinct natural cycle whereby, in spring, they draw nutrients up from their root stock to extend branches and create leaves.  The nutrients are contained in their sap which, at the end of the season around September/October, will drain back into the root stock, leaving their leaves to die and fall off.  By November you can prune them to your desired height and style without taking too much sap with the cuttings.  After all, those who cut wood every year for stakes etc. actually take them back to ground level without damage, but you'll never see them felling the trees beyond the end of January, by which time in a warm spring the sap will begin to rise to feed the next year's growth.  For those whose living revolves around wood cutting, maintaining healthy woodlands is of paramount importance so, using that as a yardstick, the minimum diversion from that principle you can achieve, if any, is the best policy.
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