How to trim bushes the right way

Your step-by-step guide to lusher foliage and healthier bushes

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Gardening is one of the best hobbies anyone can get into. But, like any other activity, it requires a lot of time, effort, and loving care. After all, bushes, shrubs, and trees are living beings. So if you’re a novice at gardening, you’re probably wondering how to trim bushes so they don’t become unruly and take over your yard.

We have just the bush trimming guide for you. With these tools and techniques, you can soon have lusher foliage, more flowers, and healthier bushes. 

Tools you need for trimming bushes 

Make sure to have these handy tools to tame your “home jungle.” 

  • Basic pruning shears - For removing small branches 

  • Bypass snips - Excellent for cutting herbs and flowers

  • Bypass lopper - A lopper’s extended arms allow you to reach further inside a bush, shrub, or tree. Use this tool for jobs that are too large for shears but not big enough for a saw. 

  • Electric hedge trimmer - For cutting the tips off of uneven bushes and shrubs. Best used sparingly as electric cuts are not the best for a plant’s long-term health

  • Safety glasses - To protect your eyes from sharply cut branches

  • Garden gloves - To prevent you from cutting or nicking yourself

  • Protective footwear - To comfortably maintain your garden while protecting your feet from any heavy tools or debris

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How to trim your overgrown bushes

Overgrown bushes look unruly, and the leaves and branches stick out at odds and ends. These bushes also no longer have a uniform shape or height. 

Read on for the steps to trim your overgrown bushes.

Step 1: Assess if it’s the right time to trim your bushes 

Check your bushes for flowers or herbs. Make sure to inspect the leaves, branches, and corners inside and outside the bush. Doing this will help you decide if it’s the right time to give your bushes a makeover. 

white flower buds on bush

  • If you notice a few flowers mid-bloom, it’s best to trim your bushes in the wintertime when the flowers are dormant. This way, you don’t stunt their growth. 

  • If you have evergreen bushes (foliage that remains green for more than one season), you can trim them at any time.

Step 2: Lay a tarp under the bushes 

Before trimming, lay a large tarp under the bushes or shrubs for easier cleanup. The tarp will help catch any branches and leaves that fall off. If you’re planning to trim several bushes and shrubs, collect the debris into a bucket or container and move on to the next area. You can hire a garden clearance service to collect your garden waste when you’re done.

Step 3: Place a stake on each side of the shrub 

tying a string on wooden stakes before trimming a bush

Place stakes on both sides of the bush. Then, tie a string between the stakes to make sure it’s taut. You’ll use this as the reference height when trimming your bushes. If your bushes are near your home’s patio or a wall, you can also use that as a guide.


Step 4: Trim the top of the bushes 

cutting a bush with electric trimmer

Start cutting your bushes and shrubs with an electric trimmer. You should avoid cutting lower than your reference height to keep the top looking even. An electric trimmer will ensure you get a smooth finish, but you can also use pruning shears.

Step 5: Work your way up the bushes 

Cut the bottom of your overgrown bushes in smooth, even strokes. Remove 2 to 8 centimetres (1 to 3 inches) at a time to avoid cutting your bushes too much. 

Work your way upwards, making sure the shrub’s base is the widest, and the top is the narrowest. This technique will promote good foliage cover and density as the bush will attempt to grow top-heavy to cover the base.

Extra tip: Follow the narrow at the top, wide at the bottom rule; Cut the front and sides at an inclined angle for the best growth and health. Trimming your bushes this way will allow sunlight to reach the bottom leaves and maintain their healthy, green colour.

☞ Also read: How to sharpen secateurs safely and properly

Step 6: Assess the shape of the shrub 

trimming bushes into a round shape

Take a step back and look at your bush’s shape after cutting and snipping the foliage. Is the form too straight? Is it leaning too much towards the left or right? 

Checking your shrub’s shape will let you know if you’re cutting too much or too little. From here, you can make the necessary adjustments when trimming your bushes.

Step 7: Check for uneven sides

Narrow top? Check. Wide bottom? Check. No flowers cut mid-bloom? Check. 

Now, go over all the sides of your bushes to ensure the shape is even and no extra leaves are sticking out. If the bush’s body looks uneven, you can fix this with a few snips of your shears. Or, if you have to reshape the bush, your electric trimmer can do the trick.

When to hire a professional gardener

top view of professional gardener trimming bushes

Consider hiring a professional gardener if you don’t have the right equipment or are looking to get a bigger project done. A bush trimming specialist will know the best methods for different shrub varieties. What’s more, a specialist can properly and quickly trim your bushes, ensuring healthy and thick foliage. Take your garden from “blah” to “wow” by booking a bush trimming service today.

☞ You might also like: How to trim hedges

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FAQs on trimming bushes

The best time to cut your bushes depends on the type of plant. 

  • Winter is usually the best time to trim bushes, as they tend to lose their leaves and become dormant at this time. This makes it easier to spot unruly branches and odd structures. 

  • If your plant is a spring-flowering shrub, such as lilacs or camellias, the best time to trim your bushes is right after the flowers bloom. Pruning them during winter risks cutting off the flower buds, preventing new flowers from blooming.

If you spot dead stems or water sprouts from your bushes, this is also an ideal time to trim your bushes. 

Late spring is an excellent time to prune or trim evergreen bushes. Soon after the spring growth, prune your shrubs to shape them while keeping their natural look. Many evergreen bushes like yews, junipers, and boxwoods can be pruned during early spring before they start growing again. You can also trim bushes in late winter when they are dormant and easy to prune. 

Don’t worry if your bushes look dense on top but thin and lifeless in the middle! To trim a lifeless-looking bush, remove the thicker, older stems. Thinning cuts will open up your plant. A thinning cut means removing the whole branch down to the base or until the main stem. This technique will allow light and air to reach the plant’s core and encourage it to grow thicker and healthier. 

Try doing heading cuts to stimulate growth if your bush looks short on one side and dense and long on the other. A heading cut shortens a stem down to the bud you want to encourage to branch out. 

While cutting the shorter side can be nerve-wracking, doing so can stimulate growth. Just position your shears on the stem area you want to remove. Ensure the shears are on top of the bud you want to grow in a specific direction. If you’d rather leave this task to a professional, you can always hire a gardener to fix your lopsided bushes. 

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