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Trimming Hedges

I enjoy pruning my plants. I don't like the overly sculptured look, with square or totally round bushes, but I do like to make the plants more artistically pleasing instead of just growing willy-nilly.

To do this activity, you need to own some plants - or volunteer to trim a friend's yard for them! Please do not visit random houses in your neighborhood with pruning shears.

Gather your tools - I recommend small pruning shears for the thin branches, larger ones for rough outlines, and a saw if you find a really large branch that needs trimming.

First, go outside and look at the plants. Just appreciate the beauty of nature for a few minutes. Observe the way the different plants grow. Some are low bushes, while others are tall and spindly. Some, if not trimmed, would explode into total chaos; others would remain about the same as they are now. Look carefully at each plant in your yard, and value it for it's unique qualities.

Study the plants to see the natural growth patterns of each one. In order to produce a pleasing effect, you need to work with this pattern, not against it. To see what I mean, find a yard where the owners just whack the bushes into squares or spheres - see how the ends of the plant's branches are raw and ugly? You don't want that. Try to see the way the plant "wants" to grow, and follow that pathway.

Pick one plant. Use the rough shears to trim back the shaggy growth and get a general shape. Go slowly, and look at the overall effect after each trim. You can always trim more off, but you can't put more back! As you work, feel the texture of the plant. What does the bark feel like? Is it smooth or prickly? Are there thorns on your plant, or just soft leaves? Notice the shapes of the leaves. Are they rounded or pointed? Do they grow opposite each other on the branch, or are they staggered? How many leaves grow in one section?

After you have the basic shape you want, use the smaller shears. Trim individual branches so that the plant will follow that pattern. Here's a tip -- trim the branch so that the bud or leaf on the very end points in the direction you want the branch to turn! As you work, appreciate the scent of the cut branches. How is the smell of the sap different from the normal smell of the plant? Can you tell the difference between one plant and another just by the smell of the cut wood?

Again, stop after each trim to check the overall pattern. After each cut, pause to appreciate the beauty of the plant. Once you've gotten the effect you want, gather up the cut branches and place them wherever you dispose of such things. You might leave some of the smaller ones around the base of the plants as mulch and fertilizer. What do the cut branches look like in cross section? Can you see growth rings, or is the branch solid throughout? What color is the cut part of the branch compared to the outside? What color is the bark? What about the leaves? Are they all the same shade of green, or are there differences?

You can really learn to appreciate nature when you try to work with it in order to beautify your yard. I think a natural garden, with plants which are trimmed instead of hacked off, is a true asset to a neighborhood.

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November 2013


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