What’s the best time for trimming a Conifer?

What’s the best time for trimming a Conifer?

Conifers are beautiful trees that are commonly found in UK gardens. If well-tendered and well-cared for, these cone-bearing trees with scale-like or needle-like leaves can dramatically increase the appeal of the garden. Apart from that, they can improve the air quality in your home to a great extent. But that is not all, conifers can be harvested for timber, which can be used in a variety of applications including construction, furniture making, boat or shipbuilding and more.

What time of year should you cut conifers?

Trimming and pruning enhance tree growth, improve tree structure, promote safety as well as aesthetics. But one thing you need to keep in mind is that conifers need to be trimmed or pruned only at certain times of the year and not just any other time you feel like.

Conifers should be cut only twice a year at different times. For example, pruning should be done in late winter or early spring when the trees are dormant whereas trimming should be performed in late summer or early autumn when conifers have shed their needles.

Since conifers are dormant from winter up until early spring, cutting(pruning) your conifers at this time ensures less damage to your trees. Just like human beings, conifers will sustain a wound when cut through pruning, and just like our wounds, their wounds are susceptible to bacteria. If they are affected by bacteria, your conifers will eventually get destroyed. 

Trees generally heal faster from pruning-related wounds during their dormancy period. This is because there is no interference from pathogens and destructive insects that come with the warmer weather.

Hedge trimmer

Why is late summer or autumn the ideal time to trim your conifers?

To answer this question, it is important to understand first, the primary purpose of trimming. Many tree owners perform trimming mainly for aesthetic purposes, even though this tree maintenance procedure also supplies a number of pruning-related benefits. Winter or early spring would be the best times to trim conifers if it were not for the fact that these cone-shaped trees only shed their needles during late summer or early autumn. In winter or spring, their needles are fully intact, which makes it harder to evaluate their structure and trim successfully during these times of the year compared to doing so during the warmer seasons.

Hedge Trimming Advice and Tips

Hedge Trimming Advice and Tips

For the first couple of years, a new hedge should be pruned either in the winter or spring. These first trimmings are called formative pruning. From then on maintenance pruning should be done between spring and summer. Informal hedges need this once a year, whereas formal hedges require twice a year and occasionally a third pruning in order to keep a tidy appearance.

Pruning tips for shrubbery and hedges

Manual shears should be used for smaller plants, and for larger plants an electric or gas trimmer is required. No matter the choice in the tool, make sure it is well lubricated and sharp. When wielding a power tool, think safety first. This means sturdy gloves and safety glasses. Make sure the ground is clear of any obstacles in your work area and that if using a platform or ladder, they are completely stable.

When using corded power trimmers, to prevent the cord from being sliced, place it over your shoulder. Avoid using any power tools in damp or wet conditions. Using a hedge trimmer that has an extended reach and features a cutting head that pivots will simplify your job, especially when pruning those hard to reach areas.

Take out the thickest branches of overgrown shrubs. Cut them back completely to the shrub’s base to encourage the growth of the shrub. Long-handled Loppers will give you the leverage to prune one to two-inch branches, use hand pruners for the branches smaller than one inch. 

When cutting a branch, make sure the wood is deep into the cutter’s jaws. This will give you better leverage to make the cut and make it a cleaner cut which will enable faster healing. If you live where snow is common, you might consider cutting a rounded top into your shrubs and hedges to prevent snow accumulation.

Hedge Trimming

Be aware of the following:

  • Before beginning work on your plants, check for birds nesting as it is an offence to damage or destroy any wild birds nests in use or being built.
  • Do not trim conifer hedges after August; however, yew can be safely pruned all the way till September.
  • Boundary hedges should be kept trimmed in order not to impede access to pedestrians via overhang of the street or walkways. Even hedges that are regularly pruned can become quite large. 
  • Broadleafed and deciduous evergreens can often be radically cut back and their growth corrected, however, some old conifers and plants that can’t be cut back, should be replaced so as not to be a nuisance.
  • Hedges can be formal or informal, informal hedges can be anywhere, even used as a windbreak at the edge of a land boundary. Formal hedges are beautiful in English gardens, skirting manor houses, and setting off special landscaping features such as fountains and statues.
  • Roses can be used as formal shrubbery to set off resting areas on large formal grounds. For the creative types, growing shrubbery into shapes such as animals can be quite striking and eye-catching.  Just remember to keep them pruned to stay looking their best.
Hedge Trimming
Topping a Cedar Tree

Topping a Cedar Tree

Cedar is a native Lebanese tree with a blackish brown back, dark green leaves, and monoecious flowers. Cedar is well adapted to the mountainous climate where they receive winter precipitation. In the UK, they are also planted in parks and gardens of large estates. It is also common to find cedar in nearly every stately mansion from the 1740s onwards.

Currently, cedar is mainly used for its hard, durable wood which maintains its strong sweet fragrance for a long time. An oil similar to turpentine is another byproduct of the cedar wood. In it’s homeland Lebanon, Cedar is used as an insect repellent. Ironically, it is profoundly affected by honey fungus and aphid attacks.

Does Tree Topping Hurt?

Tree topping is the act of haphazardly cutting large tree branches to stubs at the top, or removing the entire top. Topping mainly occurs to reduce the size of a tree. Tree topping can have many negative effects on your tree including:

  • Stressing your tree
  • Ruining the appeal of the tree
  • Leading to sunburn
  • Causing risk to infection
  • Expensive maintenance


Trees may provide too much shadow or pose a risk owing to their height, in this case, topping is conducted to keep it at the desired height. Topping, also known as heading, leaves damaged stubs that are unable to perform their role effectively. It is not the best approach to height reduction and can actually pose more risks and damage the tree.

cherry picker tree surgery

How to Prune a Cedar Tree

Step 1:

Determine the type of cedar tree you have; this determines how you’ll top your tree. The common types are pyramidal cedar, columnar cedar or a globe cedar. Globe cedar have difficulties growing back after trimming. As such, before you begin, ensure they have grown past your desired size. Cut your globe cedar precisely the size you want because if you fail, the tree might not grow to the desired height.

Pruning a cedar tree
Step 2:

It is recommended you prune your cedar during the spring before it creates new growth. Be careful not to excessively take off too much green of the outer branches so that they repopulate efficiently and not stay bare. It’s recommended that you start pruning your tree from a young age so it naturally grows into the desired shape rather than needing excessive trimming in the future.

Pruning a cedar tree
Step 3:

For pyramidal and columnar cedars, you must prune the top not more than ¼ inch off the tree’s height. Always ensure you only top branches that are part of the main tree trunk. For topping off more than ½ inch, ensure the branches are placed in an upright position. doing so will not only help the cedar fill itself again but also promotes uniform growth.

Pruning a cedar tree
Step 4:

Always maintain your topped cedar regularly by pruning preferably once to thrice a year. Pruning must be done between June and July. Pruning after this may affect the subsequent year’s growth since the cedar will already be developing buds. You can remove all the brown leaves but always be careful to keep enough of the green leaves to  limit it from growing too tall.

Pruning a cedar tree
Why do I need to Prune my Trees?

Why do I need to Prune my Trees?

Pruning is an agricultural process that is used to control plant growth by cutting it to improve on its health and aesthetic performance. It’s the difference between shaggy, unkempt, unhealthy and wild trees and those that are well kept, neat and healthy.

Well-kept hedges and fence screens are cut, trimmed and maintained from time to time. While natural gardens may be rustic, they do not belong in serene neighbourhoods. They simply aren’t ideal for residential and commercial settlements.


Improving Appearance

Trees and hedges are natural aesthetic enhancers for many landscapes, but they can make a property look untidy if they aren’t carefully maintained. Trimming maintains a neat appearance, and pruning can alter the shape. However, it should be done by following the natural contours of plants. You shouldn’t try to impose unnatural shapes and sizes for plants because you can end up causing more damage to the plant.


Eliminating Hazards

Unkempt and unmaintained trees may grow into paths and pavements, causing a hazard to users of the path. Hedges can drop dead branches and stems, causing serious safety hazards.

Some large trees may have roots or branches growing into utility lines or too close to buildings, causing property damage and serious safety concerns.

Improving Plant Health

Hedges and other plants are always growing in competition for more light. They sometimes choke each other up, and thinning plant crowns can go a long way in improving air circulation. Furthermore, you can strategically cut off withering parts of plants to allow healthier regeneration at the growth shoots. Pruning also saves plants from infection spreading; it ultimately prevents plant diseases while treating existing infections.


Increasing Fruit/Flower Production

Literally all types of plants benefit from pruning when old and withered parts are cut off. It means that precious resources are re-allocated to young shoots, increasing the amount of food and water going to fresh flowers and increases the yield in fruit production. Pruning sheds away unnecessary plant parts and allows plants to shoot at the spurs, enhancing future growth spurts and productivity.

Cypress pruning Cottage
John Fryer tree surgeon
Tree Health

Increasing Fruit/Flower Production

Literally all types of plants benefit from pruning when old and withered parts are cut off. It means that precious resources are re-allocated to young shoots, increasing the amount of food and water going to fresh flowers and increases the yield in fruit production. Pruning sheds away unnecessary plant parts and allows plants to shoot at the spurs, enhancing future growth spurts and productivity.

Tree pruning

Helpful Trimming Tips

Apart from dealing with hazards and plant disease, we would advice pruning plants during their dormant seasons. Never cut thick parts of plants, or their main supporting and growing limbs, unless when you really must. Cutting tree parts that are more than 10 centimetres in diameter may cause serious harm. 

Cut weak branches and leave the strong U-shaped ones to dominate. When side shoots grow into branches that are more than three quarters the size of the main stem, you should cut them because they will hinder the plant’s upward growth. Only start pruning the top shoots when your hedge has achieved the desired height and you want to cultivate a thick and lush crown.   

Leyland Cypress Pruning Tips

Leyland Cypress Pruning Tips

One of the popular plant species that homeowners and commercial property investors prefer for their fences and screens is the leylandii or Leyland Cypress. It is effective because it is quick-growing. However, it requires regular maintaining because its shots and branches can overgrow to make an ugly mess.

You need to prune leylandii strategically so that it doesn’t grow too big to be tamed while still preserving the aesthetic performance that well-maintained Leyland cypress hedges offer. 

Taming the hedge plant is also important to prevent it from shading plants and drying your garden soil.


Taming the Fast Growth

Property owners adore Leyland Cypress because it can fence and screen your property quickly; it can grow up to four feet annually, and you must regulate the maximum height by regularly trimming after achieving the maximum desired height. It is great for wind breaking boundaries and security fencing. It can grow into robust sizes, and it does very well on large sites such as schools and business parks. 

You should always plant them separately to allow them enough space for the fast coming growth. Otherwise, they may extend their shoots and branches into each other, causing plant wounds. That is why you should ensure an 8-feet space between each for the projected growth curve. Still, expect the Leyland Cypress hedge to outgrow its allocated space. You need to keep pruning it strategically to keep it looking neat as well as to maintain its desired height.

Cypress pruning Cottage
Cypress pruning

Seasonal Pruning

No one wants overlapping and scrapping cypress branches and a shaggy hedge fence. However, nobody wants to damage the aesthetic potential of their fence by pruning it at the wrong time or with the wrong technique. 

Leyland Cypress pruning is an art that is based on seasons and botanical science; you can only prune it between April and August after the harsh and chilly cold winter melts down. 

That is the optimal growing season for the fence plant, and you can cut it three times depending on its size and stage of maturity. 


How to Trim a Leyland Cypress

Generally speaking, conifer plants do not regenerate well when their hardwood is cut, and the Leyland Cypress is no exception. You must only cut the young green shoots. In the first year of its growth, cut its overgrown side shoots during the peak growing season between April and August. Make sure to support the leading shoots that are growing vertically by tying it to an overhead cane or pole. Trim the side shoots moderately to encourage growth in the main body of the hedge. 

In the second year of its growth, trim the side shoots again during the peak growth time to encourage a consistent neatness. Continue to do so every other year without cutting the top shoots as it could prevent the hedge from achieving the desired height. After achieving the height you desire, trim the hedge top six inches downwards. It will lead to a regeneration that will make the top dense and lush. 

Never cut any of your conifer hedges during winter and be mindful not to damage any occupied bird nests. During winter, conifers are prone to frostbite, and cutting it can lead to undesirable bare patches.

Beech Tree Crown Reduction

Beech Tree Crown Reduction

The beech tree, commonly known as the common beech or the European beech, is a native UK species known to live for generations with proper care. Routine pruning is necessary for the health and longevity of the tree, and for keeping them a safe haven for wood-borrowing insects and birds.

Is Crown Reduction safe?

Beech trees can grow to more than 40 metres tall, and develop a large domed crown once they have matured. A crown reduction may sound like a good idea to manage the tree, however, it is not the best option. Reducing the canopy size puts stress on the tree due to the types of cuts required. 

Canopy reduction is not like a thinning cut; a drop-crotching cut does not stop at a natural boundary, leading to decay spreading quickly through the cut branches. For this reason, it is best to avoid a canopy reduction. 

This is a more extensive and severe form of pruning and is used to:  

  1. Reduce the weight of potentially dangerous limbs.  
  2. Balance a misshapen tree, for example, following storm damage, or after bad pruning.  
  3. Prevent trees obstructing or damaging buildings and property.
  4. Prevent trees from interfering with overhead telephone and power lines. 

In most cases, tree canopies cannot be properly reduced to the desired size without over pruning. Over-pruning the trees may create the desired look, however, it can lead to the decay in the branches and trunk. It can also stimulate the tree’s rapid epicormic growth, filling the canopy to original size rather quickly. When crown reduction is not a good option for the health of the tree, removal, and replacement may be your best option. It could be a good choice to replace your current trees with smaller, maturing plants to help minimise resources.

Sick Tree

I want to reduce the size of my tree. How much foliage can safely be removed?

In cases where more than 30% of the foliage is being removed, we recommend splitting the job into 2 sessions about 12 months apart. Splitting the job this way helps to minimise the amount of sprouting and starch removal from the tree.

For us to properly reduce the size of the tree, we use a series of drop-crotch cuts. We begin by reducing the branches that protrude further than other branches. This way we are able to simply reduce the size of the tree while maintaining a natural shape. Next, we reduce the longest portion of the main branches to the size of a smaller, lateral branch. This step typically involves removing one third or half of the diameter of the main branch.

It is not reasonable to expect more than as 15-20% canopy reduction from a properly executed crown reduction. When a branch is cut back too small, it is common to see excessive sprouting along with dieback and decay. Proper crown reductions are time-consuming; its more of an art than a science. To avoid dying, decaying trees we suggest seeking professionals with a skilful execution of the task.