5 mistakes everyone makes with hedge trimmers

About to trim your garden's hedge? Well, do it like a pro

Stihl gardern hedge trimmer being used by a woman to trim a hedge
(Image credit: Stihl)

It's prime growing season right now and that means that gardeners need to get busy if they're going to keep nature in check and their gardens looking great.

One of the biggest jobs a lot of gardeners face each year is trimming their garden hedges or shrubs, as they like to grow pretty consistently and, if left unchecked, can rapidly get unwieldy and wild.

That's where one of the best hedge trimmers comes into play. Own one of these corded or cordless mechanical cutters and you are well-equipped to make your garden look great.

However, there are plenty of common garden hedge trimmer mistakes that I see people make each year, so here I list them so that when you come to manage your hedges, you don't make them too.

Cobra hedge trimmer in use by a man

(Image credit: Cobra)

1. Not knowing your hedge trimmer's limitations

This is the garden hedge trimmer mistake I probably see most often. Here's the picture. Joe Blogs gets their hedge trimmer out, starts cutting and all is well until they come to a large, stubborn branch that - if they can just cut through it - they can save themselves time and remove loads of hedge in one fell swoop.

What then happens is the hedge trimmer is taken to the fat branch, with the trimmer used like one of the best chainsaws not a hedge trimmer. The trimmer, likely an electric powered model (battery or cable), doesn't have the required power or cutting teeth to get through such a branch (it's not designed for that!) and proceeds to take ages doing so, getting stuck every few seconds.

The result? A hacked branch that looks like it's been gnawed on by a tiger and a hedge trimmer with dulled cutting blades, which now go on to trim the rest of the hedge worse than if Mr. Blogs had just cut the branch manually with a pair of loppers or a saw.

Don't make this mistake – it'll degrade your hedge trimmer's performance in seconds and leave you with an ugly bodged job. Trimmers are for trimming, cutting the lightest branches and material, not for sawing in half Treebeard.

A hedge trimmer in use by man

(Image credit: Indi Van Kuijk)

2. Using a garden hedge trimmer up a step ladder

Mistake number two isn't an outright no-no but it's how it is done that has the potential to be a major hedge trimmer mistake. Again, I'm convinced you will have seen this at one time or other. Joe Blogs needs to trim his hedge and, to reach the top, he gets out his cheap, rickety, super light step ladder and proceeds to set it up and mount it on his own.

Standing on the top of ladder, Mr. Blogs then proceeds to perilously teeter-totter on its top, reaching and extending himself to cut as far into the hedge top as possible. All the while the step ladder looks like it is one small movement from collapsing and sending Blogs and the active trimmer tumbling to a painful accident.

Basically, there's absolutely no problem using a hedge trimmer up a ladder, but do tag team the job with a partner (who can hold the ladder stable). I have actually seen people fall off step ladders when using powered machinery and, let me tell you, these incidents haven't ended well.

Many of today's best trimmers also come with telescopic pole attachments, too, which for very little spend can mean you can banish step ladders for good.

Stihl hedge trimmer in use by a man, attaching a telescopic pole

(Image credit: Stihl)

3. Not using garden twine to achieve a straight trim

It's also tempting for many people just to grab their hedge trimmer and go to town on their large shrub. However, if you want a straight cut over a decent length of hedge it is a mistake not to take a moment to mark a cutting line with garden twine or string. This means you don't have to cut purely by eye, which is tough.

The trick is to stretch the string between two canes (or any objects that can be anchor points for you) at either side of the hedge and then use the string's line, as well as those of the canes, as your horizontal and vertical markers for trimming straight. For longer hedges the result will be marked.

Bosch EasyHedgeCut 45 hedge trimmer in use

(Image credit: Bosch)

4. Using a garden hedge trimmer in the rain

Again, I know it must be tempting to get a job done when you'd planned to get it done originally regardless of the weather, but using a hedge trimmer (and notably electric hedge trimmers, either battery or corded) in the rain is just asking for trouble. Will Mr. Blogs kill himself? Probably not, but there's a high chance he will fry his piece of equipment, being left with an expensive paperweight and an untrimmed hedge. Just be patient and wait for the rain to stop and the hedge to dry out.

Stihl hedge trimmer

(Image credit: Stihl)

5. Wearing inappropriate clothing when hedge trimming

This final mistake is, again, something I see a lot – and especially in the summer. The amount of Joe Blogs' I've seen wearing shorts, sandals and not much else while waving a hedge trimmer around is very high but, let me tell you, I'm sure they all regret it pretty quickly.

As anyone will know who has trimmed hedges before, the job is a messy involving procedure, with the trimmer often ending up being coated with natural detritus, dust and even insects. I tend to always wear a hat when trimming a garden hedge, too, as it protects my head when cutting above my eye line.

Also, while garden trimmers do come with safety features, I also think it a mistake to leave too much bare skin exposed when using one. I always cut hedges in jeans as they're hardwearing and keep me protected when working close to a hedge – the last thing I want is sharp branches digging into my flesh, especially if there are thorns.

Robert Jones

Rob has been writing about computing, gaming, mobile, home entertainment technology, toys (specifically Lego and board games), smart home and more for over 15 years. As the editor of PC Gamer, and former Deputy Editor for T3.com, you can find Rob's work in magazines, bookazines and online, as well as on podcasts and videos, too. Outside of his work Rob is passionate about motorbikes, skiing/snowboarding and team sports, with football and cricket his two favourites.