Gardening tips,

Pruning beech hedges: why, when & how?

Beech hedges offer excellent privacy and bring a lot of textural beauty into your garden. But pruning beech hedges is an artform, which - luckily - is quite easy to learn!

9 MIN 19 Apr
Last update: 21 Apr 2023
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Beech hedges offer magnificent golden-green foliage that turns a stunning copper in the autumn. And while its structure offers privacy and shape to your outdoor space, your hedge can quickly grow out of control if left to its own devices. It’s time to get pruning those beech hedges!

Table of contents:
  • What is a beech hedge?
  • Why is beech hedge pruning a good idea?
  • When to prune your beech hedge
  • Beech hedge pruning — a step-by-step plan
  • Beech hedge pruning: expert tips
  • What tools do you need for beech hedge pruning?
  • Beech hedge pruning — the aftercare
  • FAQs

Luckily, pruning a beech hedge is not — as they say — rocket science. Far from it. Nonetheless, it’s essential to get it right to ensure continued beauty and form in your garden. 

This article is about beech hedge pruning, exploring why you should do it, identifying the right time to prune, and how to prune your beech hedge for the ultimate results. 

Ready? Let’s get started. 

What is a beech hedge?

Neatly pruned beech hedges
Beech hedges neatly pruned – Photo by serena saponaro on Unsplash

There are two types of beech hedges found in the UK: the green beech and the red beech. Beech hedges are essentially the same plant as the beech tree, offering rapid growth (up to 50cm each year), so it’s generally considered safe to go a little nuclear with a beech hedge because it will bounce back quickly. 

In fact, with the proper care and maintenance, a beech hedge can grow up to 10m in height and 5m wide. And a new plant will reach 2m within the first five years. 

So: fast growers!

Why beech hedges are a popular choice for gardens

Beech hedges offer dense foliage, making them a popular choice for privacy and noise reduction. But they’ll need pruning occasionally; otherwise, these are relatively low-maintenance plants that thrive in various soils.

Plant your beech hedges during the autumn or winter when they’re dormant, although it’s OK to plant them in spring. 

Why is beech hedge pruning a good idea?

Autumnal beech hedges going red
Beautiful autumnal beech hedge – Photo by Mabel Amber

Pruning helps maintain your plant’s health and appearance, helping them retain its shape and neat appearance. 

And just like mowing a lawn, regular pruning promotes healthy growth while improving air circulation around the leaves and branches. This helps prevent pests and diseases. 

And while it may seem counterintuitive, pruning actually helps promote bushier growth, increasing the bush’s density. This makes the beech hedge the perfect boundary for your garden, boosting privacy and preventing noise pollution from roads and noisy neighbours. 

It’s OK to cut back a beech hedge hard — it will quickly return abundantly. 

When to prune your beech hedge

Newly planted beech hedges don’t require pruning if there are plenty of side branches. However, if the plants are a touch on the sparse side, help to thicken them by cutting back the leading shoot and any longer shoots by up to one-third. Wait until winter or directly after planting. 

Repeat this process in the second year if they’re still a bit leggy. 


From year three, you can trim the hedge’s sides in the 2nd week of August. Prune the top once the hedge has reached your favoured height. Aim for a 1m width at the base with a flat-topped tapered A-shape so that the whole plant enjoys plenty of sunlight. 

Pruning an established hedge

Trim each August to maintain its size, allowing the bush to retain its new leaves for overwintering. They’ll go brown over the winter, but the leaves will stay on the branches, offering privacy during the winter. 

If you miss the August prune, wait until spring (but be sure to avoid disturbing nesting birds). 

Pruning an overgrown hedge

You can cut a beech hedge back hard in February during its dormancy, but wait if the weather is frosty or freezing. 

If you intend to halve the height or sides, stagger it over two seasons rather than hacking it back all in one go. Cut the top and one side in the first year, leaving the other side to nature. Then, in the second year, cut the other side and the top. 

If your hedge is slow to bounce back after the first pruning, leave the second pruning another twelve months if you can. 

Beech hedge pruning — a step-by-step plan

Beech hedge pruning is pretty straightforward, but follow the correct techniques to prevent damage. 

Step 1: Removing dead and diseased wood

Identify the new growth, and focus on the older wood. Remove dead or diseased wood, pruning back to the healthy wood. 

Step 2: Cut cleanly

It’s essential that you get clean cuts on the ends of branches, so use sharp sheers or secateurs. Avoid leaving frayed edges, as these are more prone to infection. 

Work from the bottom up, and ensure you cut at an angle so water from the other branches can drain away from the plant. 

Step 3: Cut the top

Now, work on the top edge of the hedge, working your way across the entire plant. If working by eye, keep stepping back to ensure the top is level. 

Alternatively, stretch a string along the top of the hedge at the height you want the plant to reach. Then, cut along the line, being careful not to cut through the string, of course. 

Step 4: Neaten the sides

Now you’ve done the main cut, step back and ensure the sides are neat and even. Again, make any corrections from the bottom up. 

In general, it’s better to leave the bottom of the hedge wider than the top — like an A-shape. That way, the entire hedge gets plenty of sunlight. However, if your plant is situated in a particularly sunny spot, you can cut it straight. 

Step 5: Step back again

Finally, assess your pruning. Set back, and view the hedge from several angles. Cut back any twigs or stray branches you’ve overlooked. 

Beech hedge pruning: expert tips

Pruning a beech hedge with electric clippers
Using a hedge trimmer – Photo by Frauke Riether
  1. Always taper the hedge, leaving it wider at the bottom than the top. This way, the lower branches won’t be shaded by the upper limbs. However, you can prune the sides straight if there’s plenty of sunlight. 
  2. Use a bamboo stick to help guide your cutting to keep the sides tapered uniformly. 
  3. Prune on a cloudy day. Never prune in full sun — it can burn the leaves and dry out the exposed branches where you’ve cut them. Also, inner leaves won’t have been exposed to direct sunlight yet — they’ll be extra sensitive to direct sun. 
  4. Water your beech hedge before pruning. This helps protect the plant and makes it easier to cut through the branches. 
  5. Spread a tarp across the ground underneath your hedges — it makes cleaning up afterwards much easier. Otherwise, you’ll be finding twigs across your lawn for weeks. 
  6. Don’t allow your hedge to grow too high. Ideally, try to avoid climbing a ladder to get to the top of the plant. Use a motorised hedge trimmer for particularly large bushes. 
  7. Fertilise your hedge just before fertilising. Not only will it help the plant bounce back after a hard prune, but it will also make it less susceptible to pests and diseases. 

What tools do you need for beech hedge pruning?

For the best results, have the right tools for beech hedge pruning.

These are the tools you need:

  • A pair of pruning shears or a hedge trimmer
  • Ladders
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles

I recommend electric hedge trimmers for large bushes — it’s much faster, and you can be more accurate. It’s also OK to prune with a chainsaw, but it’s noisy, and the saw is heavy, so it can be more challenging to control. 

A chainsaw will make light work of hard pruning, cutting through the trunk with ease.

Whatever cutting tool you use, make sure it has a sharp, clean blade to help protect your plants from disease or infection. 

Beech hedge pruning — the aftercare

You may be glad to discover that your beech hedges will require very little attention after pruning.


Ensure you water them regularly, especially when it’s hot and dry. They’ll need a little extra water after the prune, so be generous. Water the ground around the trunk rather than the leaves.

And all plants benefit from regular fertilisation — your beech hedge is no exception. Feed your hedge plants a couple of times a year, and they’ll repay you with beautiful green leaves and healthy growth for the rest of the year. 


When is the best time for beech hedge pruning?

You can prune your beech hedge up to twice a year. The right time to prune is the second week of August — this gives the plant plenty of time to recover before it goes dormant in the winter.

How hard can you prune a beech hedge?

Beech hedges are pretty robust plants — they’re the same plant as the beech tree, after all. So, you can cut back a beech hedge pretty hard without damaging the plant. However, if you’re cutting the plant back by more than half, do it over two consecutive years  — do the top and one side the first year, then the top and the other side the second. 

How can I ensure my beech hedge grows back evenly after pruning?

To help your beech hedge grow back evenly after pruning, use a string line or a long, straight board as a guide to ensure you’re cutting the hedge straight and level. Take care not to cut too deeply into the hedge, as this can damage the plant and lead to uneven growth.

Ready to get pruning?

We hope you’re ready to get pruning, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch

We love to hear from you and will reply as soon as we can. 

Thanks for reading! 

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