Hedges are a common feature in many Georgia landscapes. They are used to define property lines, provide privacy or block the view of an unpleasing object.
In addition, hedges can also block strong winds, buffer noises, provide direction, influence the personal sense of enclosure and provide sensory experiences. Hedges can be short, neatly trimmed plants or allowed to grow into large specimens.
Recent rains have caused some hedges to grow by leaps and bounds needing trimming. The rule of thumb for when to prune most shrubs is when they are dormant. Shaping and shearing back hedges with trimmers is an exception to this rule. This can be done during the summer months without any damage to the plants. However, severe pruning should be done in the winter when the plants are dormant.
One thing can definitely be said about hedge pruning: you only have to do it if you want to. Many plants provide the proper height you want without having to ever be pruned. If you do have to prune, leave the bottom of the hedge wider than the top. Over-hanging branches tend to shade out lower branches, which causes lower branches to grow slowly and eventually lose their leaves. After many years, the result is a top-heavy scraggly looking hedge. The only cure at this point is severe pruning.
Before planting a hedgerow, check landscape manuals and publications from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension ( 001D www.caes.uga.edu/publications 3AEA ) to learn how to select a plant that will fit a particular site.
(Frank Watson is the University of Georgia Extension agent in Wilkes County, Ga.)