We Hired an Expert to Teach Coop Members to Prune their (damn) Hedges


Marianne made the case against HOA gardening rules, but my community has a different problem, dare I say a much bigger one? A New Deal project, my planned community included an unfortunate garden feature – 18″ privet hedges, which are inherently high-maintenance and, we know now, invasive. And ours were planted very close to our sidewalks.

Over the years, with height limitations having been eliminated by the ruling body (our 1,600-unit coop), look what’s become of those cute little hedges?

It’s even worse when there are tall hedges on both sides. Pedestrians, especially women walking alone at night, don’t feel safe.

There are errant branches endangering pedestrians throughout the community. (And fallen leaves never cleared from sidewalks, but that’s an other rant.)

It’s largely due to euonymus becoming the dominant hedge type. It’s much more vigorous than privet and it’s gotten damn large for our tiny yards. Especially where they’re close to sidewalks.

We’re required to keep hedges away from the sidewalks, but enforcement is lax and really, nonprofessionals can’t be expected to know how to do it effectively. Hedges aren’t just high-maintenance, they require highly skilled maintenance. And landscape crews are taught to simply power-shear the outer edges of the shrubs, creating even more growth in the wrong places.

Or when asked to reduce the size of hedges, landscapers use those same power tools to butcher the poor plants.

We Hired the Clippers

So a group of us gardening activists set out to teach our coop community the right way to prune shrubs. We’re experienced gardeners and THINK we know how but to make sure, we sought help from experts. Sadly, our appeals for (free) help went unanswered.

So we decided to hire an expert. Not a regular gardening expert but someone expert in pruning shrubs, and I knew of no better teachers than the ladies (almost exclusively) who prune and teach pruning at Yankee Clippers, serving the DC area since 1996.

Above, expert pruner Shanti de Jongh came to town to teach us how to tame our hedges. Her fee was paid with money I raised for my nonprofit website Greenbelt Online.

We had put out a call for desperate hedge-owners seeking help and we simply accompanied Shanti as she instructed them. Above, this neighbor could hardly get to his front door!

As Shanti worked, another gardening activist helped by taking videos and photos while I asked questions and took notes.

The results are all here in this link, which we’ll update with photos of what the hedges look like a year or two later, especially the ones that got full renewal pruning.

For me, Shanti’s visit was fun but humbling, given how expert I thought I already was. I learned a lot from her and a subsequent chat with Yankee Clippers founder Elizabeth Doyle, including the shocking news that most of us garden writers are getting it wrong.

That’s the topic of another post, coming soon to this blog.


  1. The instructional videos you linked to were very helpful, thank you. Wow, you are so right about pruning being a very specific skill in contrast to shearing with power tools. I also agree that even most people who consider themselves decent gardeners are pretty clueless about proper pruning (I include myself.)

  2. We have the same problem in the UK. People have no idea how to prune hedges properly but unfortunately pruning is seen as a DIY job not worthy of paying a professional to do. Great work Susan and Shanti!

  3. In a year of heavy snow the privet hedge next to my driveway became a repository for snow and rabbits moved along the hedge about 20 inches above the ground and gnawed off all the bark. I was forced to cut the whole hedge back and it has never looked better.

  4. Please do a follow up story on this. I bet people would have a hard time pruning properly even after the training because we are brought thinking that shearing is beautiful

  5. What an excellent project (and valuable resource in the form of the web page). Thanks from all of us with overgrown shrubs!

  6. I’ve seen so many situations when hedges have been butchered – not pruned! Which replaces one unruly mess with another. With just a little research including articles like yours Susan people could do such a better job.

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