I learned how to trim shrubs when I was handed some old hand operated hedge shears and told “go trim those shrubs.” I protested, claiming truthfully that I had never trimmed a shrub in my life. “You’ll do fine,” my boss said, and then left, leaving a panicking 17 year old me behind. Since I had no choice I trimmed them, and found that it wasn’t that hard to do after all. I’ve been trimming shrubs ever since.
Today when I teach someone to trim shrubs I have them watch me do it for a short time and then hand them some hedge shears and say “go trim those shrubs.” Why? Because doing it is really the only way to learn how to do it. Years ago, my boss knew that when he handed me the shears.
When it comes to shrub trimming, most people have a fear of destroying their shrubs and it paralyzes them. Trust me: You will not destroy your shrubs. Many flowering shrubs can be cut right back to the ground and will grow back as bushy and healthy as ever. Granted, on your first and second attempt your shrubs may look a little lopsided, but so what- are you entering a shrub trimming competition any time soon? They will grow back quickly and you will have learned far more from what you might consider failure than you ever would have from a limited success.
The secret to trimming, if there is one, is visualizing how the shrub will look after it’s trimmed. Once you get that image in your mind you just trim a little off, stand back and look it over, walk around it, and then trim a little more off, making it look like the picture in your mind. You repeat the process until you’re satisfied. If you work slowly at first and pay close attention to the shrub, you will be able to see just where it should be cut. Often, the shrub itself will visually guide you.
Michelangelo said when sculpting he simply released the figures from the stone, and that says a lot about what he saw in those blocks of stone. That’s the way a shrub trimmer needs to see; not what is there, but what will be there.
Ninety nine percent of the battle is getting over the idea that you can’t trim a shrub. Once you’re over that and believe in your own ability, you’ll have all of your own shrubs trimmed and be asking the neighbors if you can trim theirs. Once you’ve reached that point, call me and we’ll talk about pruning; the last time I taught someone how to prune, the lady was pruning crabapple trees like an old pro in less than an hour and a half.