Step-by-Step Guide to Shearing Emerald Cedars

December 18, 2021

In Metro Vancouver, emerald cedars are extremely common – both in nature and on residences. They’re easy to maintain, perform well in our coastal climate, and look and smell great! These factors make them just as popular as ornamental shrubs and trees.

Due to their physical density and nice appearance, cedars are also used as privacy hedges, providing natural barriers between properties.

Following the steps laid out in these instructions, anyone can learn how to properly maintain and shear a cedar hedge in a way that’s cost-effective, promotes growth, and looks great.


Cedar Shearing in Winter

Cedars usually require very little maintenance, but must be sheared with power pruners – AKA hedge trimmers or power shears – once per year to help maintain their shape and promote growth. What many people don’t know, however, is that in order for a cedar hedge to really thrive, they need to be properly trimmed during the winter.

Of course, during a cold, rainy winter, gardening and shearing cedars is the absolute last thing most people want to do – however, shearing in warm weather can deplete a cedar’s water supply, causing plant stress and, in some cases, death. If you live in Metro Vancouver or a similar hardiness zone, shearing once per year between December and March is strongly recommended. You can also find additional winter pruning tips for other plants on this blog post.


Step 1) Choose your shape

Before you begin shearing cedars, it’s important that you choose whether you’d like your hedge to be rectangular, rounded, or tapered:

  • A rectangular hedge has straight sides and tops for a clean, professional look. It can be difficult and time consuming to properly shear a rectangular hedge, but we strongly believe that this is the best choice for a clean, professional looking hedge.
  • A rounded hedge has slightly rounded tops for a natural look. This is an easier shape to shear, though it will not look as crisp and clean as a rectangular hedge.
  • A tapered hedge gets thinner the higher it goes. It can have a flat top or a rounded top, depending on your preference.

Aside from how it looks and how long it may take to shear, there is no horticultural advantage to choosing one shape over another.


Step 2) Preparation and Safety

Before you begin, you’ll need:

  • Power shears. If they’re gas powered, you’ll need to fill up before you begin. If they’re electrical, you’ll also need an extension cord.
  • A stepladder
  • A rake
  • Green waste bags or disposal containers

At Para Space, we mandate the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) anytime power shears are used. Ensure you the following safety gear on hand before you begin:

  • Earplugs
  • Safety glasses
  • Work gloves
  • Long pants
  • Closed-toed shoes with good tread

Also, make sure that you tie back any loose hair, clothing, or drawstrings. Power shears are extremely sharp and dangerous and can cause severe, even fatal, lacerations. Exercise extreme caution whenever you use them!


Step 3) Shearing the sides of the hedge

Shearing side of cedar hedge

  • Facing the cedar hedge, stand on the left side
  • Turn on power pruners
  • Firmly grasp handles and stand with feet shoulder width apart
  • Making smooth, semicircular motions, shear 1-2 inches of growth with each cut. Try to keep each cut as even as possible to avoid taking off too much growth.
  • After you finish a 2-3 foot vertical section, step to the right
  • Continue until your hedge is finished


Step 4) Shearing the top of the hedge

Shearing top of cedar hedge

  • Set up your stepladder on the right side of the hedge
  • Turn power pruners on
  • Carefully climb ladder with your fingers off the throttle and power pruner blades pointing away from your body
  • Making smooth, semi-circular motions, cut desired amount of growth from the top of your hedge.
  • Step down from ladder
  • Move ladder 3-4 feet to the left
  • Repeat until top is complete

As you work, it’s also recommended that you step back 10-15 from your hedge to get a better view and ensure that you’re keeping the tops nice and straight.


Step 5) Cleanup

For this step, simply use the rake to make the cedar clippings into small piles, then put them into your green waste disposal containers!


How Can We Help?

Cedars make excellent natural barriers and never look out of place. However, when not properly maintained, their branches will sag and begin to grow in unruly patterns. With consistency and proper cedar shearing technique, you can prolong the life of your cedars and even train it to grow into your preferred shape. So even though using power shears may seem daunting at first, but when used properly and safely, they’re easy to master, and you’ll soon find you’re able to shear your hedge faster and faster every time!

For us, winter is a busy time of year. We maintain a lot of different properties with cedar hedges. Sometimes the hedges are nice and short, but every so often, we come across cedars that have been made into giant walls and columns, up to 25 feet tall and hundreds of feet long! So, if you have cedars at your house or strata and would like to bring in some experts, consider getting in touch. No matter how tall, small, or long your hedging is, we can give you a hand.

Happy shearing!


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