Can.Hemlock hedge--can it be TOPPED?

Moccasin(z9aMobileAL)March 2, 2009

Many years ago my husband planted about 200' of canadian hemlock which is now a 15' tall hedge. It is on the south property line, encroaching on available sunlight, and I notice some thinning of the lower branches along the entire 200' row. I'm not into intensive maintenance and would have chosen a different plant for a hedge, but so be it. We're getting too old to be wrestling with it.

The question is, can we with impunity cut about 4 feet off this row of hedge? (I say WE, meaning to have the job hired out.) It is swallowing the power/phone cables. If it loses its bottom branches it will no longer provide a privacy hedge. The plants are truly lovely with snow on them, and they provide cover for birds and rabbits etc.

These are in z5b MA at his house. If topping them all at one time is not possible, can they be shortened over a two year period or something like that?

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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Well, you can cut them back but then you'll have 200' of the epitome of a bad hair day. Between the swallowing of power lines and the death of lower branches means they will have to go eventually anyway, unless you want to hack them back every so often (and live with that look each time). You may want to cut them back once and, if you have the room, plant a replacement for when they are removed entirely. What was it you wanted to plant?

tj

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 3:33AM
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pineresin

Hemlock can be kept trimmed, but only if you cut back a small amount, staying within the green foliage. A hard cut back into older wood as you're suggesting will just leave dead stubs that won't re-sprout.

Resin

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 8:26AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

, and dead stubs, that won't re-sprout, will eventually introduce rot into the trees. Topping is not good.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 8:45AM
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Moccasin(z9aMobileAL)

I was afraid of all that....although I was hoping that hemlock would respond to the topping like our southern pine respond to hurricane damage by making a new tops somehow. Of course, they look twisted, but after a few years you don't even notice it.

What plant would I have chosen instead of the hemlock? Well, I don't know, because I'm from Alabama and our rules and plant selections don't apply up north. But I don't like to put something which is genetically disposed to become a huge tree and force it into submission. Both tree and gardener are bound for a lifetime to constant annual maintenance.

However, a plant my husband calls "siberian privet" was his choice to screen his swimming pool until the pool was taken out. He cut down the privet and left the roots, which came back out with full bottom growth. The limbs are dense in the fashion of boxwood, but it seems to lose its leaves in the cold winters--as much as I can tell since it is covered in snow much of the time.

My solution is to leave the hemlock in peace, except for the area around the important cables. He plans to sell his northern home in a couple of years, or whenever the market improves, and the new owners can make the choice. The home site is very private, and I would not want to leave death and destruction instead of peace and tranquility.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 11:21AM
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patskii

I have a large hemlock in my woods in southern NH whose top was broken off by some act of nature many years ago (17 or more probably). The tree has never grown taller, nor has it rotted away. However, it is likely larger than the ones in your hedge. Maybe you could try topping a tree at each end of your hedge and see how it does? I actually plan to try topping some hemlocks closer to my house. I like the way they look now, but they will block my winter solar gain if they grow much taller, and then I'll have to cut them down entirely.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 12:43PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

privet is a shrub

hemlock is a conifer ..

different rules for different types of plants ...

if it were me ... i would have every other one removed .... and plant replacements ... of some other type .... and when those get some size.. you or the next owner can remove the others ...

ken

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 3:09PM
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dirty_wench(5b)

I have many times seen Canadian Hemlock drastically topped, so yes, they can be topped. The do take years to fill in, and they look really bad in the meantime, but once they fill in they look fine. My concern is that if you are planning to sell this property, the topped hemlocks will be very much of an eye sore--so much so that it may affect your selling price. Therefore, if I were selling the home, I would have them either trimmed or completely removed and replaced with something more contemporary (Hemlock hedges are rather dated) or more interesting.

I like to attract wildlife to my yard, so I would consider Viburnum trilobum (the American Cranberry). It has beautiful white flowers in the spring and red berries in the fall and winter, which the birds love. Fast, dense growers, they reach 10-12 feet high and 8 feet wide. They are deciduous, so privacy in the winter would be lost (but some people aren't so concerned about privacy in the winter since they aren't outside much then).

You could also consider a boxwood. Some peopel consider them high maintenece because they want them trimmed into neat, tight hedges. I actually prefer them in their more informal state, which requires only minimal and occasional trimming of stray growth. There are several varieties, so do your homework and choose the right one for your needs.

A conifer could also be considered; you know your site welcomes them. I like Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd (Emerald Green Arborvitae) for it's compact, pyramidal shape. You could also try Picea glauca 'Conica' (Dwarf Alberta Spruce).

Of course, you could also go with Rhododendrums (which I love) or Grasses; I love miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light, paired with Siberian Iris and Lamb's Ear OR Redbeckia Hita and Heather.

Anyway, I hope I've given you some ideas to go with. Again, I would seriously reconsider topping those hemlocks if you are putting the property up for sale.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 6:46PM
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Moccasin(z9aMobileAL)

1. Patskii, thanks for the reminder that the solar gain at the Massachusetts latitude is a consideration. If we were staying for a longer length of time, I would do as

2.Ken Adrian suggests and remove every other one, replanting the empty spots with a more modern selection not likely to morph into a gigantic block for the sun on this south side of the house. Then I could look at the options given by

3. Dirty Wench....(love that name for a gardening wench)..
Since we are planning to sell his house which has a mature lawn and plant selection, we don't want to do anything now that would give it a raw look. The thuja occidentalis of some variety was planted along the 100' east (uphill) property line, and they have already grown an additional 2'
tall in less than 2 years. The "glacial junk" soil up there was amended over the years with all sorts of manure and leaf composting, so they have an easy life.

Thanks for all your help. I will keep the list of plant selections in mind for other spots that could use less than massive solutions.

The final decision for this 200' line of hemlocks is to leave them stand, but do some cosmetic pruning and pay particular attention to clearing the spot where the power/phone/cable lines pass through the hedge to join the power pole which sits on the south property line.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 10:54PM
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