Tackling English Laurel

This handy guide, informed by experience, will take you through the steps of trimming and/or removing this beloved hedge.

(Unless you happen to have either a lightsaber or a backhoe in your garage–applicable licenses notwithstanding.)

Things you’ll need:

  • Work gloves (cloth okay).
  • Garden shears (don’t go flimsy).
  • Time (hours or days) and timing (I’ll explain shortly).
  • A ready list of expletives. For this project, I recommend going right to the ‘mummy-fudgers’ and ‘juicy-flying-camels’ (you know what I mean). You’ll need them.
  • Clothes you don’t care about. Jeans, old T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt (dual-purpose, explanation coming shortly).
  • A beverage (can be alcoholic, so long as you don’t blame me for mishaps).
  • Appropriate music. Here, I recommend the angry stuff. Go right to Alice in Chains’ “Phantom Limb” or Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”. It’s okay to be heavy.
  • The right mood. Urgency helps. Say, if your spouse/significant other informs you that no romance will take place until the job is done. Bingo. Or, if your contract isn’t being renewed (especially at a workplace you love, and if a backstabber is culpable). Even better. Time to drop the hammer.
  • A rake (dual-purpose).
  • Leaf bags or a tarp.
  • Alleve (aka naproxen sodium)


English laurel hedges, some out of control.

Step 1: Take a ‘before’ picture. Good to show a comparison to significant other/friends.


Step 2: Pick a height you want and pick a spot in the middle of desired target. I had to trim over a foot, so mine came to mid-chest. If you’re trimming the face, decide how non-threatening you want it to look, then do that lean-and-thumb trick. And prepare to get wet.

Timing. Okay, I said the desired time was important, so here’s why: Bees and wasps like these things. They tend to take trimming (to an insect, destruction) of this stuff rather personally. (A long-sleeve shirt might protect you a little better, but it will feel important to have less skin exposed.) So, to avoid enraging the local flying population, do it early or do it in the rain. Ten a.m. on a sunny day? Not a good idea.


Step 3: Figure out your work groove. This is important so you don’t clip like mad for three minutes and then decide it’s time for a coffee. You’ll never get the thing done.

(Yes, I am aware they make powered hedge trimmers. This post is more for people who don’t feel like spending another $200 on a piece of yard equipment they’ll use once per year. Plus, it’s more manly to do it my way. Exercise is always good.)

When you start (at that weird spot in the middle) try to clip straight out, all the way through. It gives you a nice visual standard to work off, and you may even enjoy wading into a plant to get the job done. Mine are four feet thick, and I’m not a tall guy.

Since we’re going for tidiness over art, how much to do is at your discretion. But I bet you’ll like the snap-snap sound and seeing bits of leaf and twig go flying. You can even think of it as a kind of magic: Grunting plus sweat plus working arms equals hedges under control.

Don’t bother with clean-up, yet, other than grabbing a few strays on your way to get coffee (a break). This creates a lot of yard waste. Do it all at the end, with a rake.

English laurel hedge being trimmed


Step 4: Pause to assess. Your arms will be sore (unless you’re a modern John Henry) you’ll be sweaty and you’ll have bits of green crap in your hair. This is all good. So how does it look? How many feet are to the left and right?

Mine sit atop a tiered rock wall, so completing the job required a ladder from the other side (more on that coming). The point is not to feel defeated if you can’t get all the way through. If some madman planted yours on the edge of an abyss, of course, you may need to reconsider your sense of aesthetics and mortality.


Step 5: Keep at it. This will take hours. Remember that heavy, angry music I mentioned? Start channeling. Anybody who’s pushed your buttons, here’s your chance to do something with the steam.

One of the added benefits of this job: Battle scars. How’d you get that scratch on your stomach? (Yes, the stuff will poke under your shirt.) Why do you have blisters on your hand? Chopping and raking, baby.


Step 6: Trimming is done (for the session/season). Nice work. Grab the rake and start dragging it over the top and sides. Get violent, even. English laurel just laughs at you. “Don’t think you can hurt me with that flimsy flimsy!” This particular hedge (Dwarf leaf variety) has lighter-green undersides, so any overturned leaf is easy to spot–litter for you to whack and collect.

Added benefit: All-natural catapults. Kind of amazing how far some of those twigs and shards go flying. Where are those bratty children?


Step 7: Clean-up. If you’ve got a tarp handy, that’s great. Though there’s a lot of litter, it’s easy to clean up because the leaves are sturdy. They want to go into the bag/compost bin. Awesome!


Step 8: Beverage time! Take a photo for posterity, pound your chest (or, you know, whatever) and collect your reward! (For removal, see below.)

Trimmed English laurel hedge.

English laurel litter pile.

Step 9 (REMOVAL): If the stuff absolutely has to go–and you can’t be talked out of it–you skip the tidy/artistry steps and ramp up the destruction. This is where a lightsaber would really come in handy. Either way, you’re going to have to saw through quite a bit before you start digging it out with a shovel. Sure you don’t want to reconsider?…

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