The Ultimate Hedge Trimmer Buying Guide
Keeping your hedges and bushes neatly trimmed is no longer a chore. The days of manually trimming with shears are long gone. With the correct hedge trimmer, all your trimming jobs will be done quickly, easily and safely, leaving you time to enjoy a beautiful garden, without aching arms.
Generally, the longer the blade, the faster your trimming job will be, However, longer blades are more expensive to buy, and heavier in operation. This guide will help you choose the perfect hedge trimmer for your requirements.
The most cost-effective choice, electric hedge trimmers are light-weight and quiet. They don't have the limited run time between chargers that cordless trimmers suffer from. As well as being the least expensive type of trimmer to buy, there shouldn't be any expensive ongoing maintenance.
With no fuel to mix and no gasoline engine to service, an electric hedge trimmer will start with push of a button, even after being stored all winter.
The power and performance of a modern electric trimmer may surprise you. While gasoline is still the power unit of choice for commercial users, modern electric trimmers can be almost as powerful.
Electric hedge trimmers are normally lighter than cordless or gasoline trimmers of equal performance. They are less noisy than gasoline trimmers, and don't come with the noxious exhaust fumes of the gasoline type.
The main drawback is that you can't use an electric trimmer too far from an electrical outlet - 100 feet away is the commonly-accepted limit. You should never use multiple extension leads to make up the distance. If you have an older home with few outdoor outlets, or a large yard, bear this in mind.
If you have a small yard that needs only an occasional trim, an electric model may be ideal. Make sure you use a GFCI power outlet in case you accidentally cut through the cord.
- Cost effective
- Light weight
- Environmentally friendly
- Needs mains power
- Risk of cutting power lead
- Less powerful than gas
Modern cordless hedge trimmers are robust, quiet, and almost vibration-free. A cordless trimmer is more convenient than the corded type - you won't have to worry about straying too far away from the power outlet, or cutting through the power cord. Untangling power cords will be a thing of the past.
Like a corded trimmer, a cordless hedge trimmer will start immediately, even if it hasn't been used for a while. If you live in an area with strict noise or emission regulations, a cordless hedge trimmer may be ideal for you.
Older or cheaper models will typically come with a 14V or 18V battery. More powerful cordless trimmers with 36V or 40V batteries are becoming competitive with gasoline hedge trimmers.
You can expect to get around 20 minutes' use before recharging the battery, though some models will keep going for up to an hour. It may take as little as 60 minutes or as much as 3-4 hours to recharge the battery. This depends on the type of charger the manufacturer supplies with the trimmer. An extra battery can allow you to work for an entire day, using one battery while the other is charging.
Some manufacturers use the same battery and charger across their range of garden tools. This may be a factor if you already have a battery and charger, or are planning to buy more garden tools from one manufacturer.
Some reviews show that cordless hedge trimmer owners find their batteries to be unreliable. Make sure you buy a model with a decent warranty, and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for battery storage and charging. You may need to consider the cost of replacing the battery when calculating how much the hedge trimmer will cost to use in the long run.
You'll need to plan ahead when you want to use it, and make sure you have charged the battery.
- Can be used anywhere
- Cheaper than gasoline
- No power cord
- Easy to use
- Can be costly
- Less powerful than gas
- May require a 2nd battery
- Batteries may be unreliable
Gas hedge trimmers are the most powerful category, and are suitable for trimming jobs of all sizes. A gas trimmer will cut through thicker branches faster than any other type. Unlike electric models, there is no extension cord to get tangled or cut, and no battery to recharge. Many commercial operators still use gas trimmers for these reasons.
However, there are several disadvantages to using a gas trimmer. They tend to be heavier, noisier, and generally less comfortable to operate. The gas engine causes greater vibration than an electric motor, and the exhaust emissions cannot be avoided.
Some cheaper and older gas trimmers use 2-stroke engines, which means you have to mix fuel and oil in the correct quantities for the device to function. Newer models have 4-stroke engines, which, just like your car, only require gas and an occasional check of the oil level.
All gasoline hedge trimmers will require more maintenance than any electric model. Read this article to learn about the differences between the electric and gasoline type.
- Most powerful
- Can be used anywhere
- Suitable for large areas
- No power cord
- More maintenance
- Engine starting can be hard
Long-reach hedge trimmers are used to cut high hedges without the need for a stepladder or scaffolding. As your feet stay firmly on the ground, this is a safer option if your hedges are not all within easy reach. You can typically cut hedges up to 12 feet high using a long-reach hedge trimmer.
Long-reach trimmers are available with corded or cordless electric motors and gasoline engines.
Most long-reach trimmers will have an extendable shaft, so you can set the height to a comfortable level. A rotating head that can cut either vertically or horizontally is even more useful with a long-reach trimmer.
Be aware of the weight before you buy a long-reach trimmer – excess weight will cause fatigue sooner than it would with a conventional trimmer, as all the weight is concentrated at the end of the shaft.
Generally they are harder to maneuver than conventional trimmers, and it’s not always possible to see what you are cutting. If the hedge is too high or wide, it may be better to invest in a ladder platform and a conventional hedge trimmer.
Some long-reach trimmers are sold as a multi tool (e.g. the Black + Decker GSP401). This lets you use one tool for several different purposes.
- Perfect for high hedges
- Safer than using a ladder
- Can be tiring to use
- Lack of visibility
The best hedge trimmer for you will depend mainly on the size and extent of hedges and shrubs in your yard.
Small or short
You may be able to get away without a powered trimmer altogether if you have a very small amount of trimming to do. Alternatively, you could consider a mini trimmer, or a convertible grass shear / mini trimmer such as the Sun Joe HJ602C (read our review here).
If you only have a small amount of trimming and it’s not too far from an outdoor power outlet, a small electric hedge trimmer may be your best bet.
Large or long
If you have a bigger trimming job, you should consider a trimmer with a longer blade – usually the longer the blade, the quicker the job, as a longer blade will cut more with one movement by the operator than a shorter blade.
If your job extends too far from an outdoor power outlet (generally about 100 feet), you will need to consider either a cordless or gas hedge trimmer. Pros and cons of each type are listed above.
Generally, if your hedges or shrubs are so extensive that they would take over an hour to cut, you'll need to either consider a gasoline hedge trimmer, or a cordless trimmer with at least 1 extra battery, so you can keep 1 battery on charge until the other runs out.
If your hedge is over about 5 feet, consider an extendable hedge trimmer - it's unsafe to use a hedge trimmer on a stepladder. Alternatively, consider using a regular hedge trimmer with a scaffold platform.
In general, a longer blade will complete your trimming job faster. However, a longer blade also implies more weight & more fatigue for you, so the best length for your needs is a trade-off. Also, a longer blade can be unwieldy if you have a small hedge or a complex shape to cut.
Most hedge trimmers on the market today have double-sided blades - this makes the trimmer more versatile, and better for intricate work such as shaping, but is slightly heavier than a single-sided blade. If all the teeth are on one side of the blade, the blade can be longer for the same total weight, and a longer blade can do more cutting in a single sweep.
You will also need to consider the tooth spacing - theoretically, a hedge trimmer can cut any branch that will fit between its teeth, though in practice you will need one of the more powerful trimmers to cut through thick, old-growth branches. Hedge trimmers with a 3/4" gap between teeth are now common.
Using a hedge trimmer can cause fatigue, especially if you have a long trimming job, or are cutting at height. The heavier the trimmer, the faster it will tire you out, so be aware of the weight before you decide which model to buy.
Bear in mind it may be worth opting for a slightly heavier model if it has enough power to get your trimming job done faster than a slightly lighter but less powerful trimmer.
Vibration, handles and balance are the 3 main factors affecting operator comfort. You should look for a trimmer that has two handles, preferably with multiple power switches to allow you to use the trimmer in different orientations.
Dual-action blades (not to be confused with double-sided blades) cause less vibration than their single-action equivalents, but they are slightly heavier and generally more expensive than a single-action trimmer. Basically a single-action blade has 1 moving blade and 1 stationary blade, and a dual-action blade actually comprises 2 moving blades cutting against each other in opposite directions.
Gasoline hedge trimmers will always cause more vibration than either corded or cordless electric trimmers.
A typical electric or cordless hedge trimmer will produce noise at around 90dBA (similar to a motorbike 25 feet away), whereas a typical gasoline hedge trimmer will be in the 97 to 103dBA region (similar to a jet flying overhead at 1000 feet, and around double the noise level of an electric trimmer).
Hearing protection is advised with all types, but the noise of the gasoline trimmer will cause fatigue sooner, not to mention upsetting the neighbors and potentially falling foul of local noise regulations.
Many hedge trimmers are now available with a rotating head, which allows you to hold the trimmer in its normal position while cutting either horizontally or vertically. This reduces fatigue and contributes to safety.
Hedge Clipping Collector
It is possible to buy a hedge trimmer with an attachable tray, which collects clippings for you to tip out, rather than leaving them all over your yard (or your neighbor's yard)
The most common battery technology currently available is Li-ion. This type of battery can store more energy in a smaller and lighter package than earlier rechargeable battery types – it’s the same type of battery used in laptops, mobile phones and Tesla electric cars.
Li-ion batteries don’t suffer from the “memory effect” of older battery technologies. However, there are some issues with performance and longevity. A Li-ion battery can be permanently damaged if it is allowed to discharge below a certain level, and it will last for more charging / discharging cycles if it is not overcharged. The chargers supplied with the batteries are sophisticated devices, designed to deal with these challenges.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for battery charging and storage for the best results, and never store Li-ion batteries for long periods fully discharged.
Check both the battery life between charges, and the time to recharge, before you decide which trimmer to buy. If the battery will not last long enough for you to complete your trimming job you may need to buy a second battery, or consider another trimmer with longer battery life.
A two year warranty is fairly typical for hedge trimmers. Be aware that residential hedge trimmers are not built for commercial or continuous use, and this type of use will invalidate the warranty.
Many trimmers now come fitted with a hand guard, to protect the operator from flying debris being flung back from the blades.
To reduce the chance of accidental starting, and increase safety, look for a trimmer which requires both hands to press a button before starting.
Some trimmers come with a built-in brake, which will stop the blades almost instantly once the trimmer is turned off, reducing the chance of accident or injury.
Personal Protective Equipment
Ear, eye and hand protection is a must when using a hedge trimmer. Earplugs are an inexpensive way to protect your hearing. Wear safety glasses or goggles, and a decent pair of gloves. Non-slip footwear is also essential.
Consider the factors above before you decide which trimmer to buy. For more information on the most popular cordless hedge trimmers available today, check out our reviews.