How to choose a hedge trimmer — a gardening expert tells all

Hedge trimmer
(Image credit: Home Depot)

Knowing how to choose a hedge trimmer that's right for you, your hedges, and your gardening ability will make all the difference when it comes to using one. 

When shopping for one of the best hedge trimmers, knowing exactly the type of model you need can save you from overspending on unnecessary cutting power. And in the same vein, you'll avoid buying a trimmer that's too weak if you're looking for something capable.

We spoke to gardening expert Alex Kantor, owner of Perfect Plants Nursery, to find out what we should be looking for. 

"First, determine the size and scope of your trimming needs, as this will help determine the power source (electric, battery-powered, or gas) and the blade length," Alex advises. This is a great place to start, but there is a lot to take into consideration, so here are some features to keep in mind.

Gardening expert
Headshot: Alex Kantor, pictured with his dog Cricket
Gardening expert
Alex Kantor

Alex has worked in the horticultural industry for over 20 years and grew up on the nursery since his childhood years. Alex is an expert on trees, shrubs, indoor plants, and landscaping. He is passionate about growing and helping others learn the trade. You'll see him driving around the nursery with his puppy sidekick, Cricket.

How to choose a hedge trimmer

1. Power source

"To find the right hedge trimmer for your needs, consider factors such as the size of your hedges, the thickness of branches you'll be trimming, and the frequency of use. Electric or battery-powered trimmers are generally suitable for smaller tasks, while gas-powered or heavy-duty electric models are better for larger or more frequent tasks," Alex recommends.

The type of hedge trimmer you choose should also depend on the type of vegetation you plan to cut. Gas hedge trimmers will suit thicker foliage and larger areas that need tackling. They also mean you won’t be caught without battery life when you need it. 

Electric hedge trimmers, though less powerful, are all-around easier to use. They have ample power for everyday yard tasks and run at a quieter volume. You won’t have to worry about fumes or emissions with these trimmers either. You can select either corded or cordless electric trimmers, with cordless options being more versatile but more expensive, due to their batteries. 

Saying that electric hedge trimmers are becoming more powerful, often rivaling their gas counterparts. Electric trimmers will often list what type of gas engine they'll equate to, so be sure to see how they compare. 

If you need to cut through tough, woody branches that are 3/4 of an inch or wider, a hedge trimmer might not be the right tool for the task. Instead, consider a manual pruning saw or even one of the best chainsaws to groom especially thick-stemmed vegetation.

Person operating hedge trimmers on hedge

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Blade

Hedge trimmers use blades with sharp metal teeth to slice away at vegetation. The single-sided variety of blades has teeth that face away from you as you work, which is a worthwhile safety measure. The double-sided models work in both directions and can complete yard tasks more quickly, but you must be alert and equipped with PPE while using them.

When it comes to blade length, bigger is not always better. "Long-bladed trimmers are ideal for covering larger areas quickly, while shorter blades offer greater precision for shaping and detailing," Alex explains.

In general, hedge trimmer blades extend somewhere between 13 inches and 40 inches. Trimmers sporting 16-inch blades are best suited for small or average-size hedges. 18-inch blades are good for grooming average to large hedges, and 20-inch blades are best for big hedges. Since a 24-inch blade can handle a wide variety of plant types, it’s a common length for residential trimmers. If you want a model with a blade that is longer than this, be sure you can maneuver it without difficulty.

3. Cutting capacity

A hedge trimmer’s cutting capacity depends on the spacing between the blade teeth or gap. The gap determines the maximum branch size the machine can safely cut. The larger the gap the greater the cutting capacity of the trimmer. Typically, hedge trimmers have a gap of 1 inch or greater, but you can find models with a gap of 3/8 to 3/4 of an inch. For thick, dense, or woody plants, you probably want to opt for a large cutting capacity. For young, leafy hedges with fine stems, a lower cutting capacity will work. 

4. Extra features

Most hedge trimmers have the same basic design, no matter their power source or blade length. So, it’s the extra features that differentiate them and make them fit specific needs.

Some trimmers come with a shoulder strap, which can relieve strain on your arms during long trimming sessions. Others have ergonomic handle designs that increase comfort and enhance maneuverability. Others still have anti-vibration technology that makes for a smoother, more manageable trimming experience. And the best of the best have laser-cut blades that make clean, straight cuts on every pass. Picking a tool that has one or more of these features ensures you get the most value and power for your dollar.

5. Weight

A trimmer with a longer blade is heavier and more cumbersome, so not only do you need more strength to hold it, but you also have to take greater care to operate it correctly to get the results you want.

"Avoid choosing a trimmer that is too heavy or difficult to maneuver, as this can lead to fatigue, strain, and an unfinished yard job," Alex recommends. The heavier hedge trimmers tend to have longer blades and more power, but if you're not dealing with large hedges with thick branches, then you likely won't need that much power. 

To find a hedge trimmer that’s a comfortable weight, you may have to look for one with a shorter blade or consider a corded model, which tends to weigh less than battery-operated and gas machines.

6. Brand

Alex recommends: "Choose a well-known and reputable brand that offers reliable performance, durability, and good customer support. Some popular hedge trimmer brands include Black+Decker, DEWALT, Stihl, and Husqvarna."

This may seem obvious, but having a tool that's reliable and can be repaired by an established brand if necessary can solve a lot of problems down the line. Plus, many of these manufacturers will offer some kind of warranty.

For more info, we compared two of the biggest hedge trimmer brands in our guide to Husqvarna vs Greenworks.

Dan Fauzi
Features Editor

Dan Fauzi is the former Features Editor of Top Ten Reviews, with experience in digital product writing across all sorts - including tech, outdoor living, sports, and homes & gardens. Outside of work you'll find them at gigs, exploring creative spaces, or cooking up something good in the kitchen.