Can Hedge Trimmers Cut Tree Branches? (Must Know Tips)

Every spring I usually dust down our Stihl hedge cutter, refuel it and fire it up to cut the hedges around our garden. It’s a superb piece of heavy duty kit – but it’s too powerful to be described as just a hedge trimmer (more on this below). 

Hedge trimmers, whether gas, electric or battery powered, are ideal for cutting hedges and thin branches up to about 3/4 inch. Anything bigger than this could snag on the teeth of the trimmer and cause it to seize up, so it’s best to use a more powerful hedge cutter or chainsaw for larger branches.

Let’s shine a spotlight on how to use a hedge trimmer, so you know what they are and are not capable of. It’s worth getting it right so you avoid leaving your machine snagged on a tree branch like I did (my wife was not pleased!).

Can hedge trimmers cut tree branches?

What Size Branch Can a Hedge Trimmer Cut?

In general, the size of branch a hedge trimmer can cut depends on the type of model you own or want to purchase. You will find some with plenty of power to cut through thick and hard branches – while others will not.

From oak to dogwood branches and everything in-between, trees and hedgerows obviously come in different sizes and densities. Most hedge trimmers are made with teeth measuring 3/4 inch apart, so are designed to cut thin, lightweight brush, twigs and branches.

However, underpowered and smaller size hedge trimmers will tear hedges if you use them on bigger branches. So it’s not recommended to use them beyond their purpose or you can damage the blades and create a bit of an unsightly mess.

If your garden is full of thick branches, consider using other power tools such as an electric or gas chainsaw to cut them down – or opt for the largest hedge cutter you can buy, (note that I said ‘hedge cutter’ then as this is a key distinction as we’ll discuss later).

When getting to work it’s important to consider the actual size of what you’re going to trim too. If the branches you’re about to cut don’t fit within the teeth of the trimmer then it’s probably not a good idea to get stuck in.

Use hedge trimmers on the following three occasions:

  • Maintaining formal hedges – this is the job these tools are specifically designed for; to quickly trim the plant’s soft new growth, cutting a straight line to the desired shape.
  • Cutting back perennials – most of these plants require a hedge trimmer to cut soft dead stem tissues.
  • Taming of prolific soft plants to help them grow faster – these include lavender, tickseed, santolina, and many more.
hedge trimming

Whoops.

The Different Types of Hedge Trimmers

Hedge trimmers come in three different types denoted by their power source. You also must consider portability and blade type. When it comes to blade type, you can have single action and double action blades.

  • Single action blades get manufactured with a fixed cutting bar that lies along the blade. It is adjustable, meaning you can move it back and forward. It is lightweight and creates a lot of vibrations when cutting. This option provides little efficiency and is not that popular as a result.
  • With double-action blades you have two blades moving in different directions, thus creating fewer vibrations. These types of trimmers are more heavier but more efficient so are more popular and best recommended for larger workloads.

Battery Powered

Battery-powered trimmers (cordless) are the cheapest option every garden lover should consider, especially if you want to avoid the wiring associated with other options.

Instead of using an electric power supply, these types of trimmers use a rechargeable battery. They are lightweight and are the most convenient trimmers you can buy.

Battery-powered trimmers are easy to use and maintain because they have no cord. They are also ideal for noise-sensitive areas since they are quiet.

However, this type of trimmer doesn’t create very much power, which means they cannot be used to cut heavy and thick bushes and branches.

Their batteries last a maximum of two hours, and they always require a full charge to work efficiently. Replacement of batteries frequently is expected with these types of trimmers – and long charging times can be irritating if you’re caught out in the middle of a job.

Electric Powered

Electric hedge trimmers are lightweight and use an extended electric cord so you can move around your lawn. They are well-known for being economical and quieter as opposed to cordless ones. They also vibrate less and are easy to use. You can pick up an electric trimmer reasonably cheaply though – and these are classed as mid-range tool in terms of pricing.

Normally, electric-based trimmers are among the smallest hedge power tools, well suited for small domestic gardens. Electric trimmers are best used for cutting lightweight bushes. However, if you are dealing with thick branches, this tool may not get the job done.

Gas Powered

These bits of kit are more powerful, and could more accurately be described as hedge cutters due to their size and power. Like my Stihl they can handle larger branches of around 3/4 inch in width – but you can still get snagged if you go crazy.

Gas-powered cutters use a two-cycle internal combustion engine, and require a mix of gasoline and oil. They are also more expensive to buy than their electric counterparts.

We have an acre of land, and gas powered hedge cutters are an ideal solution for folks with a large garden because they can run for ages so you can complete big jobs.

However, they are louder than electric models and also less compact. Since they are heavier, you also need to be quite strong to work with one of these over a longer period of time.

hedge trimming

What’s The Difference Between A Hedge Trimmer And A Hedge Cutter?

We made this distinction above, and it all comes down to power, size and power source. That’s why I’d personally call the battery and electric powered tools ‘hedge trimmers’ and the gas powered one a ‘hedge cutter’.

Hedge Trimmers

Hedge trimmers are perfect for smaller hedges ands thin branches (that fit within the 3/4 inch teeth), and are useful to train and shape ornamental hedges as they grow.

For most domestic sized gardens, a mid priced hedge trimmer from a quality brand should serve you well – and a battery or electric powered model will be just fine if you’re trimming round the internal hedge border once a year or trimming ornamental hedges.

Just bear in mind though that smaller hedge trimmers can be under powered, so if you’ve left your hedges too long (naughty), or they’re of a variety that has thicker brush and branches – then you may need something bigger.

In this context, something bigger to cut larger branches means either a gas powered hedge cutter or an electric or gas chain saw.

Hedge Cutters

Unlike battery and electric hedge trimmers, which deal with light and delicate work – gas powered hedge cutters are designed to handle heavy and larger jobs. They are more portable and convenient when it comes to dealing with a heavy workload.

Cutters should never be used to cut hedges until they have finished growing, as they could kill off a young hedge completely. Equally, they shouldn’t be used for more intricate work and putting the finishing touches to sculpting ornamental bushes. 

Well kept hedging needs to some care at least once a year, and to do this properly you may like to consider a larger gas powered hedge cutter for the bigger stuff, and a smaller battery or electric hedge trimmer for the fine tuning.

Summary

While writing this article it has occurred to me that I need to take more care when trimming the hedges in my garden (my wife will be happy!).

There’s a distinction to be made between a lighter, less powerful hedge trimmer – which has a battery or a cord plugged into the mains, and a larger, gas powered hedge cutter that can chop through small and medium sized branches.

I’ve been going at all types of hedges (whether fine or more coarse), with a very big Stihl hedge cutter – and I should probably just use this on the larger stuff and invest in a smaller battery powered model to do a bit more finessing in other areas.

Whatever you choose to do in your own backyard, just be sure to read the manufacturer’s manual first – and always wear the correct safety clothing when you’re trimming (or cutting) your hedges.