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About 12 years ago we planted several native trees and shrubs in our garden to attract wildlife. There are a rowan, hazels, wayfaring tree, field maple, and crab apple (I'm not sure if we actually planted this one or if it just arrived on its own.) There are also several hollies which have self-seeded. However, our lovely woodland edge habitat is now becoming a nuisance to our very friendly neighbour, who has politely asked us  to cut them back as they are shading his garden too much. Also the hazels are threatening to take over the entire garden! What can we do to keep our neighbour happy but not lose our trees by over-pruning?

I have noticed that he has bird boxes and feeders all along the fence under our trees. If we cut them back to just above fence height, say about 8ft, will the trees die, and might the birds object and desert his nest boxes?


Hi Carole, as far as the hazels go, you can coppice those (ie cut right back to the ground) and they will quickly grow back without issue (and also provide you with a lot of useful wooden stakes, pea sticks etc.)  You would do that after leaf fall.  I'll leave others to advise you on the rest, but suspect you are best to wait for winter before doing any large scale pruning (except the Holly - early spring to early summer for that.)

Thank you! A friend has already said 'Get rid of those hollies asap, they'll take over.' I reckon if the hazels go on as they are, we'll be able to supply any local charcoal burners...


I prune holly hedges in early autumn although any time after potential birds have fledged and before winter is probably ok.

Deciduous trees are best pruned in winter.


You may find that cutting them back to 8 ft will look very ugly.

It may be better to take some of the trees out completely.  But do not be bullied into doing anything you might regret.  If he has asked you to cut back the trees it is hardly your fault if the birds no longer use the nest boxes.

Some of the trees are berry-bearing and provide food for birds.  I would take out the excess hazels first.


if you are pruning to restrict growth then you can do it now or before end autumn. Pruning in winter will when the plant is dormant is usually recommended as most pruning is intended to encourage growth. As you want to try and restrict and contain the growth it will be fine for you to do it during the summer

Carole B,

How big is your garden? Are you being too ambitious in a small plot? Many of the problems I find are simply caused by people planting things without looking 20 or 30 years ahead. Forest trees in a small garden are simply not appropriate. The rowan and wayfaring tree can be selectively thinned and the leading shoot shortened any time now; the hazels, as has been said, can be cut to 6 inches; the field maple could make 60 feet high and 40 feet wide, so think on; and unless the crab is on a dwarfing rootstock it will also turn into a big untidy tree, as will the hollies.

So look around for wildlife friendly trees, shrubs and perennials of a suitable size, and if you want to look after woodland edge habitats perhaps you could go and help with National Trust, Woodland Trust or local Wildlife Trust schemes - they'll be glad to have you.


field maple is potentially a large tree but is often seen in hedgerows so it can be cut back.

If they're in a line you could add a few hawthorns and keep it to hedge height. the wild life would be happy with that. birds like a hedge for nesting

Thank you everyone - for some reason I didn't see all these replies until June 2015!! but will definitely act on your suggestions when it is the right time again. The garden is 90 ft long by about 30 ft wide near the house, and gets wider at the far end. Definitely need some thinning and pruning!

To add to the previus replies, all those species are pretty vigorous and will regrow after pruning, however drastic.

Thank you - we did chop back some field maples, which were very grateful and are busily growing back! They've been joined by a hawthorn that just 'arrived' so the hedge height suggestion looks like a good option.

Remember that most of these flower/fruit on old wood (previous year's growth), so best to prune hard/infrequently rather than an annual trim which will remove the flowers for the following season.

Thank you for that tip too. Pruning hard but infrequently is probably right up our street, but I have to admit more as a result of lack of time/organisation/tidiness than for better gardening reasons! I think we tend to take the wildlife gardeners' thing of 'don't make the garden too tidy' a little too much to the extreme...

Our neighbours are pretty nice on the whole, but their attitude towards garden neatness if shall we say more strict than ours. We've only had the tree issue as above, and 'could we cut back the Russian vine on the fence as the little white flowers blow into their garden and make the patio untidy'. Can't do that right now as there's a blackbird nest in there! But a Russian vine needs pretty heavy treatment anyway so it's not a problem to hack the top shoots back every so often. I don't think you could kill that stuff with heavy artillery...

Jo47, your neighbour is clearly not a diplomat! But you have to allow him the preference not to have neighbours' plants growing into his garden. Similarly, bad hay-fever can be a dreadful problem - there are certain plants that give me a hard time. Both good examples of how not to approach problems.


We do respect our neighbours' right to enjoy their garden without ours spoiling things for them, of course, so will willingly hack back the Russian vine once the blackbirds have finished with it and embark on thinning/pruning the trees when it's the right time. I like the idea of keeping it all at a reasonable hedge height, and I would think that the more bushy they get the better the wildlife will like it anyway - better shelter.


Hi, I started out trying to trim down he privet hedge today, and then noticed the field maple in the hedgerow had exploded, and is a little lopsided.

So I've started to hard prune it.  My neighbour previously commented about oversized trees (forgetting they have the largest tree on the block!). 

Can I pollard it?  Or should I leave a little shape.  The trunk splits into two, and I'd guess the diameter of each fork, is about four inches.

I love the field maples, it feels horrible to cut them back, but I'm hoping they'll bounce back.  I cut the top off a wounded sycamore at the beginning of the year, and it freely sprouted right down the trunk, but the trunk was thinner.  I'm hoping for similar vigour.



Yes, it's pretty vigorous - I don't think you'll do much harm.

Field Maple is a common hedgerow tree/bush.  It can stand repeated trimming and come to no harm if you hard prune it.  Don't worry, Wayside.

We cut back our field maples pretty hard, and they are busily regrowing!