How To Revive A Dying Hedge

So, you have an existing hedge and want it to stay, but it is not as full, thick, and healthy as you would like.  Yes, you can make an old hedge better.

To improve the health of an existing hedge, inspect it for challenges such as insect, disease, compacted soil, or simply being overgrown.  Then support the hedge plants’ growth to overcome these stressors.  Here are some of the most common you will encounter.


Most deciduous shrubs, ones that lose their leaves yearly, that are used for hedges can be renovated with rejuvenation pruning.  

Cut back very strongly, or even to the ground.

As soon as re-growth hits 12”, give a light tip prune, again at 18”, and again every foot or so of regrowth.  This will happen sooner than you expect because you have the resources of a full, mature plant to fuel that regrowth.  The tip pruning is to encourage bushy growth to re-grew, rather than straight, branchless shoots.

An overgrown needled evergreen shrub will need to be removed and replaced.  They simply do not grow back ‘pretty’ and full from pruning back more than an average of 3 years old growth. 

Give at least a light pruning to any hedge that you wish to revive, pruning promotes growth.


Some examples are – mildews, rusts, and spots.

Treat the disease first.  Damaged leaves will not recover, they will have to regrow.  The plant will naturally shed them or you can strip them.  Plants can regrow leaves quicker than regrowing stems.  Remove the leaves from the area, do not compost, depending on the disease, it may be spread from spores on the leaves.

Most plants become susceptible to disease when they are not thriving.  Often this is a mismatch between the plant and the growing conditions.  Re-assess these, sometimes it is cheaper to re-plant with a better-adapted plant rather than struggle with a planting that is not adapted to is’s area.  To pick the best plants to build your gedge with, click here.    Link to speed dating plants

Viral, such as Rose rosacea and Boxwood Blight.

Remove plant, leaves, and roots from the area, do not compost.  Do not plant a susceptible plant in the same spot.


Treat for the insects.  Investigate what caused an outbreak, often overfertilization or stress can attract insects.  If this is the first year for the insect problem, and they have defoliated the hedge, give a trim, treat the infestation, clean up fallen debris under the hedge to remove any overwintering areas, and wait for the next season.  A healthy hedge will recover from a bad season.


If your hedge has been suffering from a drought, install irrigation to provide the life-giving water your hedge is craving to recover.  It can be a full-fledged automatic irrigation system, or as simple as a soaker hose circled around the root area of your hedge.  A soaker hose can be buried in mulch to both protect it from the sun, and to hide it from sight.  You can either turn it on manually for several hours, 3 times a week or set up a timer.

Sunlight duration-

What has changed in your hedge’s area?  Did other plants or trees grow up and are now shading your hedge?  Did a tree come down and now you have a full day of the scorching sun, where once there was gently filtered light?  This may be a one-season problem, while your sun tolerant hedge drops current leaves and grow new sun-tolerant ones.  Or, you prune back shade-throwing trees to allow more light in.  If the light is the problem, either you alter the surrounding area to give the light amounts your existing hedge thrives in, or the hedge will continue to decline.  No fertilizer or tonic will change that.



If your soil has become compacted from traffic, either foot traffic or vehicular traffic, the best way to remedy that is to stop the traffic, mulch well, and encourage worms and other biological activity.  You can try mechanical means with plugs and drills which can work well on turfgrasses, but do a lot of damage to hedge roots that may or may not recover.  This will depend if the hedge is otherwise in good vigorous health.   If you have compacted soil, you might need to re-install a new hedge in a raised bed or containers to prevent the compaction from damaging your hedge plants moving forward.


More often than not, soil fertility is not the problem.  If you suspect it is from leaf nutrient deficiency signs, get a soil test done first, then add fertilizer according to the results.  Be sure to fertilize sparingly.  A little goes a long way, and it is easy to over-fertilize and do more damage than good with fertilizer.  Click here to find out about the fertilizers you need.

If your hedge is bordering your lawn, and you fertilize your lawn with lawn fertilizer, you will have an excess of nitrogen already.  Be sure to keep this in mind, as too much of one nutrient, such as nitrogen, can throw off the nutrient balance for your hedge, do that deficiency symptoms can show of other nutrients.

Adding a 1-inch layer of compost yearly will usually take care of any fertilizer requirements by your hedge.

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Toni has a bachelor degree in Plant & Soil Science, has lived, gardened and growing all over the US, in Vermont, Tennessee, Idaho, coastal North Carolina and Virginia. She has been sharing her knowledge through writing, one on one consulting and talking to anyone who wants to listen at social gatherings everywhere : )

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