Cutting hornbeam as a tree and bush - tutorial with many instructions

Cutting hornbeam as a tree and bush - tutorial with many instructions

Hornbeam - tolerant of many types of cuts

With a hornbeam, an undemanding and conciliatory wood has found its way into the garden. The home advantage gives the deciduous wood a robust winter hardiness , which not least results in a pronounced cut tolerance. Hornbeams cooperate in the education of the majestic deciduous tree just as conciliatory as in cultivation as a decorative shrub or formal hedge with a privacy screen function. To name all the ornate hornbeam variants by name would go beyond the scope of this tutorial. The following overview presents popular, traditional and hip styles with tips on when to cut:

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Type of cultivationCut typeGoal / occasionbest date
treeForm and maintenance cutShape and maintain the crownLate winter (late November to late February)
treeTaper cutRejuvenate the aged crownWinter (November to February)
Shrub - solitary or small groupBody sectionstable and densely bushy growthFebruary
Shrub - solitary or small groupClearance cutRemove dead wood, regulate growthFebruary and late June
hedgeTopiary and maintenance cutOpaque growth, well-groomed appearanceFebruary and late June
Shrub or hedgeTaper cutRevitalize aged hornbeamsWinter (November to February)

In the professional pruning, the ideal time has shifted from June to February . With the help of many years of field tests, experts have found that trees and shrubs respond better to pruning in late winter. Midsummer Day at the end of June remains the traditional cutting date for light maintenance cuts on hedges and strong bushes.


Today's idiom hanebuchen originally has a close connection with the rough, gnarled wood of a hornbeam. Over the centuries the term has changed in meaning. If in modern parlance it is spoken of an “outrageous mistake”, it is expressed that the person concerned has committed a gross misconduct. If you follow the instructions in this tutorial, you will at least be protected from “outrageous editing errors”.

Tree pruning instructions - shape and maintenance pruning

By nature, a hornbeam thrives as a medium-sized tree with a conical, later rounded, broad crown. As a free-growing house tree, the native tree species rounds off the natural garden design. With special crown shapes and compact growth, successful varieties such as 'Fastigiata' or 'Monumentalis', which are often found in small gardens and front gardens, inspire.

A well-trained hornbeam remains uncut for the first few years . Only with advancing age is it advisable to cut back at intervals of 4 to 5 years. Thinning out dead wood and contouring the crown guarantee a neat appearance and gentle growth control. How to properly prune a hornbeam as a free-growing tree:

  • Clear the crown every 4 to 5 years
  • Cut off a dead branch on astring
  • Remove weak and inward-facing shoots that grow steeply upwards
  • Each cut start a few millimeters above an outward-facing bud
  • Cut off stem shoots growing below the crown without damaging the bark
  • Tear out shoots of water or unwanted seedlings from the tree disc

If a branch that is too long protrudes from the crown, fix the aesthetic problem with a drain cut. The clever cutting technique prevents back cuts from causing unsightly gaps in the crown. Don't just cut the branch in question anywhere. Rather, look for a short, outward-facing side shoot near the intersection. At the fork of both shoots, cut off the section that is too long. The up to now subordinate side shoot takes over the leading position without the cut affecting the harmonious crown appearance.

Hornbeam pruning

Rejuvenate old hornbeam - this is how it works

Uncut, the hornbeam forms an expansive crown with a diameter of 12 meters and more. A dense network of old, bare and young, poor branches makes normal maintenance pruning impossible. Instead of clearing the neglected tree, bring the crown to reason with a radical pruning. So that your hornbeam deserves the name Hausbaum again, breathe fresh courage with a rejuvenating cut. How to cut properly:

  • The best time is during the leaf-free period from November to February
  • Remove all dead wood at the beginning
  • Select a suitable number of healthy, strong leading branches as the new crown
  • Shorten selected leading branches by half by deriving them to a young side shoot
  • Saw off all remaining, aged leading branches on Astring
  • From arm's thickness, saw a branch in stages

With a rejuvenating cut, the pronounced cut tolerance of a hornbeam plays into your hands. You can rest assured that the tree will sprout fresh from its old wood. The secret lies hidden in sleeping eyes that rest inactive under the bark for many years. The radical pruning acts like a wake-up call and activates the dormant buds. Depending on the overall condition of the hornbeam in question, vigorous growth begins as an ideal starting point for rebuilding the crown.

As the illustration below shows, the tapering cut leaves an empty crown of central shoots with selected leading branches that carry few, promising side shoots. You can cushion the deforestation by diverting as many old branches as possible onto young side branches.

Rejuvenate hornbeam


Cut thick branches in stages - the correct cutting technique briefly explained

An old hornbeam sometimes confronts the gardener with a thick, old branch that needs to be removed. Sawing in one go runs the risk of the mighty branch breaking off and leaving an irreversible wound on the tree. With the right cutting technique, you can prevent the mishap competently. First saw the branch from the bottom to the middle at a distance of 40 centimeters from the actual cut. Then move the saw to the right or left so that you can now saw from above until the branch breaks off. Support the stump with one hand while you cut the piece on astring.

Build up the hornbeam in stages

With an annual growth of 30 to 35 centimeters, a hornbeam as a shrub soars up much too quickly to branch out densely at the same time. It is necessary to reduce the speed of growth and divert plant energy into subordinate buds. This is achieved with a step-by-step construction . A conical cut profile with a broad base and a narrow crown makes an important contribution to the entry of light deep into the bush so that photosynthesis can take place there and the leaves sprout. This is how you complete the perfect cut on the hornbeam bush:

  • On the day of planting, cut back all shoots by a third or half
  • Prune annually in February to the desired final height
  • Cut back vigorous varieties again at the end of June
  • Shorten last year's increase to a remainder of 5 to 10 centimeters
  • Always cut a short distance away from an outward-facing bud
  • Shrub pruning in a pyramidal shape with a slightly wider base and narrowed crown

The recommended gradual upbringing up to the final height implements the growth law of top funding. This law states that the hornbeam, like almost all plants, grows most strongly at its shoot tips. Pointed buds are preferably supplied with energy in order to grow to the light as quickly as possible. The further a bud is from the top position, the less growth it will grow. By continuously removing the tip buds, eyes positioned lower down benefit from the increased sap pressure and sprout. From this it follows that reduced height growth automatically leads to increased sprouting of side branches.

In addition to the successive construction cut, we recommend a cut profile in pyramid shape for your hornbeam bush. In this way, the sunlight reaches deep into the center of the wood because the branches do not shade each other. The reward for your prudence is a dense cover of leaves without baldness from the inside out.

Hornbeam shrub structure

Hornbeam bush - beautiful thanks to the clearing cut

Successful hornbeam varieties adorn the garden as a solitary shrub or small groups. The pyramidal hornbeam 'Fastigiata' impresses with its columnar silhouette and, up to 15 meters high, impressively lines driveways and avenues. Her little sister, the columnar hornbeam 'Frans Fontaine', is 6 to 8 meters high and adorns the front garden as a slim, leafy beauty. A well-trained hornbeam bush remains beautiful in isolation if you prune it at least once a year . If necessary, use the scissors again at the end of June to check growth. How to cut properly:

  • The best time for the central clearing cut is in February
  • Cut out dead, weak and annoying branches
  • When the final height is reached, cut off the previous year's growth
  • Important: Pay attention to the incision on outward-facing buds
  • Maintain conical section profile

If a hornbeam sprouts strongly in early summer, prune the bush between the end of June (St. John's Day) and mid-July. Check the woody wood for breeding birds beforehand . If you find what you are looking for, move the cutting time to August. Trim this year's growth back to an outward-facing leaf or bud.


Electric shrub shears leave battered foliage behind

The hornbeam inspires with its neat foliage. Its deciduous, ovate to elliptical leaves are eight inches long and five inches wide. With a bright golden yellow autumn color, the deciduous trees round off the gardening season splendidly. Machine-operated shrub shears are out of place to ensure that the decorative foliage can survive a cut without injuries. Hornbeam leaves can get entangled in the cutter bars running against each other, are torn and stand there with brown leaf edges for the rest of the year. Always cut a hornbeam as a tree, bush and hedge with one-handed or two-handed scissors.

Cut the hornbeam hedge twice a year

A step-by-step construction, as described for the solitary shrub, is also advantageous for a hornbeam hedge. When the final height is reached, the pruning ends in a regular shaping and pruning cut. It is cut at least twice a year , regardless of the stage of life in which the hedge is. This is how an exemplary hedge cut succeeds:

  • Cutting dates: February, June and optionally August
  • Remove deadwood at the beginning of February
  • Tension cords in advance as a guideline for a trapezoidal cutting profile
  • Up to the end of the hedge: cut back the previous growth to 5 or 10 centimeters
  • From the final height: completely cut the previous growth
  • Optionally, cut back all branches protruding from the hedge shape in August

Please check the hedge carefully for wintering or breeding birds before each cut. If you find what you are looking for, the cut will be postponed until later. It is easy to prune a hornbeam hedge in mid-August when the breeding business is over. From the beginning of September, the hedge trimmer should rest so that shoots mature in time for the first frost.

Hornbeam hedge topiary


Would you like to deepen your knowledge of how to cut a hornbeam as a hedge? Then we recommend our comprehensive tutorial on how to cut the perfect hedge. Here you can read well-founded instructions on how to build, maintain and rejuvenate an opaque, elegant hornbeam hedge.


Rejuvenate aged hornbeam bushes

Failure to take care of the pruning leaves hornbeam bushes unaffected. Within a few years, the deciduous trees turn into solitary or hedge into an unsightly and impenetrable undergrowth. It is now too late for a subsequent conservation cut and too early for clearing. Revitalize the hornbeam with a rejuvenating cut and then start rebuilding. The risk of total failure is significantly minimized if you proceed in two stages . How to do it right:

  • The best time for each cutting stage is in winter on a frost-free day
  • First step: shorten the crown and one side to a quarter of the desired final height and width
  • Second step: cut back uncut areas
  • Cut back the growth on the shrub or hedge area that was rejuvenated last year to 10 centimeters
  • After each pruning, fertilize with compost and horn shavings

From the third year onwards, you will start to rebuild rejuvenated hornbeam bushes as solitary or hedge. Take it step-by-step, leaving no more than 10 inches in height and width each year. By the end of June, the shoots of the first stage of pruning are already drifting so strongly that you can initiate the structural pruning on these areas. Cut the new growth back to a remainder of 5 or 10 centimeters by mid-July. In early summer after the second regeneration stage, the construction cut includes all shrub and hedge areas.

Hornbeam taper cut


Radical pruning takes place in winter so that spring does not fall silent

Nobody can turn a blind eye to the dramatic population situation of our breeding birds. One of the manifold reasons for the undiminished decline is uncontrolled pruning in the middle of the breeding season. The Federal Nature Conservation Act puts a stop to this. Between March 1 and September 30, pruning measures on trees and bushes are prohibited . Thinning out, sitting on the stick and other radical cuts are permitted from October 1st to February 28th, provided that there are no wild animals in the wood. Light maintenance cuts are allowed during the closed summer season, provided there are no bird nests in the wood and the cut is limited to this year's growth.

frequently asked Questions

Is the hornbeam poisonous?

No, there are no toxic substances in a hornbeam. There are no toxins in the leaves, shoots and roots, nor in flowers, seeds and fruits. The popular hedge plant also poses no danger to animals. The hornbeam is an excellent choice for enclosing properties, gardens, paddocks and pastures.

Can I raise a young hornbeam to become a standard stem myself? If yes, how does it work?

You can easily raise a young plant to a standard stem. Select the strongest shoot and place a support post to one side. Connect the shoot and support with soft hose ties that do not cut into the young bark. Cut off all vertical competing shoots at ground level. Side shoots along the future trunk are also removed. Guide the central drive up its support to a height of 2.20 to 2.50 meters. Now shorten the tip, whereupon the branches to the crown begin. The hornbeam forms a beautiful crown from the trunk extension and 4 to 6 evenly arranged leading branches. Please cut off any twigs sprouting below the crown.

Is the column hornbeam suitable for keeping in a large bucket?

Keeping a hornbeam in a bucket is not a problem if an optimal supply of water and nutrients is guaranteed in the summer months. During the cold season, make sure that the soil does not dry out. Furthermore, there is only limited frost tolerance in the pot. It is imperative that you cover the bucket with foil, fleece or a potato sack and slide a block of wood under the floor.

For my garden, I am planning a narrow, approximately 50 centimeter wide hedge made of pyramid hornbeam. Is the 'Fastigiata' variety suitable for this? How many plants are needed for 1 meter?

The excellent pruning tolerance of hornbeam allows cultivation as a narrow hedge. If you prune regularly, you can shorten pyramid hornbeams to a width of 30 to 50 centimeters. For this purpose, prune the hedge two to three times a year, in February, at the end of June and, if necessary, one last time in August. When planting hedges, we recommend 3 plants per running meter.

Nurseries offer the hornbeam as an evergreen shrub or tree. Does this mean that the plant retains its foliage through winter?

The local site conditions have a decisive influence on how long a hornbeam keeps its leaves. In sheltered locations, the leaves usually fall from the middle of December. The signs for a long-lasting foliage are good if the autumn is dominated by mild weather with sufficient moisture. In dry autumn weather, we recommend continuing to water regularly and abundantly so that the foliage is not shed as a result of drought stress.

My freshly planted hornbeam hedge should be 2 meters high. At the beginning of July, the shrubs grew 1 to 1.50 meters high with quite thin tips. Can I cut the hedge back to 80 centimeters or do I have to wait until the final height is reached before cutting back?

The earlier the pruning of a hornbeam hedge begins, the more densely the bushes branch out. We recommend pruning as soon as possible in order to promote branching in the lower hedge area. July is a good time to cut, as long as you are not cutting in high heat and direct sunlight.

The 3 most common mistakes

If the hornbeam with its bare, misshapen silhouette becomes a nuisance, the gardener has made a mistake. So that you can look forward to a well-groomed appearance of trees, bushes and hedge for a long time, the following table draws attention to the three most common mistakes in pruning and gives helpful tips for prevention:

Cutting errorsDamageprevention
never exposedpremature aging, impenetrable undergrowthcut out deadwood regularly
put on the stick in one goTotal failurerejuvenate in two or three stages
cut with electric scissorsbattered foliage, brown leaf marginsCut hornbeam manually


Hornbeams form a symbiotic community with mycorrhizal fungi, which is beneficial for both parties. As a result, bare-root young plants hardly grow in the first few years because the symbiosis is first established underground. It is advisable to purchase a large hornbeam as a tree or shrub together with the root ball in a container.