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Is this time of year ok to trim/top trees?

Sent in by Flash Costello, Hull, East Yorkshire

It's best to avoid the cutting of trees or hedges between the first of March and the end of August. This is the main breeding period for most garden birds that make their nests in trees and hedges. Conifers can provide nesting sites for a variety of species at this time including blackbirds, robins, greenfinch, goldcrest and even larger birds such as sparrowhawks and crows, so care needs to be taken during any cutting.

September and October can be a good time to do such work on conifers though. However, it is important to check first for nesting birds as some species always nest a bit later. Collared doves and woodpigeons for example are preoccupied by nesting at this time and often choose large conifers to build their nests.

If you see any birds taking in nesting material or can actually see active nests, you would have to leave the cutting until they have finished. As a rough guide, the woodpigeon will incubate eggs for around seventeen days and then feed the young for as many as thirty five days before they fledge.

As conifers, particularly Leylandii, grow very quickly and can end up being a problem with regards to light and moisture in gardens, it is important to keep them in check. Cutting them back every year is essential, sometimes two cuts every year are necessary, one in late winter and again the following autumn. By regularly topping the hedge and trimming the sides, it can be managed as an effective screen.

However, you may wish to consider the benefits to wildlife that a mixed hedge would provide. Including species like hawthorn, holly, hazel and crab apple into a hedge will create a greater diversity of structure for nesting birds and a variety food in the form of berries, seeds and fruit. Read more about planting trees, shrubs and garden hedges.

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