What is a long-reach hedge trimmer?

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Written By Janine Clarke

I am Janine Clarke AKA Equipment Girl, a nerdy girl with an unhealthy knowledge about power tools and gardening! You can contact me here.

Well, as the name implies, long-reach hedge trimmers are just that: hedge trimmers that have a long reach! But are they any good, and why would you need them?

Want to know more? Great! Because I’ve got plenty to say about them, as they changed my life (at least, they made gardening a whole lot easier!).

New Innovations

Garden tools have evolved over the years, and they’re still being improved today as new innovations alter designs for maximum control, convenience, efficiency and comfort.

That’s good news for us all, but especially for people with tall hedges. And even better news if, like me, you are not exactly the tallest of people!

Having struggled to reach the top of some of my hedges (and not wanting to stand on a ladder, for reasons I’ll go into later on), I finally conceded and went in search of help.

A Wise Decision

Although I was in two minds at first, I settled on a set of long-reach hedge trimmers. Thinking back, I can’t believe that I was hesitant! I thought they’d be clumsy and difficult to control, or perhaps too heavy for me to hold.

Anyway, let me share my experiences to help you get a better understanding of what long-reach hedge trimmers are and how they could be the solution you’ve been searching for.

Hedge Trimmers: The Basics

Hedge trimmers come in many different types and designs. Because of this, making the right choice can be difficult. For example, do you go for a petrol-powered, corded electric, or battery-powered model?

Some are hedge trimmers, while others are better described as hedge cutters (better for heavy-duty work and thicker branches).

And what about blade length? Short blades generally allow better control over the machine, though long blades (especially on hedge cutters) can be extremely effective.

One-sided hedge trimmers

Other types only have a cutting edge on one side, and these are favoured by horticultural contractors and professionals as they are designed for large-scale projects and prolonged use.

What they all have in common is the reciprocating blade, two blades with teeth that move backwards and forwards to produce an effective cutting action.

While these can all be useful tools in their own way, it’s always best to choose one that suits your needs. Most models are great for general use around the garden, tackling a range of jobs including trimming shrubs and hedges.

Working At Ground Level

All these models mentioned above are great for coping with low hedges up to about four feet in height with your own feet planted firmly on the ground. But what do you do if you have very high hedges?

All the safety advice warns against lifting the trimmer above head height, as this can result in accidents. Your arms will soon begin to tire and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll lose your grip on the machine. And the consequences don’t bear thinking about!

So, if your hedges are higher than about five feet, you have two options; use a ladder, or invest in long-reach hedge trimmers.

The Dangers Of Working At Height

Now, I don’t know about you, but I never feel safe on ladders. And most ladders are not designed for safe garden use – at least, they don’t provide a stable working platform while you’re wielding a power tool with deathly-sharp blades!

While special gardening ladders or tripod ladders are available, they’re not always the best or safest option. The main issues are that you’ll still be trying to keep balance while using hedge trimmers, and most of the ladders have narrow feet and legs that could sink into the ground.

I realise that we’re probably only talking about working at about three or four feet above terra firma, but even so, a fall from this height can be disastrous, especially when you’re gripping a power tool. And those blades can inflict a sever injury even when they’re not moving.

Long-reach hedge trimmers offer a potentially safer option, as you remain on solid ground while you operate the machine.

If you prefer to use a ladder, consider investing in a good-quality example that’s designed for garden use. Henchman tripod ladders are some of the best you can buy.

The Long-Reach Hedge Trimmer

Also called pole hedge trimmers, these offer many benefits over conventional hedge trimmers when trying to cut tall hedges.

Essentially, they have an extension shaft that makes the whole tool much longer, not an extra-long blade!

As with the standard models, there are different designs available, so let’s find out more about them.

Telescopic Shafts Vs Fixed Length Poles

Some of these machines can be extended to up to 6.5 feet, potentially allowing a cutting range of 10 feet! That’s usually plenty long enough for most people.

There are generally two types: fixed-length and telescopic, which is straightforward enough.

Telescopic models have a clear advantage over fixed ones, for obvious reasons. I opted for one of these as it allows me to adjust the length to suit the various heights of each hedge in my garden.

One thing to note is that petrol models almost always have a fixed-length pole and are significantly heavier (see below for more details).

Adjustable Cutting Head

The adjustable cutting head is a particularly useful feature, allowing the entire blade to be angled up to 90º so you can trim the top of your hedges easily.

This means you can have a flat top to your hedges, or you can choose another angle if you wish. You can even round the edges by varying the angle gradually, it’s entirely up to you!

Power Source

Which is better, petrol, battery, or corded electric pole trimmers? Some of this will come down to personal preference, but each one has its benefits and drawbacks.

Electric Pole hedge trimmers

Electric pole hedge trimmers are fine, and they generally tend to be more powerful than battery-powered models (although many modern battery hedge trimmers are equally as powerful, if not more so if you invest in a good quality brand!).

The major drawback of corded electric models is that you are limited by the power cord length, or you’ll have extension cords trailing across the lawn.

Petrol-Powered Long reach hedge trimmers

Petrol-driven models pack a punch and make short work of any excess growth, but they can be uncomfortable and difficult to hold, especially for petite people or those in their senior years.

In fact, both corded electric and petrol models can weigh as much as 12 pounds (5.6 kg). While it might not sound much, try holding this steady for more than ten minutes and you’ll soon change your mind!

If you opt for one of these heavier examples, make sure a shoulder strap is included as this helps to take some of the strain out of the process.

Battery Powered Hedge trimmers

These are my personal favourite, but that’s just me. Although some sources complain that they don’t have the same level of power as petrol and mains electric-powered models, it really depends on the brand.

Choose one of the better brands, such as Stihl, and you’ll have no problem.

Likewise with the quality of the cut: some people find that the finish isn’t as crisp as with the other models. It’s a simple case of the old saying, you get what you pay for. I was prepared to pay extra for a premium machine and it was money well spent!

Typically, you can get 18V, 36V, and 56V batteries, though the 36V is adequate for most people, including me.

Another bonus is that the battery (or power unit) often fits several other cordless tools if you buy the same brand. This is brilliant for saving space in the shed, and as I have two power units I can charge one while using the other in my hedge trimmer.

Do I Need A Long-Reach Hedge Trimmer?

As useful as I found long-reach hedge trimmers, I’ll freely admit that they don’t suit everyone and they have their limitations and problems.

For example, as well as having very high hedges, you may have very thick hedges! If they’re over a metre thick, you might find that the blade length isn’t enough; most blades are between 40 and 50 cm in length (although you can find models with 75 cm blades!).

This is even more of an issue if you don’t have easy access to both sides of the hedge.

A weighty problem

We’ve covered the issue of weight already, but it’s an important factor when choosing yours. Of course, there are ways around the problem; take regular breaks while working (which is a good idea anyway!) and make sure you look at hedge trimmers that include carrying straps for more comfortable operation.

Hidden Hazards

The extension shaft is handy, but you have no idea what obstacles or hazards might be present on top of the hedge! You might snag a thick branch from overhanging trees, or that have fallen down.

I usually check any hedges before I begin work, mostly as I’m anxious about bird’s nests.

Choosing The Right Long Reach Hedge Trimmers

There’s no denying that we live in a high-tech world where The Internet rules. Online shopping is taking over, and it’s very convenient for a whole range of different things.

However, sometimes you need to see an item for yourself before you buy it. And hedge trimmers fall into this category, in my humble opinion.

Handling the goods

In my mind, it’s impossible to get an idea of how this tool feels to handle unless you visit the store in person (not that you should start it up in the DIY store. They don’t seem keen on this for some reason!). After all, you’ll be using this for a few years to come, so it needs to be comfortable to hold. You can also compare things like blade length and engine/motor size.

Shop around and look for ergonomically designed models with good build quality, and make sure it feels comfortable to hold.

A Quick Note About Safety

I’m not going to preach, but some of you don’t take enough precautions when tending to your gardens, do you? Be honest!

In all seriousness, these aren’t fussy rules designed to make your life difficult. More than three thousand people are involved in accidents while using a hedge trimmer each year, and some of these prove fatal.

The first thing to do when you get your new hedge trimmer is to read the manual. Yes, it might be boring, but it contains useful information that could save you from injury and will help your trimmer work correctly and efficiently for years to come.

Here are a few other hedge trimmer safety tips:

Wear safety goggles

Flying twigs can seriously damage your eyesight!

Wear appropriate Footwear

Yes, it’s tempting to put on flip-flops or sandals, but imagine the mess your foot will be in if you drop the trimmer on it.

Wear Heavy-duty gardening gloves

Protect your hands from scratches and puncture wounds with some good thick gloves.

Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothes

Flapping material may become caught in the blades.

Ensure you have a safe working area

Keep kids and pets at a safe distance, check the area for obstacles and hazards, and if you are using a corded hedge trimmer keep the power cord over your shoulder at all times.

Take regular breaks

Set a time limit of around fifteen or twenty minutes, then take a ten-minute break before continuing. Always stop if you feel tired or unwell.

Don’t drink and trim!

Trimming shrubs and bushes with a glass of Pimms in your hand might sound appealing, but alcohol and gardening rarely make a sensible combination. You are significantly more likely to have an accident.

Maintenance and storage

Clean and lubricate the machine well after each trimming session. Spray the blades with a rust preventer and use a blade sheath (you can buy one separately if it’s not included) as this not only protects the teeth but it also limits the risk of anyone cutting themselves while the machine isn’t in use.

The Last Word

So, have you discovered enough about long-reach hedge trimmers to decide whether you need them in your life?

To be honest, I invested in some purely to avoid using a ladder, although only a small section of the hedge in my garden is tall enough to warrant using long-reach hedge trimmers.

If I notice that the low hedges need a haircut, I whip out the ‘normal’ hedge trimmer. Then again, if the high hedges need trimming, I use the long-reach ones as I don’t need to bend to trim the lower sections and then I fully extended it to reach the top.

The feature I love best is the adjustable cutting head! The blade length is perfect for me, too, and I prefer the freedom that a battery-powered trimmer offers.

The bottom line is, they’re a good investment if you have high hedges that are difficult to cut. Otherwise, a decent hedge trimmer is perfect for most gardens.

So get those hedges trimmed!