When to prune laurel - experts reveal the perfect time to cut back laurel and keep the size and shape in check

You don't want to break the law, after all...

Laurel hedge
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Laurel is a popular garden plant with evergreen foliage and stunning, shiny leaves - and its naturally dense screening properties make it perfect for blocking out nosy neighbours. But if you’re going to add laurel to your garden, you also need to know when to prune it.

Yes, laurel may be one of the best hedging plants you can grow, but this garden screening idea can quickly grow out of control. It’ll grow taller and wider with each passing year, taking over your garden and looking extremely messy in the process. That’s why pruning laurel is such an essential task.

But pruning laurel comes with its challenges, especially from a legal point of view. That's why you need to understand the best time to cut hedges and the best time to prune laurel specifically. Thankfully, we’ve got all the info you need.

When to prune laurel

Laurel is one of the best fast-growing hedges, which makes it perfect for those who want to block out the sights and the sounds of their neighbours. But with this perk comes a downside, as laurel can become overgrown and out-of-shape before you know it.

That’s why experts suggest pruning a laurel hedge or tree at least once a year to keep the size in check and maintain the desired shape. The best time to do it? Well, you can technically prune laurel at any time of the year, except for the winter months, when the temperatures are too cold and the branches may suffer from frost damage.

In an ideal world, you should prune laurel before new growth forms in the spring. However, this may not be possible as March to August is typically the prime breeding season for nesting birds. If you intentionally disturb nesting birds during this time, you could face fines or even prison time as per the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Laurel hedge

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In fact, that’s the exact reason why gardening guru Monty Don says, ‘April is the very worst time to cut hedges - just when young are in the nest.’

Instead, he urges people to prune their hedges in the late summer or autumn months, when all of the birds are fully fledged and have left their nests. This will allow the cut edges the time they need to heal before the cold winter temperatures arrive.

There is an exception to this, though. Morris Hankinson, director of Hopes Grove Nurseries, explains, ‘The bay laurel, for instance, is known for being more tender than other laurel hedging species, so it is always best to trim them in the Spring when the worst weather has passed.’ To do this, you’ll just need to make doubly sure that you won’t be disturbing any birds in the process.

Laurel hedge

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you’re ready to get trimming, you then need to decide how you’re going to prune your laurel. Using a hedge trimmer and following our guide on how to prune a box hedge will offer you straight lines and a clean aesthetic. But if you prefer the wilder look, you could simply use a pair of secateurs and prune here and there.

Just be warned that you may need to prune your laurel more than once a year, as some varieties - such as the common laurel and the Caucasia laurel are the fastest-growing laurels out there. So, we’d suggest pruning your laurel in the late summer and then giving it a second prune before winter to keep it in shape over the next few months.

Morris Hankinson of Hopes Grove Nurseries
Morris Hankinson

Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants. He established the thriving business in 1992, shortly after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex.

What you’ll need


What month do you prune laurels?

Ideally, you should prune laurels in spring, but this may not be possible due to nesting birds. You may be able to prune laurels in February before the nesting season, but only if the weather is warm enough and the risk of frost has passed.

If not, pruning in late summer and autumn (for example, August and September) is your best bet. You should aim to finish pruning laurels before the winter months, as you don’t want your hedge or tree to suffer from winter damage.

Can laurel be cut back hard?

Laurel is extremely tolerant of hard pruning, which means that you can cut back as much or as little as you like. Even if you accidentally cut back more than you were expecting, it’ll still regrow and come back stronger.

Well, there you have it. If you prune laurel at the right time, you’ll be able to keep at the ideal shape and size.

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.