Overgrown Shrubs? Prune or Replace?

Does this landscape problem sound like yours? “Seven years ago we purchased a new home and had it landscaped professionally. The shrubs were attractive for the first few years until they began to grow too wide for the walkways and too tall for the windows. Now they have lost all their individuality and have become square or rounded hedges. Is it too late to remedy our situation or do we just need to tear them out and start over?”

This situation is quite common. Small shrubs are often planted close together so they give a more immediate effect. They soon grow together and lose their individual identity. Shrubs are planted which have a mature size larger than the space where they are planted. Soon yearly pruning is needed to keep them in bounds. When shrubs are pruned with shears or power clippers they form many branches and have very thick growth — like hedges.

It may not be too late to recover natural shape and thickness of your shrubs. I do this regularly. link textI also teach people how to prune their own plants so they have natural thickness and shape. If some of the plants had been removed when they first became crowded they would have been more attractive. Shears and power clippers will always produce unnaturally thick growth. There are a few shrubs which can be cut back to a foot above the ground. They will regrow with more normal shape and thickness.

The best solution to this problem is to re-landscape using smaller varieties of shrubs which require only limited pruning. Whether you or landscape professionals are selecting shrubs, they should be carefully researched to find their mature height and width. They should also be chosen for their climate zone adaptation and for their sun and shade preferences. Other qualities such as fall leaf color and flower production can also be important. Many plant labels contain this information. However, it is easy to check the internet for any plant name and find several references about a plant’s characteristics. Book stores, libraries and County Master Gardener offices have horticultural reference books.

Smaller varieties of trees and shrubs are widely available. These smaller varieties are often more expensive than larger, faster growing ones. In many cases they are available only in full service nurseries and not in the “Big Box” stores. They will give many years of satisfactory performance with more limited maintenance requirements and are worth the extra cost.

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