Sunday, August 14, 2022
Aug. 14, 2022

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Gardening with Allen: Taming an overgrown landscape


We recently purchased a home with overgrown landscaping. Shrubs block windows and walkways. Some shrubs have branches without leaves at the bottom. Most have been sheared flat on top. We like a more natural look. Do you think we could renovate by heavy pruning or should we just start over with new plants?

It is possible to return some types of plants to a more natural shape and thickness with heavy pruning. However, you may want to consider replacing the ones that have overgrown their location with plants that will naturally fit the location without much future pruning.

Needle-leaf evergreens can be returned to a more natural shape with selective removal of excess branches. However, if plants have lost their foliage at the base, they should probably be replaced.

Plants that have very thick growth because of shearing can be thinned out by going two or three layers deep and removing up to a third of the branch growth. When pruning the sides of shrubs, shorten upper branches more than lower ones so you get a tapered shape. If lower branches of broad-leaf plants have lost their leaves it may be best to prune all branches down to within a few inches of the ground and start over. Needle-leaf shrubs do not respond to this severe pruning.

I have a leaflet on natural pruning that gives more detailed instructions on how to prune to retain natural shape and thickness. Let me know if you would like to receive a copy by email.

If you decide that most of your shrubs need to be replaced because they do not fit their location, you may want to consult a professional. You may want to hire a landscape architect or landscape designer to create a plan for you. Many landscape contractors also offer a planning service. Landscape contractors can also install and maintain your plants. However, regardless of their reputation, look at some of the landscapes they designed or installed about five to seven years ago. Even well-known professionals make the mistake of using plants that grow too large for their location.

Full-service nurseries and garden stores can help you select plants that fit different locations. The two most important selection criteria are sun/shade tolerance and mature height and width. Measure planting areas and carefully check plant labels for mature sizes and sun preference. Sun-loving plants do best on the west and south sides of buildings whereas shade tolerant plants do better on the east and north sides.

Allen Wilson is a Vancouver gardening specialist.

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