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News / Life / Clark County Life

Gardening With Allen: Overgrown plants can be restored

By Allen Wilson for The Columbian
Published: June 10, 2023, 6:02am

I have a mature landscape that has a boxy, unnatural look. Would it be possible to restore some of these plants to a more natural appearance instead of replacing them with new plants? I also need your help in choosing the right replacement plants so I don’t end up with the same problem all over again.

Some overgrown and badly pruned plants can be restored to a more natural appearance with proper pruning. The first approach I would consider is to reach deep inside and remove approximately one-third of the branches. In some cases, you will go two or three layers deep and remove multibranched pieces. This reduces the thickness and makes the shrub look more natural. You have to be careful with needle-leaf evergreens so you do not expose too much brown tissue. They will not sprout new growth from brown tissue the way broad-leaf plants will.

Another approach with most broad-leaf plants is to prune the entire plant back to within a foot of the ground and start over. If resprouting is very thick you may need to thin by removing a third to half of the branches in the next trimming. Small shrubs may return to mature size in one year. However, it may take multiple years for large shrubs to return to mature size.

You are also wise to be concerned about plant choice for replacement landscaping. For example, mugo pine is a popular shrub for foundation plantings. Most plants are grown from seed collected where the plant grows naturally. Mugo pine is a very variable species with mature plants ranging in size from 2 feet to as much as 15 feet. A “dwarf” uniform selection propagated from vegetative cuttings named Pinus mugo pumilio can grow 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide — a bit large for under a 3-foot window. It could be kept at 3 feet with yearly pruning, but the width worries me too. A better choice would be a plant that fits the space requirements without pruning.

So it is very important when choosing plants to check the label and other sources for mature size. Then match the size to the space where you will be planting. When planting, space plants far enough apart to allow for growth to full size.

I now live in an apartment complex where a lot of overgrown and poorly pruned mugo pines were removed. They were replaced with azaleas, which were planted far enough apart so they will not grow into each other until they are close to mature size.

Sometimes plants are deliberately spaced so they will grow into each other. This is usually the case with hedges, annual flowers and especially containers.

Another very important factor in choosing plants is their adaptability to sunny or shady growing conditions. That information is included on most plant labels. However, it is easy to check the internet for any plant name and find several references about a plant’s characteristics.