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Volume 16, Issue 3 - January 17 - January 23, 2008

Pruning Primer: Part I

Don’t let overgrown shrubs conquer your home

Has your house disappeared behind the shrubbery? Do branches and thorns scratch you as you walk down your sidewalk? If so, then your once-aesthetic landscaping has become a nuisance.

Overgrown landscapes are a common problem, yet many homeowners do not know how to correct the lapse in care. Depending on the species of plants, some problems are best resolved by cutting everything down and starting over. In other instances, it will take drastic pruning and tolerating a rough-looking landscape for a few months before the new growth takes over. In most cases, you’ll have to both remove certain species and severely prune others.

If your landscape is mostly arborvitae, chamaecyparis, junipers, pine, spruce, fir and cedar, then your best solution is to remove them and start over. None of these species can tolerate severe pruning and resume normal growth. Nor can these coniferous species rejuvenate from old wood. If you prune away all stems and branches that have green foliage, the plants will die. Cutting stems to the ground will not promote suckering.

If the plants were originally planted close together, you may have to dig out some of the stumps to install new plants. If there is sufficient space between the stumps to dig holes for planting new shrubs, however, you are in luck. Since the roots of the old plants will die and decompose, there will be no competition for the roots of new plants.

When replacing a landscape, allow adequate space between plants for growth. We’ve a tendency to crowd plants together to make the landscape appear full. This type of thinking results in overcrowding. Once the plants grow to full size, they will require frequent attention as they outgrow their purpose.

Prevent crowding with careful planning. Pay attention to plant descriptions, especially information about mature height and spread. Read the label, and ask for more information before buying; at most reputable garden centers, reliable information is yours for the asking. Just because a plant is small at the time of purchase does not mean that it will remain small. Remember that the acorn grows into a mighty oak.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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