COMMENTARY | When a landscape is first planted, it is usually over-planted, because small shrubs take little space. When a shrub outgrows the space allotted to it, there are three things one can do with it: cut it to the ground; limb it up; or hedge it.
The first two maintain natural beauty and are low maintenance. Hedging is ugly and is high maintenance, needing re-trimming several times a year. It is hard on plants, making them grow inward, crowded and subject to disease. Hedges collect leaves where stubs are left in clusters. Hedges create less security, giving people places to hide, and they encourage litter by giving people places to hide their trash. And they are a real pain to weed.
But hedging is perhaps most common method of pruning in Josephine County, because anyone can do it badly and still think that one is doing a good job: just give it a haircut at the size and shape that you want it, regardless of how bad it looks when you finish. It will grow out and the leaves will cover up the ugly stubs, eventually.
Grow out it will, in short order, unless it is sick or dying, which many hedges are. It will grow faster from the ends of the bigger stubs, quickly making it look shaggy.
If one must hedge, the first rule is the same as other pruning: don’t leave stubs. Start with the longest sprout first and cut back inside the shrub to another branch or to the base of the branch, until all the shrub is back within the size and shape one wants. It’s not a natural shape, but it is healthier, looks good, and won’t quickly grow out of shape.
But it is far easier to let a shrub grow in its natural form and cut it to the crown or limb it up when it grows too big. Cutting to the crown allows a shrub to grow back pretty, or kills it. Either way, it will be out of your way, and not ugly. It is best to cut out shrubs as they start to intrude on paths and each other, and limb up and thin out the rest.
Timing depends on whether you want a shrub to grow back or go away. The best time to kill a deciduous shrub is mid-summer; the best time to kill an evergreen is late winter, or right after it blooms in spring. If you want it to re-grow, do the opposite. Most coniferous evergreens will not re-grow at all if cut to the ground.
Limbing up a shrub or tree gets limbs out of your way while maintaining its natural structure, keeping it beautiful, open, and healthy. It doesn’t interfere with blooming. It retains shade canopy and leaves for mulch, and allows those leaves to fall to the ground. It is easy to weed beneath it. Cut limbs that are in your way to the collars of the branches, and also take out branches that crowd the middle and cross other branches.