Give your outdated landscaping a makeover


Does your 15-year-old landscape need to be freshened up? Take a good objective view of that dated landscape and let’s see what we can do to give it a facelift, a little at a time.

Ho-hum hedges

Yews and boxwoods are common plants used for hedges or foundation plantings. These are usually the culprits when we discourage “gum ball shrubs.” Those are the green balls that many people leave for too long around the base of the house, shearing them every year with the hedge clippers and watching them get thinner and thinner in the center.

Might be time to hang up the hedge trimmers and plant some fresh shrubs. If those base plants are more than 10 years old, they have worn out their welcome. Don’t just cut them down at the base. Find a way to dig them out or pull them out of the ground to get rid of the stump.

If you have a hedgerow that really never grew together, or has a few bare spots, you many not have pruned it right early in its life. So, once we get the new plants in there, we can start fresh.

It is critical in the first two years of planting a hedge row that you prune it immediately after planting to about half of its size. The roots will thank you for this because they will need most of their energy to get a foothold under the ground before working in the foliage above the ground.

In the mid summer, cut those fast growing stragglers off and trim any new shoots with a hand trimmer, not the hedge clippers. Always cut back to a set of leaves never leaving a little stub of the stem. The second year, cut a third of the new growth off. It sounds silly, but this is important because it trains it to grow out. And by growing out, they will start to fill into a continuous hedge.

Here’s the trick – once your hedge has reached the height you were looking for, trim it back about a foot from this height. This will cause the plant to form new shoots and the pretty ones will grow out and hide all of your pruning work.

A bright spot

Some foundation shrubs like euonymus fortunei, winter creeper are popular because they have that lemon yellow and dark green foliage and they will start to grow vertically to cover a blank wall if you need them too.

If you have ignored them for years, then you may find that they are bare in the middle and have started to take over a corner of the house. If you really like this colorful shrub in its spot, then shape it up in the mid summer by cutting it back to about six to 12 inches tall. If it is really thin in the center and has lots of damage, dig it out and start over.

Try a cypress or other lime colored evergreen in its place for a fresher look.

Common shrubs

Taxus or English Yew is another popular foundation plant. You know what they are. They are the tall shrub-like plants that just about every house has on the corner. They are also really popular as a fence row screen or along the front of a property to protect it from road salt and winter damage.

These are tall and stately, but after many years of no pruning and winter damage, they can get out of shape. The best time to prune it is in mid to late spring. Cut vigorous stems about halfway back to a healthy bud and get rid of any weak stems in the center of the plant. Step back and start pruning out a few branches from the center to make it look long and thin.

If it has really gotten out of shape and you like that plant in that location, it is time to cut your losses and pull it out. Plant a new one in its place and be sure to wrap it in the winter to protect the branches from being burned by salt and wind in the winter.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at