Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cutting Back. . . a Minor Rant

The previous owners of our house had a landscaper draw up plans for our entire property, front and back. Sometimes when I look at those plans, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Case in point: these five honeysuckles are planted about three feet apart - one row of three, and one row of two in front of the row of three on the east side of our house. They were moved there from the back yard according to the landscapers plan. This was done more than thirteen years ago, and they're a bit large to move to a better spot now.

Over the years, they've gotten very tall, and were leaning over our neighbor's driveway and garage, into the sun. They haven't been pruned in years, and were looking pretty scraggly. It was time to take them out, or cut them back. We opted to cut them back.My husband was pretty skeptical after this severe pruning. But I know honeysuckles are tough shrubs. Part of me was hoping they'd just die. There are so many more suitable pretties I can envision growing here. But I knew that wouldn't happen.This shot was taken about six weeks after the honeysuckles were cut down to stubs. They may not bloom next spring, but I'm confident they'll look much better. Now we just have to remember to keep them trimmed.

There are many beautiful low-growing, low-maintenance plants and shrubs more appropriate for foundation planting. Why, oh why are most landscapes of a certain vintage planted with shrubs whose mature sizes are completely out-of-scale and inappropriately tall at their natural height for planting along foundations, especially in front of windows, as these are? For that matter, why are even new homes still so often being landscaped with yews and other inappropriately-tall shrubs? I don't know if it was the previous owners' idea to put these here, or if the landscapers came up with the brilliant idea.

Besides ugly yews and junipers, what kind of crazy landscaping did you inherit? Trees too close the house? shrubs the size of honeysuckles growing past your second floor windows? Don't you wonder what they were thinking? or if they were thinking? Did you take it out, or do you just deal with it? Oh, and let's not even talk about the ivy. or the burning bush hedge. or the front foundation plantings. Those are whole other posts.


  1. Linda, I've already shown you the overgrown yews in front of my house. They weren't planted too close to the house, but were simply neglected for too many years. And there is the huge spruce that is far too close to the house with branches brushing the roof. I can't blame developers for either of those, as I know my father-in-law planted them. But I do notice mistakes so often made in new housing developments. I think the developers just choose something quick and easy to make a sale, but don't think in the long-term.

    Your honeysuckles look so much better; you were very brave to cut them back that much! I received a comment that I could really hack away at my yews and they'd survive. I'm going to try to get up my courage to do that next spring. You've inspired me!

  2. But isn't this the fun of gardening, taking things out, trying something different. I inherited lots of boxes, every shrub had been trimmed into a box shape regardless of the flowering times. Some I took out and some I let grow into a more natural shape and allowed to flower.

    I hope you have fun with your inherited planting and make the garden your own.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  3. Looks very good and will grow back quickly.I will watch for pictures next year.
    Bet you had bundles and bundles of branches of which to dispose.
    The first year in this house we did a rejuvenation cut back on a hedge of spring blooming spirea.We could not believe there were originally only two plants.The entire fence was lined with three ft (many about five ft but they took them) bundles required for city pick-up. What a huge amount of debris.

  4. Hi Linda, A very good question that may make me rant myself! For all the years we have lived in this location we have been struggling to clean up the mess the previous homeowners left us! Invasives like honeysuckles, wisteria and vinca! We are losing the battle! So I concentrate on garden beds I can control; well, somewhat...there is that little problem with Mother Nature. Who by the way has finally gifted us with rain! Thank you MN!

    Have you ever noticed that some shrubs are like Hydra, you cut off one branch and dozens spring out! Where is Heracles' sword when you need it!


  5. Our old house had several problems with it, but I think most of the difficulty may have been caused more by neglect than anything. Sometimes I go back after two years of being gone and want to cry at the state of my old gardens. Mom just doesn't have the time that I did to maintain them.

    At least with my "new" home all of the problems are either of my creation or are caused by excessive amounts of shade and acid soil caused by an over abundance of pine trees.

    I like the extreme haircut you gave them, they look wonderful now.

  6. Anonymous11:16 AM

    Looks like you made the best of it with the landscape you inherited. I had a ugly, overgrown hedge of Ligustrum that ran around the entire front of my house. In addition there were some that were as tall as the house where my raised bed now lives. It took me 5 years to convince my husband to remove them all.

  7. The previous owner was frenetic in her planting. Last year I had to haul out many trees and overgrown shrubs. It was a veritable jungle. I took down two fences that broke up the whole east side, which is where I predominantly garden. Now you can stand at the front gate and see all the way through to the back. An amazing transformation. I'm not one to be afraid of people breaking in. But this yard would have been a perfect place to hide. By the way, you obviously made the right decision. They look wonderful now!

  8. I hate Honeysuckles & have killed both of mine off. I got 1 out completely, but I still have to get the main trunk of the other out yet. Then there were the Austrian Pines planted under the powerlines. (Very expensive to remove.) We're in the process of taking out the Yew Hedge out front, and the Magnolia was planted under the overhang of the house & has way outgrown its space. Oh, I almost forgot about the Flowering Quince & Barberry on either side of a narrow path (ouch!).
    I know why these things get planted inappropriately: they're cheap & they are planted to look good when the property is sold. The developers don't care about what will happen to the plant 10 years down the road. It makes me so mad.

  9. Hi Rose, we've got the overgrown yews too - in front and in back, and maples too close to the house that require pruning every couple of years to keep them off the roof. Our Bradford Pear tree is too close to the house too, and we had that pruned back a few years ago.

    I agree many times it's the developer planting something quick and easy without considering the long term.

    Those honeysuckles have been bugging me for a while - I'm glad they're more manageable now.

    I think with yews as long as there are still needles behind the cuts they'll recover, but if you prune back to where there are no needles left, they won't. Good luck with yours - our yews are beyond hope. To get them back to a reasonable size, I think we'd kill them.

    Hi Sylvia, in some cases I'd prefer to start over than to prune - the overgrown yews here are prime examples of some of the shrubs I'd like to take out.

    Hi Gloria, oh yes, there were lots of branches! We severely pruned some burning bushes early this summer, and it was so much work cutting up the branches we decided to have our tree service cut the honeysuckles. . . cutting them's not a big deal, but the mess is, and was more than we wanted to deal with. I'm very glad we didn't tackle them on our own.

    Hi Gail, oh yes, the invasive stuff! I must say we are pretty fortunate in that department, except some ivy that creeps over here from next door.

    I feel for you, especially with the wisteria. It's such a beautiful plant, but I got to see first-hand how invasive it can be this summer while pulling it down at a client's home. The wisteria looked like it was trying to eat the house!

    Cinj, I do feel for you! It must be hard seeing your gardens that you tended so lovingly now suffering from neglect. I can relate a bit when I drive past the house I sold after getting married. I can get a bit critical of the way the garden beds are being cared for, and I even get annoyed when the grass isn't cut often enough. But in my case at least it's not my problem anymore. I sure hope you're able to get out from under the burden of being responsible for two homes very soon!

    Hi Racquel, we do try! I must say I do prefer dealing with some of the overgrown landscaping over living in a new subdivision with no trees. I'm very happy that we live in a neighborhood full of mature trees. The other stuff can be removed and replaced. Most of the trees are over 40 years old, and I wouldn't trade them for better foundation plants!

    Hmmm. . . 5 years huh? Well, maybe that means I have only one more year left before I wear my husband down enough to agree to take out some of the overgrown stuff here! ;~)

    Hi Brenda, wow, you've done a lot of work! We cut back some so-called 'dwarf' burning bushes this summer that were over 5' tall and blocking some windows - also a perfect place to hide. They're not recovering nearly as well as the honeysuckles did. It would be ok with me if they didn't recover ever!

    Hi MMD, I'm not fond of honeysuckles either, especially not right next to the house.

    I completely agree with why developers do it. Most landscapers have the same lack of foresight, and the landscaper's plan done for the previous owners of this house is a perfect example.

  10. Let's have that other post! I put in two, $5 burning bushes last summer, my first year here. Then I read about their invasiveness, especially close to wilder areas, which I back up to. So with my wife pleading no (sh eloves them) I yanked em out and stuck them in buckets, watched them turn beautiful red early and one last time. Then I gave in and put one back in the ground, in a far off corner by the A/C compressor. Sigh.

  11. I think that honeysuckle looks better now too. Way to tall and out of scale. It does seem some houses of a certain vintage as you put it have this problem. I had the standard boxwoods planted too close to the house here. Our house is about 17 years old so that tells you what standard landscaping is. I took them out (all 11) and moved them to the back, where the last of them have finally died after five long years. Other than them, there really was no landscaping except for dead trees due to non care and no lawn mowing. But we have fixed that problem. It took time and work though!

  12. my new yard is a nightmare but i have no idea where to start to tell you so i am just letting you know it has been a hugh frustration. we are pulling out so many things.it seems overwhelming at times. so we just take a day at a time.

  13. My problem child in the yard would have to be that pesky hedge. Why on earth did the previous homeowners have such a beautiful brick wall installed then plant a long row of bushes that will grow over the top? Argggg, they drive me over the top. We have talked time and time again about removing them but fear we will damage the driveway if removed. I could just cut them back to the ground as your honeysuckle and start all over again but the hedge is so pretty when clipped. But my arms and back are not pretty for a few days after that hard work... Hedge is now good until spring so not an issue until then. lol...

  14. HI Linda, I think you've struck a nerve here. I had a comment ready as soon as I started reading. We have dealt with inappropriate plantings at all of our houses, even the one brand new one, the builder lined the house with ligustrums which would have to be pruned constantly to keep them in scale. I wonder if that is the plan, nowadays anyway. Part of the landscaping companies maintenance program besides mowing with gas powered mowers, blowing the debris with gas powered blowers and trimming the shrubs, monthly, with gas powered trimmers. As for your honeysuckle, we have cut it to the ground, dumped a bottle of roundup on it, covered it in an old pond liner for a couple of years, and when uncovered guess what, it was still growing side shoots! Digging is the only way. We have privet that is our bane here, every lot is ringed with it. The berries are dropped by the birds from far and wide, the roots remain for miles and continue to sprout.....I had better stop now, I am working myself into a lather. ;->


  15. My farmhouse came with no landscaping. Typical midwest farm house. "If it ain't corn, no reason to grow it." Anyway, for better or worse, all the landscaping is mine;)

  16. I believe a bit of tough love is necessary to maintain a garden that one enjoys. We had our new garden landscaped about 4 years ago in back and I have dug up pretty well every shrub and replanted my own preferred plants even though we discussed before actual digging began. I think they have their own ideas...gardening is always a work in progress.

  17. Hi Benjamin, I have a love/hate relationship with the burning bushes. The hedge is comprised of thirteen or seventeen or so so-called dwarfs. I prune them every two years in the fall after the leaves fall off, which keeps their size manageable and gives them a nice texture and good fall color. And they are beautiful in the fall.

    There are four of them in our front foundation landscape, and those are totally inappropriate in front of a picture window. three of them were cut back very hard and I hope they don't recover so we can take them out and replace them with something more appropriately sized.

    I share your concern about their invasiveness. They don't seem to be very invasive around here. I very rarely find a sprout, and I patrol our property heavily for weed tree and shrub sprouts. We have few herbacious weeds here, but silver maples, junipers, buckthorns, cottonwoods, elms, oaks, and mulberries seed in our yard with wild abandon.

    Hi Tina, It's going to be a pain keeping those honeysuckles pruned. We're rarely on that side of the house, but that will have to change so we don't forget about them again.

    I'm sorry your boxwoods didn't make it. But of course, the loss of them has provided new places to plant wonderful new plants that you got to choose.

    I feel your pain Marmee! There's a lot I'd like to change in the landscape here. Some will, and some won't ever get done. In the meantime, I do enjoy having all the character, privacy and shade all the mature trees and shrubs provide. It's a lot to maintain, and I've come to dread all the pruning, much of it done from ladders. But, we do have some classic gems here that aren't so easy to find anymore, along with some nice natives loved by the wildlife around here. All in all, I really love our backyard.

    I hear you Skeeter! Pruning all the hedges around here is an ongoing maintenance headache, backache, and a pain in the neck and arms. There may come a point in our old age ;) when it's time to hire out the job.

    Hi Frances, I totally agree that it's in the landscapers' plans to plant landscapes that require continuous maintainance. As I commented to Skeeter, there may come a time as we age when we choose, or are forced to hire someone to keep up with all this stuff.

    I'd like to dig up the honeysuckles, along with the burning bushes and yews in the foundation landscape. Just have to convince a certain someone who shall remain nameless! ;)

    Hi Marmie, there's something very appealing about a clean slate!

    I agree Naturegirl! I'd have liked to have gotten even a little tougher, although less loving with those honeysuckles!

    It's definitely a work in progress, and one that will never be truly 'done.'

  18. It really makes you wonder how some landscape designers got their degrees doesn't it. I have seen so many yards with trees or shrubs that were not placed correctly and now they are way too big for the area. Doesn't any of the landscape designers think trees or shrubs will grow????

  19. We inherited topiaried junipers that looked like UFOs on stilts... ugly and also painful to trim! They're gone now and good riddance. We also cut down to the ground a hedge of Chinese elm that took years to actually die. The best part was that when we moved in, there were *artificial* evergreens in the yard, like Christmas-tree tops. At least those were easy to get rid of!

  20. It looks a lot better! I see it happen very often. Contractors want instant wow. I told my builder to give me the money for landscaping and I would do it myself. I have small plants but I know what the potential is.

    I like your honeysuckle.

  21. Hi Linda,
    Looks like you made the right choice with those overgrown honeysuckles. They look tons better now. Seems the things we wish would die just won't and the things we try so hard to make live leave us too soon. hmmmm.

    I get a laugh out of the landscape design at some of the huge housing developments. Trees planted too closely together that look good while selling the lots but in ten years half of those trees will have to taken down... what a nightmare.

    We inherited the typical Florida landscape of one strip of foundational plantings around the perimeter of the house. In the many years we've been here, I've removed almost every single plant from the original landscaping. The beautiful live oak trees forming shady "islands" was the best thing I inherited. They were overgrown with sticky vines when we moved in and it took me a while to clear them out by hand. Hubby always says he feels sorry for the person who buys it now (for all they will have to keep up with)... that is IF we ever make up our mind about selling it or not.

    Hope you're enjoying your Sunday.

  22. Great post, Linda. I'm sure in a few years time you would have tamed your honeysuckles and shaped 'em the Linda way and turned them into another lovely feature of your green thumb. It reminded me of the giant Aucuba I resented for no obvious reason and cut it back just as severely as your honeysuckles. But it was my hatred that killed it. I wanted it to die, and found it's winter burns horrendously hideous. Funny, I now long for a lovely, vintage Aucuba bush that I so ferociously chopped up. When it comes to landscaping plans, I can only 'brag about' the total nonexistence of any at my place, which leaves me with a life-long passion to tame and bring some order to my garden. Surrounded with antique pine and cedar trees, even our house restoration had to be restricted by the evergreen giants towering around the house. Still, I don't think I would have cut any of it down, as being a chaotic person myself, I love to have a bit of disorder around me, and a lot more of nature than human touch. Naturally, I would always take on an empty canvas and would love to plan it all out in detail, but as it is, I'm grateful for every little annoying shrub that lives by my side.

  23. Hi Sherri, it sure does! They often seem to disregard mature size and maintenance, don't they.

    Hi Diane, I had some of those juniper topiaries at a previous home. They looked like giant bonsai, and were another maintenance headache!

    Thanks Anna! You were fortunate to able to develop your landscape from scratch. I'll bet in your climate it won't take long before your small plants are making a big impact.

    Thank you Meems, that whole side of the house seems to look better now.

    You've taken an ordinary landscape and turned it into something so special wtih all your hard work. Your oaks are fantastic, provide wonderful anchors for your beds, and wonderful shade from your tropical Florida sunshine.

    I had a great weekend visiting my mom again in Wisconsin. This time two of my daughters came with me. The fall colors were nearly at their peak, the weather was warm, and we had a wonderful time. I hope you had a great weekend too!

    Thanks Violet! I don't think it will take a few years for these honeysuckles to size back up. It will take regular pruning to keep them manageable.

    I only wish my hatred would do in a particular few overgrown shrubs around here. ;) Overall though, I'm glad we have lots of tall, established shrubs. They're great for privacy and make wonderful cover, and berries for the birds and other wildlife around here.


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