Renovating Overgrown Landscapes
August 14, 2015
By: David W. Marshall
Knowledgeable nursery staff can help you select low-growing plants such as lomandra and ‘Purple Pixie’ loropetalum to replace your overgrown landscape shrubs. Photo by David W. Marshall
As a landscape consultant, one of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that they have plants that have simply outgrown the landscape. Plants may be covering windows, growing up into the eaves of the house, and just making the whole landscape look overgrown and jumbled.
Sometimes these problems can be corrected, at least temporarily, with pruning. But if the plants have been pruned incorrectly over the years and the top of the plants is wider than the bottom, then they will likely have little foliage on the bottom. So you have to prune them almost to the ground and let them start over. Some broadleaf evergreens such as azaleas and hollies respond fairly well to such pruning, but this requires patience as the plants will be unattractive for a season. Spring is the best time to do such drastic pruning. Don’t prune needle-leaf evergreens such as junipers in this manner, though, as they will not put new growth back on the stem and you will kill them.
Converting an overgrown shrub, such as a camellia or a loropetalum, into a tree-form plant can sometimes salvage the plant if it’s in a spot such as the corner of the house where it’s okay to have a tall plant. Just keep the main trunks of the plant and completely remove all the small limbs back to the trunk up to a height where you can see out the windows of the house again.
Sometimes, though, it’s just time to remove overgrown plants and replace them with slower or smaller growing plants. For example, even if you cut ‘Formosa’ azaleas almost to the ground, it’s just a matter of time before they’re back up over the windows again.
Many modern homes have very low windows. Giant liriopes such as ‘Emerald Goddess’ can be very useful in such foundation plantings. So can other grass-like groundcovers such as African iris, lomandra, Aztec grass, and Mondo grass. There are also some very low-growing, groundcover type junipers that can be used, but junipers need full sun and well-drained soil. Ferns, such as southern woods fern or holly fern, can be used on shaded sites.
There are only a handful of shrubs that really stay low, and after many years, even some of them can reach a height of four feet or so. ‘Carissa’ holly, coontie, dwarf yaupon, ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia, ‘Mrs. Schiller’s Delight’ dwarf viburnum, and prostrate rosemary are among some of the best choices. ‘Purple Pixie’ loropetalum, with its burgundy foliage, can add a little color as can low growing abelias such as ‘Kaleidoscope’. Others such as ‘Drift’ roses or dwarf sasanqua camellias may even give you flowers for part of the year. Most of these low-growing shrubs are also slow-growing. So you may want to start with 3-gallon or larger plants for more of an instant effect.
Many clients tell me that they are looking for the plant that flowers year-round, never has to be pruned, and has no pest problems. That plant simply doesn’t exist. But if you consult with the knowledgeable staff at your local nursery or your local Extension office, you can find plants such as these that are slower growing and even some that can provide color at least part of the year. You don’t have to wait until spring to plant either. Now and on through the fall is an excellent time to make landscape changes. So go ahead and do something about that overgrown landscape, so that by next spring you can be enjoying it!
David W. Marshall is landscape consultant with Esposito Garden Center and author of Design & Care of Landscapes & Gardens in the South. David is also Extension Agent Emeritus and a volunteer writer for Leon County UF/IFAS Extension. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov
Watch David on WFSU’s TV show Dimensions, give a few tips on plants that truly enjoy the summer weather.