Time for sprucing up

June 8, 2010

By Jane Garrison

June always makes yards look overgrown and messy. The dark days and all the spring rain make plants reach for the sky.

We don’t like to work in the yard when it rains, so we end up with yards that really need hair cuts. Look at it as an opportunity. Even if you don’t have a good landscape design, it can be simple to make it look so much better.

Trees, shrubs and groundcovers have different basic forms. The trick is to enhance each plant with pruning to fit its own character, and keep each of the three — shrubs, groundcover and trees — visually separated from one another.

Columnar shrubs: Clip off floppy side branches and top them if too tall.

Mounding shrubs: Trim to nearly flat, or rounded with even tops, not ragged. Allow them to grow together if they are close enough. One mass often looks nicer than individual lumps, but it may be difficult to reach across the next time you prune.Open shrubs: Trim out foliage, so you can see wood here and there.

Sprawling shrubs: Allow to grow together and clip the tops to form a tall groundcover.

Groundcover: Allow to cover to prevent weed growth and erosion. Do not allow groundcover to grow up into shrubs. Keep it mowed or clipped low, and keep the shrubs clipped above it to create a line or shadow between the two.

Multitrunked trees: They need to have their trunks exposed, because they are usually very nice to look at. So, limb them up and clip off little, crossing branches and leaves that detract from the main form.

Columnar and conical trees: Like columnar shrubs, they need to be kept upright by pruning any flopping side branches. Never top a fir or spruce. The best way to keep pines dense and controlled is to cut back the candles (new growth) by no more than 50 percent. Cedar and hemlock can be clipped back for a denser look.

Weeping trees: Do not allow them to weep into other plants, although they make great playhouses if they do.

Spreading trees: This tree type must have room to spread. They may be limbed up and underplanted with shade-tolerant shrubs or groundcover and may be kept lower if allowed to spread.

Openly branched trees: Big limbs need to be taken all the way back to another big limb or the trunk. End-pruning limbs usually results in ugly deforming. Sometimes, we see this type of pruning where the power company trims around the power lines.

Don’t let these guidelines scare you. If your yard is as overgrown as mine right now, a little pruning can only help it. Who knows? You just might be able to make your yard look like you are following a terrific landscape plan. It’s worth a try.

Jane Garrison is a local landscape architect and master gardener who gardens in glacial till on the plateau.

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