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Survey your shrubs to plan fall landscaping

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q: We have a crepe myrtle tree in our front yard that we planted about 25 years ago. It is now over 25 feet tall. Can we have it professionally trimmed? I know you do not like topping a crepe myrtle, but we can’t enjoy its beautiful blossoms because it is so huge and is crowding two maple trees.

    You can have that tree pruned to make a smaller tree. This should be done late next winter or early in the spring, before the tree leafs out. An arborist should be able to look at the tree, identify the tallest limbs and cut them back individually. This is selective pruning, which should reduce the height and width of your tree by thinning it out one branch or limb at a time. Each one to be pruned is targeted individually. Where more than three main trunks exist, it may be possible to remove the tallest, which is likely the oldest, down to the base of the tree. This pruning should also consider the width of the tree, especially in relation to the maples, but again by selective pruning of limbs, not by the overall cutting back to a set height or width, called topping.

Nancy Brachey

With autumn on the horizon, it is time to think about some of the things to be accomplished during the delightful weeks of fall gardening. These are the big things that make a big difference in how your landscape looks. And because they often represent a sizable investment, they are best done in mild weather when chances are excellent for them to settle down in their new environment.

This means trees and shrubs, the foundation plants of a home landscape. And for once, most of us don’t have to look over the landscape and see plants suffering the effects of heat and drought.

That was the case for many summers of recent history. But this August, things look very lush because trees and shrubs have grown beautifully and kept their foliage.

Still, you may recognize flaws in the landscape that require fixing this fall.

These flaws may be in evidence for a number of reasons, including:

The overgrown. All at once, a shrub that seemed tame enough is growing into the driveway, out onto the sidewalk or above the window sills. This is not where you want your shrubs to be.

In some cases, the problem can be remedied by pruning every couple of years. But in other cases, if plants are so vigorous they grow faster than you can trim, it is prudent to think about a replacement of smaller stature at maturity.

This will save your time and energy and contribute a new look to the landscape. For many gardeners, the thought of removing a plant that is alive and well is difficult.

But as I’ve said before, these problem plants are not pets. Don’t be afraid to take them out and put in something better that’s the right size.

The uninteresting. A lot of stuff out there is simply boring. It does no more than look green, sometimes only part of the year. It blooms poorly or not very long. It was put in by builders. Japanese hollies, I’m looking at you.

Vast arrays of interesting shrubs and small trees are in the garden centers that will liven up the landscape. For example, lots of people possess solid green ligustrums when they could have beautiful camellias. Chosen for a varied bloom season, camellias can put you in flowers through the winter, and they are never boring.

Take a walk through a well-stocked garden center and see what appeals to you as replacements. And don’t forget to check how big they will be at maturity.

The vacant spot. This should be easy, but sometimes it is not. You must consider both the size of the space and the neighboring plants. Where a vacant spot exists among a row of azaleas, it is tempting to add an azalea in the same color for harmony and unity.

However, a blank spot could be an opportunity to add something different: a lovely viburnum, forsythia or shrub rose among an assembly of tall evergreens, for example, or a smallish tree such as Carolina silver bell.

These decisions require thought and study. They require looking at what others have done in similar circumstances. And they require a decision to make changes.

Fortunately, you have plenty of time to contemplate all this.

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