It’s incredibly common for landscaping companies to trim shrubs into perfect or imperfect globes. I expect some homeowners see this and think it’s the right thing to do, so they mimic this. Unfortunately, very few plants can tolerate this over the long-term. There are a few such as yews and boxwoods that are perfect for globing or topiary (artistic shaping). Most others will start to get dead growth inside, and soon will be more dead than alive, necessitating expensive replacement.
It’s a bit disheartening how quick and easy it was to find and photograph these two (of many) abused plants.
Shrubs that have many stems coming from the ground and drop their leaves in the fall (multi-stem, deciduous) can be cut right to the ground, almost BELOW the ground, and rejuvenate beautifully. This should be done in the spring and could be done as often as every three to five years. This process is a very old horticultural technique known as “coppicing.” New growth should begin in a few weeks. Cutting them back partway is also very hard on them and should be avoided.
What shrubs can you do this with?
The list is long: spirea, mockorange, privet, weigela, elderberry, dogwood, willow, shrub roses, barberry, blue mist spirea, false spirea, honeysuckle, many hydrangea and viburnum varieties, beautybush, forsythia, beautyberry, snowberry and more. It cannot be done with evergreens (pines, spruce, junipers and such) or broad-leafed evergreens including rhododendrons.
Coppicing can also be done on very overgrown multi-stem, deciduous shrubs and it’s a great alternative to removal/replacement and it is much less expensive.
Conversely, picking the right-sized plant for the location (from the get-go) is a much easier way to make a garden successful in the long run. Nobody is looking for more maintenance, so finding ways to avoid work is key.
Now, if you have a plant which you thought was going to be tiny and cute, such as black lace elder, an alternative is to prune off the bottom branches, to guide it up OVER a garden or pathway. These pruned arches allow for planting underneath and give a garden a more intimate and mature feel.
Questions? Feel free to reach out!
Sean James is Milton’s Gardener: a horticultural expert, a designer, a gardener, an ecologist and teacher. One garden at a time, Sean designs and plants eco-compatible, efficient, aesthetic, symbiotic gardens using philosophies and practices that are rooted in promoting native botanicals, edibles and responsible species.