please help me decide what stays and what goes!

mpg2004February 14, 2012


I would love some advice on what you would do with our landscaping! We purchased this home last fall. The house was built & landscaped 17 years ago, so some parts are overgrown and in need of sprucing up. We would like to work as much as we can with the existing plants, but at the same time want to neaten up the yard and make it easier to care for. We are in south eastern WA state, with a desert climate and do have underground sprinklers tied in with city irrigation. I would like to include more color diversity (most of what we have in the same shade of green -- arborvitae and rose bushes) so I'm thinking of adding some yellow grass plants or maybe some red-branched plants.

The driveway borders are probably most in need of help -- they are lined with large evergreen shrubs that aren't in very good shape. I'm at a loss for thinking of what I could replace these with? These are high enough that it's difficult to see when I'm pulling out of the driveway, so I would like something lower. I would like to leave a few of the healthy ones and add some variety in between but am not sure what to use. Any ideas?

Here are a couple of pictures:

Here's the front of the house. We're trying to decide if the arborvitae on either side of the front door need to come out. I'm also trying to find some perennials that I could plant in the beds along the path to the front door that would work well with some annuals planted in between.

The backyard is lowest on our priority list since it seems in better shape than the front, but I would eventually like to replace some of the rose bushes in front of the arborvitae with other bushes/shrubs that would provide more privacy and some color variation (we have a street running behind our property).

Backyard right side:

Backyard left side:

One final overall question I have is what should I use for mulch? Right now, we have a mixture of lava rock and large pine nuggets, but of which were horrendously difficult to work with when I was trying to clean up the leaves this fall. Both were light enough to get sucked up into the leaf vacuum I was trying to use, both wind up in the grass all the time, and both look quite messy when the trees start to drop their leaves! I am thinking of something that the arborvitae needles would blend into -- can I use them directly instead of bagging them in the fall? They drop so many needles!

Thanks for any advice or ideas you can offer! I'm at a loss as to where to start!


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I am thinking of something that the arborvitae needles would blend into -- can I use them directly instead of bagging them in the fall? They drop so many needles!

Yes, they can be self-mulching.

As for the rest, Yes, the tall things by the front door need to go. They are far too large. The round things along the driveway need to go ... unsafe and ugly.

Then ... visit the local nurseries, visit any public gardens, check with the local water department for lists of recommended plants, and get a copy of Sunset Western Garden book (the $30 price will save you ten times that in bad plant choices).

Read the article at the link and follow the steps. Planning now instead of hurling plants into holes because you feel the need to do something will save you time, effort, and money.

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY Landscape design

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 6:50PM
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May be the pic work.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 7:34PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Good God, the previous owners must have stumbled on an incredible sale!

I too would begin with a saw at the base of the one that is almost blocking the front door (probably both the ones there)! Timbrrr! Well, actually you can take it down branches first, then trunk in pieces. Do you get a lot of spiders in the house?

I think some of the removal decisions should be driven by what kind of atmosphere you want inside the house. If the trees at the foundation provide privacy, well and good, but they must also make it very dark during the day.

In contrast, the tall ones along the back property line are a good thing, but how bizarre that they put the narrow ones there and the wider ones at the foundation. On the other hand, a varied shrub border in front of that hedge will grow better with the bit of light that comes through. The hedge can be a lovely background to a mixed shrub border or whatever plantings you enjoy. Obviously not full sun plants though!

I'm not a hedge guru by any means but it is possible that if you limit the height, they will grow a little bushier.

Are those Arbs along the driveway too? Then they won't resprout from a severe trim. Before you replant, consider whether you really need plantings along the driveway. The basketball hoop makes me think not, and also I wonder if you'd prefer plantings at the road edge to catch any wayward balls. Driveway-edge beds also constrain car door opening, shovelling of snow, and travel to and from cars.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 7:49PM
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The pic mean it never like to go any big tree.pruning is ecological, save your money and time.white tree is a pruned designing.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:10PM
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Thanks for the advice! Can we prune back the arborvitae in front of the house and still keep their natural shape? The only way I've seen them pruned around here is by shearing off the top (like a buzz cut) which I really don't like the look of. I hate to remove anything that is growing so well, but they are so incredibly big! My understanding is that you can only prune arborvitae a little at a time. We do have lots of windows, so the inside of the house doesn't seem very dark even with the trees that we currently have.

I think we have the same type of arborvitae in front and in back, just the back ones have grown in more thin since they're crowded in together. The back hedge was a lot more green & full in the summer and fall, and I'm hoping it will come back this spring.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:26PM
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I think those arborvitae near the front door have to go. If you dread sending them all to the wood chipper, you can get rid of at least half of them and see how it lightens up your front entry way. It should make it look a lot more inviting. You've got some interesting things going on with the window above the door but it's all drown out by the giant trees.

Are you going to be doing this all yourself? Have you owned a house before? Are you native to the SE WA area? I'm just asking as it may make sense to have an overall idea but not plans set in stone and then tackle one area and see how it works and if it looks like something you'll like. I've been in my house 7 years and it's taking me much longer than I thought to get some of the larger sections done. Plus my gardening style is evolving and I end up changing ideas afterwards and having to redo other parts to match with the new style. That just makes me nervous to have you go in and rip it all out tomorrow just to find out that it really doesn't fit you or the climate.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:38PM
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I wonder what the roots of those trees have done to the foundation.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 9:02PM
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I'll chime in with the consensus that the arborvitae by the front door must go. It is oppressive and unwelcoming. To me, it looks like it won't be all that long until the others follow suit. I am not bothered today by the ones at the corners. But when they are twice that height--which they will achieve--it's going to look odd.

Would you consider fencing off the driveway like in the following picture? I would hope not, but in fact, that's essentially what you have now with the near continuous barricade of globe shrubs. If we were inside the house, are there areas where you would place barricades where carpeted and hardwood/linoleum floors meet? Probably not. I think this is pretty much the same situation. A "hard floor" is meeting a "carpeted area" (grass). There is no need to separate it with anything that acts as a barricade.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 1:50AM
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Thanks,wish more folks accepting me to save every big can be nice curb appeal.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 4:52AM
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I hate to remove anything that is growing so well, but they are so incredibly big If it were growing properly, it would be much thinner and about 1/2 as tall. The previous owner picked the wrong variety to plant for that spot. When that happens, removing the bad plant and replacing it with the right variety is the best thing to do.

Arborvitaes do not respond well to pruning - like most evergreens they seldom resprout from bare branches. If they have been crowded together, they will be bald - permanently - on the crowded side.

You can try removing the duplicate growing tips and see what happens.

Driveway - The only thing you really need is something such as a post with a light to mark each side of the entrance.

I'm not a fan of the "airport runway" effect you get with rigid plantings on each side.

As I said before, take your time, draw up your plans and don't rush into things.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 7:13AM
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Thanks everyone! This is our 3rd home, but the 1st where we're trying to renovate the landscape. For our 1st (in central NJ) we mainly just added perennials. For our 2nd (in central MN) we had the landscape installed for a newly constructed home -- made many mistakes there and having an established landscape really appealed when we were looking at homes for this move. I did hire a landscaper to come out and teach me how to care for the plants we have when we 1st moved into this home, and I am hoping to hire a landscaper to help us develop a plan for this property but I am trying to get a few ideas first so I know what I am asking for. I have been reading lots on landscaping, but it's so helpful to get advice on our specific property!

We were thinking that the arborvitae near the front door need to go, and it seems that is pretty much the consensus here, too. They have a LOT of brown growth inside, so I don't think they can be pruned into any reasonable size. Would these need to be totally taken out, or could we just cut them down to the ground and replant something else nearby?

I am not a huge fan of the "soldiers" lining the driveway, but am wondering what a border of low growing plants would look like. Our property is a triangle, bordered on 2 sides by roads (1 quite quiet and 1 somewhat busy) and I wonder how much the large evergreens are mitigating the road noise for us. If we do remove the shrubs by the driveway, do those need to be pulled entirely, or can they be cut down to the ground and planted around?

Definitely good advice to take our time -- we are approaching this as a multi-year project, just trying to generate ideas right now. I want to have an overall plan in mind before we start any work, especially if we are going to be removing any of the plantings.


    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 12:46PM
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Pruning don't bare branches you retain every a time.don't worry resprout problem.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 1:30PM
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I live in eastern Washington and arborvitaes mean yellow jackets! I would definitely get rid of any by the door or along major pathways.

Pontentilias are very nice, can stay smaller and don't need a lot of water, once they're established. They might look nice along your driveway.

In the back, the arborvitaes will give you a lovely green background, for your roses, other shrubs, (try butterfly bushes) and lots of perennials and a few annuals. I'd keep anything that needs water, by the roses. I like daisies, bee balm, coneflowers, salvia, lavender (Hidcote can take the long winters) and add some annuals, too.

Shrub roses work better in a border than hybrid teas and they're much easier to deal with, in the winter. Own root might be good in your situation, too. Northland Rosarium is in eastern Washington (not far from EWU/Cheney) and they have some excellent roses. Check out their website and if you feel like driving up, you can save a lot in shipping.

Have fun with your new project! :)

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 1:54PM
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MPG, yes, cut the large arborvitae down around the front doorway, and keep the ones in the backyard. You might also think of removing a few more of the large ones near the garage. I think you can get away with removing half or 2/3 of them, leaving just few for your accent points.

I'd take out the large green 'meatballs', and I think you would be fine not to replace them with anything. It looks like they were planted to screen the driveway and it's cars so people outside the yard couldn't see into the yard from the street. If you still feel the need to screen your driveway then think about placing shrubs and trees in the lawn area well off to the sides of the driveway.

You have a formal French-Italian villa look to your home, I'd play that up with the choices you make for any additional plants you choose. Since you are in a dry climate, lavender, rosemary, herbs, and a few shrub-trees that look like the olive trees in the Mediterranean area. But do check out books that cover your drier climate. Every place has a palatte of plants that look the best for it's area.

And think about painting the white trim on the house, and the trim around the garage a shade darker than the existing color the house is currently painted. If you don't like the house color then, when you remove the large arborvitae, it that would be a great time to repaint. Whatever color you decide on, you would do the same thing, you would paint the details in a slightly darker shade of the main color so they stand out just a bit, almost like a shadow.

And when you do remove the plant material, you will have to slice through and loosen them from the foundation before you have them pulled. They have sent roots under your foundation if you are on a slab. You will have to grub out the old plants' roots, and add more soil to those areas where you have taken the plants out since they have used up all the organic matter and all the nutrients.

Cruise through magazines and garden books, focus on homes that look similar to your's to see how that style is enhanced with plants. It's not always very formal, the rustic Italian farmhouse and the extremely formal French city villa are miles apart. And check things out through interlibrary loans from your local library if garden books are few in number.

Go ahead and remove the extra plant materials, and amend the places well ahead of anything going back in, and take your time living with the blank canvas so you can visualize any new ideas better. I think you have a fantastic project ahead of you, have fun!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 4:21PM
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