Pruning and die back questions

NVL4July 18, 2014

Hi everyone,
Some back ground:
We moved into our home last fall. Two of the foundation planting shrubs were mostly dead. One was about 95% and one was about 75% dead. We only have the foundation plantings. My DH loves it that way, me not so much. I gave the plants some time to recover if it was going to at which point I removed it. I think they might have had black root rot(?). The rootball was very small, mushy with black streaks. They have good drainage and lots of sun. They seem to have two speeds, thriving or dead as doornails. Some of the remaining plants have the same dieback as the first ones I removed.

The ones that are thriving are going nuts. I have never really pruned a shrub. The ones at the corners are eating the sidewalk. I have been reading up in pruning and I am not sure which method will be best. Any before and after pictures so I know what to expect would be awesome if you have any.

Picture of monster shrub below. We have to dodge it to get into the house.

This post was edited by NVL4 on Fri, Jul 18, 14 at 9:49

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Here is one with a little area that is dying.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 9:42AM
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This one shows how far back the leaves go into the plant center. It seems pretty full to me but admittedly I don't know squat about shrubs. You can also see the leaves. I thought that might be helpful. My husband calls this a boxwood but I am sure it's not. I think it's an ilex. Does anyone know for sure? Also, the plants have been shaped in the past - the term I have seen used for this type if landscaping is " meatballs and bark". I am not a fan. I would prefer to let them keep their natural shape. I think they are just the wrong plant for the area they have to grow in.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 9:55AM
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Better picture of the sidewalk encroachment.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 10:19AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

track back on the brown ... and cut where a live branch takes off... the hole will fill in .. sooner or later ...

frankly.... those plants should be removed.. i dont care what they are ..

they could have been rejuvenation pruned over the years.. to keep them in some semblance of proper size ... and it could be done now ... it a 3 year process.. google the term...

but lets be real... this is the front door of your new castle.. do you really want an ugly renovation problem to look at out the front door ...

the prior owner bought some cute little plants.. planted them about 8 feet too close to the house.. with no conceptualization of the fact that plants grow.. just about forever ... they probably moved.. for this simple problem.. lol ..

this part is not a gardening issue: My DH loves it that way,

tell him he can have the garage and barbie... its your garden.. and he may share his opinion at will ... but dont hope to be acknowledged.. lol ..

get rid of them [the plants.. presumably not the DH] .. no matter what they are ...


    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 12:01PM
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Thank you for the response and for confirming my thoughts

Oh, believe me I have already googled rejuvenation pruning and know that you take off 1/3 if the plant for 3 years and while I haven't seen any before after photos in my internet wanderings, I imagine it makes for a pretty fugly plant for those three years. I have tried to talk my husband into just getting rid if them. Personally I don't find the foundation so offensive that ever inch if it needs to be covered by these plants, he seems to think it needs to hidden. We are somewhat at an impasse in that regard. Something HAS to happen with the most behemothy ones at the corners before they start entrapping our guests like a bad horror movie as they approach our house. Seems like there is no way to prune this back without making it an eyesore. I am hoping this adds to my side if the argument to remove them. These were small in comparison to the variegated Chinese something-or-other-that-gets-big-as-a-jumbo-jet that is already dug out because thankfully it dropped its leaves in late spring. Possibly natural for this plant but I jumped on the chance to remove it.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 12:58PM
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Ken, does that description if the rootball and the leaves dying sound like root rot? My understanding us that if the drainage us good -and it is very good, so it's not a matter if the plant sitting in a pool of water, then there is something in the soil that attacks that type of plant (among others I am sure). My husband wants to buy baby plants of the same kind to replace them. My argument is that the same thing is likely to happen again. In fact, one of the ones I pulled out was a replacement. You can tell by the different sizes that they replaced a few over a several years. To me that is just throwing good money after bad. Then there is the problem that if it does survive, it is a constant pruning job just to keep it in check.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 1:16PM
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If the leaves are opposite each other, it's a boxwood. If the leaves are staggered (an alternate pairing), then it is an Ilex.

Boxwoods are prone to a blight which causes dieback much like you see. Ilex is seldom troubled by much, although poor drainage can be a problem.......however, these shrubs would never have reached that maturity and size were that the case.

FWIW, the term "rejuvenation pruning" is generally not used with respect to broadleaf evergreen shrubs. Both box and Ilex can be sheared or pruned to whatever desired height or shape you like and as frequently as necessary, which is why they are often used as hedging material. If you do not wish to prune and prefer to keep to a more natural shape and growth habit, then yes, they should be removed and replaced. However that planting area is too narrow to accommodate most shrubs regardless of size once they settle in and start growing without some sort of routine pruning. The box and holly just take to it much better than most others.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 1:42PM
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Gardengal, wouldn't shearing expose too much of the branch? That was one if the methods I was wondering about but couldn't remember the name (durrr) and was thinking it would make the plant look like it has been butchered.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 2:07PM
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Oh, and the leaves are staggered-so then it's an ilex. I would love to know what is killing these things. A few have the dead leaves, some have dropped the leaves and just look the have chunks taken out.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 2:09PM
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Oh, and the leaves are staggered-so then it's an ilex. I would love to know what is killing these things. A few have the dead leaves, some have dropped the leaves and just look the have chunks taken out.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 2:14PM
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Shearing wouldn't hurt that sidewalk encroacher - as long as you don't go too far in. The new growth looks to be fairly long already and carefully shearing it (if you're not used to the fine art of wielding an electric hedge trimmer) back to the sidewalk edge shouldn't leave you with bare spots. I can live with a neat square hedge - meat balled not so much. And you'd be surprised how fast anything you shear away regenerates. It's an annual affair for something that is basically too big for the spot to begin with - but manageable until you might decide to remove them.

I do my relatively short yew hedge every year - getting any errant top growth and all branches that touch the house or go over the sidewalk. So far I've gotten away with shearing mine anytime up into September. After that would be iffy here.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 2:41PM
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UPDATE: This is the largest shrub close to the stairs. We went out and bought electric shears and I had a go at the ilex shrubs. I had never used them before or trimmed a shrub for that matter so I practiced first on the ones kind if in the back. There were two encroaching in the sidewalk. One next to the drive and one next to the front steps. The one by the steps was the largest. I tried my best to get them to be the pyramid shape but mostly they are vertical at best (one is a little bigger at the top, IMO)I am sure I will have to go back once my hands regain their feeling and trim and take a little more to get that shape. The one near the steps goes over the side walk at its corner, but not one the front or side.

Also, the hubs and I came to a temporary compromise. I am going to try to transplant one if the smaller ones in between the two corner beasts into the bare spot left by the dead plant. It might succumb to whatever the first one died if, assuming it survives the transplant. One if the remaining two is sickly, so I will get rid if him and maybe try to find another suitable site for the lady one. In between the two corner ilex, I am thinking if planting something more appropriate, maybe a small azalea. I have a post on the azalea board looking for recommends. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Also, any advice in transplanting one if the smaller ilex? I stay at home with kids so I can water it religiously if that us what's needed. I can also wait until fall if that us my only option. I do have two chances because if the first transplant doesn't make it, I can try again with the other healthy looking one.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 12:38PM
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This is the sheared version of the first picture in the original post

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 12:40PM
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They turned out nice! They look good! You are talented with that trimmer for the first time.
Why get rid of them again?
It takes years and years to get them that big and nice.
I would keep them.
But that's me. I wouldn't mind the trimming so much, if you want to, you could trim the biggest one down next spring a little shorter, or not, but I think they look nice.
Where would you fit an azela?
But yes, azelia would look nice out front for color in the spring. Mabey even an encor, something that blooms more often than regular azelia.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 11:23PM
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Thank you :). I was pleasantly surprised that they turned out as well as they did. They are dying if some weird disease. The smaller ones in between the big ones on the end are replacement ones for ones that died previously and two more of those died and others are dying. One of the big established ones in front of the porch (another section) also died. It is also the only type of plant the previous owner put in front if the house with the exception if a lighter green tree that they were trimming down to a shrub. It seems pointless to stick the very same plant in the same spot when two have already died there. Our house is ten years old, so presumably the plants are two. The baby plants were a few years old do whatever killed the originals killed older established shrubs. It seemed like an opportune time to introduce something else that would give some variety and hopefully be resistant to whatever is giving these ilex fits and also not overwhelm that thin planting strip.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 11:27AM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

I think they are dying back because of lack of water. dig down a bit near the rootball and take a look.
Illex crenata, 'Convexa' can be cut back to a stump in the late spring or early summer and it will sprout new growth right away. Look at one of mine that was pruned during spring. It's already to be sheared into shape. I will move it and several others this fall.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 9:44PM
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I don't know enough to really comment except to say I hope you right because we are getting a lot if rain and hopefully they will quit dying.

Is it possible to transplant one now or do I need to wait until the weather gets cooler?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 11:08AM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

You can water them with a hose. A slow trickle until the ground is soaked ought to do it, rather than relying on the rain.
Wait until Fall when it's cooler and wetter to move the Illex.
I have a lot of these shrubs and have worked with them for a long time. This 'Crocagator' was started from cuttings 3 inches long.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 12:34PM
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Thanks. I will hold off on transplanting the one from one side of the house to the other.

That's an awesome crocagator! Who needs a guard dog with him keeping the peace? am thinking about trying to start some seedlings for some hedges on the sides of the yard. We aren't allowed fences in the front yard, but a hedge combating these and some other shrubs would work. So you have a picture of what they look like in their natural form?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 1:08PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Yes, I do. This one was sheared a bit on the bottom last year.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 1:52PM
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Oh wow! That's gorgeous! I would be happy to have some mixed into a hedge/border. I will definitely try to root some cuttings. Additionally I should proof-read my posts better when typing on my phone.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 11:23AM
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