In praise of limbing up

karin_mt(4 MT)August 12, 2014

So, my big garden goal of the year is to get the beds less jungly and clean up, clean out and restore order. Along the way, I'm taking out perennials and adding shrubs So far it's going well and I'm enjoying the progress. Lesson one is that simply removing plants here and there does a great job in restoring that calming look that I'm after. That's an easy and cheap solution, score!

Lesson two is the value of limbing up in changing the feel of a spot. I first learned this from a golden willow that people warned me not to plant due to its messiness. True enough, the trunks grow ugly sprouts and suckers and the whole thing becomes a thicket. Unless. Unless you start limbing it up so that the trunks become an asset. Now this stately willow is the overseer of the back of the garden, casting shade, defining the path, and offering a very inviting shape that sort of "cups" the bed in front of it.

Picasa added this filter, which is sort of cool, so I'll share it. (The grey strips on the edges of the path are awaiting rock trim.)

The next limbing up project was inadvertent. It's a serviceberry that itself was a tangle and the matted mess of poorly-performing perennials at its feet didn't help. I whacked out all the perennials and started cleaning up the structure of the shrub. For some reason, this is an incredibly enjoyable task, so I kept on going.

Viola, the shrub has really pretty bark and structure. Who knew? There are two new groundcover honeysuckles planted in the newly-cleared space and a native clematis will someday scramble up those pretty trunks.

Exhibit 3, a rosa glauca that overgrew its space. By a lot! (But the tag says 5-6 feet tall!) DH was really sick of it and it just looked like a mop, so we went after it. I thought we were going to end up butchering it, but again, it came out OK. It's not the most picturesque spot in our yard but the pruning really improved things.

So, that was a nice lesson leaned for me. An overgrown tangle can become a cool little nook, with no digging and no money spent!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hoverfly - 9a London

That golden willow is very impressive and the other two look nice, too.

I would have loved to see some before pictures to compare but even without, the results are beautiful. :)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 5:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I'm loving that willow with the opened up trunk. It looks very architectural. I'm used to weeping willows in our area and I like the look of yours without the weepiness of it. You have a good eye, Karin.

The amelanchier do get a little messy looking, good solution.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 5:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karin_mt(4 MT)


Yeah I never think to take 'before' photos as I don't usually anticipate a dramatic outcome.

But I did just take a 'before' pic of an area that is getting a total overhaul starting next week. Knowing my timetable, the 'after' photo will be taken somewhere around 2018. Stay tuned. ;)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 7:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Karin, I'm a big fan of pruning/limbing up! I just realized about a week ago when I was walking through the garden with a new gardener explaining pruning that my style is to prune shrubs to look like small trees and prune small trees to look like large shrubs! LOL! I have been having so much fun trying out different "looks" for shrubs. My newest one is to prune weigela into a taller limbed up form with only a handful of trunks, as opposed to a huge broad shrub.

I'm so glad you've had fun doing the limbing and see such great rewards. You've done a beautiful job. It's probably also nice that you can now see through some of them. I think so many times it's drilled into us that we need view blocks, etc. so there can sometimes be too many full shrubs as opposed to limbing some up to give just a glimpse or tease about what's to come further on into the garden.

Thanks for sharing your results!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 8:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
babera(5a (Montana))

Good job. . . hmmm. . . I did the same thing to my old lilac bush. . . I didn't know at the time it had a name. . . LOL. The bush in question was horribly over-grown. . . and was getting to the point where the flowers were scarce and the middle of it was almost bare (no new growth this year). I really wacked away at it after it finished blooming this spring. Now, as you said, it looks like a miniature tree.

Between the lilac being over grown and the neighbors HUGE evergreen I was growing shade plants in a south facing bed.

It's much easier to mow around too.

ps I was in your neck of the woods last weekend. . . an annual girls weekend in Ennis :)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 10:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
terrene(5b MA)

I like the look of the willow and amelanchier also. With those trees will you need to continue to trim the suckers each year to maintain a clear trunk?

I just limbed up a Cornus alternifolia that is in the front garden and is spreading more than growing up. Just waited for the birds to finish off the berries before pruning.

With common lilacs, which naturally sucker quite vigorously, I do the opposite of pruning them into a small tree. I cut out about 1/4 or so of the oldest trunks, as well as shaping smaller branches, to enourage a bushy uniform clump with a burst of blooms that you can see, and easily reach to smell or clip for bouquets.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 7:33AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karin_mt(4 MT)

Yes, good points Susan - a little bit of light peeking through a shrub seems to add some depth, as opposed to a solid mass of leaves and branches. And for sure the trunks can be sculpturally beautiful. I'm glad you have had good results too. But how do you make a small tree look like a large shrub?

Terrene, the willow grew new sprouts off the trunks for a year or two but they no longer do. Now I just do a few maintenance trims from time to time. Particularly if I walk under it and it hits me in the head. That is not allowed and since my clippers are always in my pocket it is a swift and easy correction.

I suspect the amelanchier will grow some new shoots and suckers and it seems like I ought to allow a couple of new ones each year, just to keep some new growth going. But I'm not sure yet.

You are lucky to have a Cornus alternifolia. I think those are so pretty and useful, but I don't think I could keep one happy here. I didn't realize they had berries too - bonus!

Lilac do seem particularly tricky, don't they? I've seen all kinds of pruning techniques. But for sure you do want some of those fragrant flowers within reach, good point!

Yeah for a girls' weekend in Ennis! I bet that was all kinds of fun! :)

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 10:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
pitimpinai(z6 Chicago)

Great job, karin. They do look fantastic. Thank you for giving me an idea. I need to limb up a few shrubs now to give my garden a new look.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 11:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
terrene(5b MA)

I love C. alternifolia (pagoda or alternate leaf dogwood), not sure if it would grow in the more arid climates in the west. I grow about 5-6 species of Dogwood and the eastern natives tend to prefer at least medium moisture. The shrubby ones are not very drought tolerant at all. C. alternifolia is probably the most drought-tolerant of all the ones I grow (C. florida, C. amomum, C. racemosa, C. sericea).

The tree in the front garden fruits the most, it makes dark blue berries in summer that the birds absolutely love. A couple weeks ago, I watched the bluebirds from my office on the 2nd floor of the house, they perched and chattered on the electrical wire and then dived down into the tree to eat berries. Also, Robins, Catbirds, Cedar waxwings, etc love them.

Here's a pic from last year -

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 1:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Nice pics--so helpful to see a photo along with the descriptions.

I am realizing my garden benefits from a few limbed up plsnts too. Planted 2 C. alternifolia last fall and have enjoyed them so much this year.

Terrence--do you think sun exposure affects the berry production? I think one if mine is in too much sun--a large branch broke off a tree in the yard creating a few sunny spots in areas that used to be dappled shade. I've been considering moving the tree as it now seems more stressed than the other one I planted. Maybe it will adapt though.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 11:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karin_mt(4 MT)

Wow look at all those berries! I love your description of the bird hubub, isn't that just the best? I had a chickadee doing a little dance all around the serviceberry, chattering all the while, and finally he dangled upside down, nabbed a berry, then flew away. I think he was saying thank you. Waxwings are a favorite too. No matter what I'm in the middle of, I stop and admire them. All part of the joys of creating a little wildlife haven in our gardens!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 12:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Looks great! I'm so happy to see when shrubs aren't all "meatballed up" by pruning. I cut just a few branches off my heptacodium last week and the difference was amazing, and even the weed sumacs around back look like a landscape once I trimmed up the bottom.
Summertime pruning is a good thing, it's just easy to forget since most people aren't itching to get going like they do in spring.
A visit from some waxwings would be awesome. They're such a fun bird, but all I have are starlings and robins gobbling up berries.

You could just cut the rosa glauca to the ground this winter, the leaves will be great when it sprouts back up!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 9:13AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Agapanthus - where to buy?
I want to grow Agapanthus - the white one. Anyone know...
Border Patrol Plants
Border Patrol Plants: those small, front-of-the-border...
christinmk z5b eastern WA
How to ask Houzz a question?
When the switch over first happened I could easily...
Patty W. zone 5a Illinois
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™