The Q&A Archives: Pruning Basics

Question: I moved into my house last July. There are lots of shrubs (evergreens bushes, azaelas, etc.) that were planted around my house before I moved in. Many of them have grown so large (4-6 feet in diameter) that they now obstruct pathways, windows, etc. While they are relativey neat, they are huge and in the way. Can I prune them over a time period (weeks, months, years, whatever...) to get them back down to size? Is it possible to keep a bush or shrub in a 2-3 foot diameter range forever? What about moving them? I hate to kill nice plants, but they are taking over my yard! If I have to remove them, can you recommend a good book to help me pick replacements that I can keep in a smaller size range perpetually? Please advise.

Answer: In most cases it is very difficult to keep a plant substantially smaller than its mature size, although exceptions typically used for foundations could include yews and sometimes, azaleas or rhododendrons.

Shallow rooted plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons can be moved successfully, and this is best done in early spring. A large plant is very heavy! The plants should be carefully dug taking as much root as possible (begin digging at the width of the branch spread or further out), and should be replanted immediately at the same depth it grew before. It would then need to be cared for carefully until it becomes reestablished.

Drastic size reduction is usually attempted over about three years to try to minimize the shock to the plant.
Pruning would depend on the specific plant, so you might want to look at a book or two about pruning. Here are web sites with some basic guidelines:

In terms of researching the plants you might consider using as replacements, a web search using the Latin name and cultivar is usually effective. You might also find some useful information at the following sites. (The third one is specifically about evergreens.)

Good luck with your landscaping project!

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