Preparing to Amputate

Have you ever noticed a suburban garden in which the house is pretty much hidden behind overgrown shrubs, hulking trees, or an out-of-control hedge? Have you wondered who lives there, and why they’ve allowed all this overgrowth? Maybe they’re no longer capable of trimming and pruning. Maybe they’re reclusive weirdos. Maybe they just like living in a small private jungle.

I find such scenes a bit depressing. Which is why I don’t want my place to look like that. Nor would I want the post office to cut off service because the letter carrier doesn’t want to bushwhack their way to the door. Neither would first responders in case of emergency.

All right, things aren’t nearly that bad here right now, but some shrubs in this garden do need serious pruning. Editing, you might say.

  • Magnolia. Needs a major limb removed that is shading part of a perennial bed.
  • Ceanothus. Needs a major limb removed that is crowding the front walk.
  • Rosa glauca near front walk. The three or four oldest stems must be removed because they lean into the walk opposite the impinging Ceanothus, thus narrowing said walk unacceptably.
  • Cotoneaster franchetti. Needs to be lowered and reduced in bulk. Don’t want to cut it down altogether because it’s a big berry producer for birds in winter.
  • Photinia in front garden. Needs its annual trim to maintain the desired ice cream cone shape.
  • Small holly in back garden. There are too many hollies here already. Best to remove this one before it turns into a monster. Update: this one is DONE. Except it was two hollies that were a lot taller than I thought. Now cut down.
  • Big hollies in back garden. Already monsters that need to be beaten back.
  • Apple tree. Too tall and too wide. I seem to recall it was a “dwarf” when I planted it.
  • Smoke bush. Also too tall and too wide. This one can be cut down drastically, whereupon it will regrow with appalling vigor. I did that several years ago, but you’d never know it now. Some judicious trimming may be better.
  • The rampant shrub rose that has climbed into two maple trees and a couple of hollies on the west side of the back garden. It needs to be reminded that there are limits to growth, despite its cascade of fragrant white flowers in June.
Three-legged ladder and Photinia

I’ve already admitted I’m a reluctant pruner. Cutting off a limb, whether of an animal or a plant, is final. You can’t glue it back on. Mistakes aren’t easily fixable. And I get depressed at the sight of a perfectly good, nicely branched limb lying on the ground. Even when I know it had to be removed.

So I need to get into the right frame of mind, now that pruning season is about to start. January through March is the best time. Plants are dormant, it’s not too warm for the physical exertion needed, and I don’t have to worry about trampling smaller plants underfoot. And in March there’s the one day per year when the municipality picks up the trimmed-off material.

I have the right tools: two pruning saws, sharp secateurs, long handled loppers. A really good tripod ladder. Even a chain saw (for the magnolia job) and someone (i.e., the Spouse) to operate it. The subjects, (i.e., shrubs) are nicely anesthetized by winter dormancy, so will never know what happened. At least, I hope not.

Silky Gomtaro Root Saw

So go forth and prune, gardener! Seize the saw, climb the ladder, and cut! Amputate those darlings!


  1. I’m a bit envious, (sort of) of your rampant garden. As a renter, gardens can be a challenge. Last one was a manageable size for me and I’d built fish ponds, wildlife pond, and raised flower beds. Where I am now has a smaller plot which is slabbed, but I have created a fishpond from old car tyres which I covered in artificial grass and around it I sow wildflower seeds so it’s always a surprise to see what’s popping up next. Three goldfish are thriving well. It’s ready for re-sowing in the spring and I’m creating a dragon sculpture out of air dry clay to ‘guard’ the pond. One thing about being creatives is that we don’t see what’s there, but what could be.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We can lug stuff to the municipal yard ourselves the rest of the year. And we can also put trimmings into our green wheelie bins for pickup every 2 weeks. The annual event is for big stuff. All that just about does the job.


  2. It’s sad when homeowners can’t keep up with pruning. I figure they’re not capable because of physical reasons, monetary reasons (can’t hire someone to do it), or they’re just too busy. I guess there’s the possibility that they just don’t care, which makes me extra sad.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Every year, my wife and I have this “argument.” She wants to prune a tree or a shrub or something … or worse, several trees, shrubs, or somethings. And all I see is a tree, shrub or something that looks perfect the way it is. I prefer a bit of a wild look, or overgrownness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel your pain and on balance, I’m with you. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Also, isn’t nature just a bit wonderful and already has the GPS?

      Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s the worst of it, Neil! Sometimes I look at a branch or even a twig, and ask myself if I should cut it or not. I read the instructions in my How To Prune book and go back out and think some more. Once I get going, though, I eventually figure I’m doing the right thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You should watch Heron’s Bonsai videos. Peter Chan is ruthless! WHACK! ZRRRR! SNIP! Holy shit, what did just do to that poor tree? Oh, WOW! That’s what you did.
    Ever heard of air-layering? Ringing a substantial limb, wrapping the cut with moss & plastic and watering it for a few months? POP! Brand new clone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bonsai folks are ruthless, which is why I have no root-pruned, wired little trees. But I have air-layered a rubber tree several times. Latest one was last summer; seems to have rooted, which means I’ll have to get rid of the previous overgrown specimen. Nobody needs more than one rubber tree in the house!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you’re describing my garden in that opening paragraph, Audrey. I do keep meaning to take it in hand, then tell myself I prefer the shaggy look, but agree a bit of skilful pruning adds to the beauty – if only I had that skill. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard one should visit a “great garden” and watch the professional pruners at work if possible. Haven’t done it myself, but I haven’t killed anything yet either. Plants are fairly resilient.


  6. What always amazes me are old houses left to go to rack and ruin Audrey. Presumably the owner died, but who owns them? Why is no-one caring for them, or at least selling them? There is one near me and every week/month/year it becomes more overgrown and ransacked. Strange.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is strange, Denzil. Here I see houses along major streets that appear somewhat dilapidated, but they are inhabited, I assume by renters. Eventually, no doubt, they will be replaced by condominium developments. The thing I find distressing in my rather “upscale” neighbourhood is how often small, modest houses (like mine) are knocked down and replaced by brand new architectural monstrosities. Apart from aesthetics, there’s the fact that the old houses are built from old growth lumber that is becoming a rarity. There are entrepreneurs that deconstruct houses and salvage the timber, but of course that adds to the cost. And inevitably the gardens associated with the razed houses are destroyed.


  7. To think ahead and plant that seed
    That makes a poem or a book to read
    If the soil’s too poor for what we sow
    then that poor seed has nowhere to go

    Yet in a rich and fertile mind
    Evolves something of the magical kind
    It grows and lives beyond ourselves
    Pride of place on many shelves.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s encouraging, Meeka! Last fall I planted a little Rosa chinensis “Mutabilis” I bought in August in one of the beds in my front garden. The one that isn’t fenced against deer. It was fine until after the snow we had in December melted. At that point some critter chomped it down to 2 inches. Aaargh! I hope it had settled in enough to re-sprout in spring.
      In the meantime, I’m working through my list of shrubs to be pruned. The apple tree and some hollies are done. I have a huge brush pile already!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Damn! I know how you feel. One of the alpacas uprooted a whole rosebush and it was hours before I found it [the bush]. It was too late to try to replant it. Luckily one of the desperation cuttings took. I hope your little rose comes back as well. :/

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I really enjoy winter pruning (not the really heavy stuff of course. I don’t have the strength for that). I find pruning helps me tune into what the plants want so that they grow within the mini eco-sphere of the garden. I see it as co-creating abundance with the plants. I hope you find a way to tune in and enjoy the activity.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I went through this when we bought this house a couple years ago. We ended up having all the old evergreens pulled out. I planted flowers, but that’s a lot of work. Well, at least I keep busy. I hope this all goes easy on you. It will be beautiful when you’re done.

    Liked by 1 person

What do you think? Opinions welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.