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Shrubs should enhance, not obscure, your view!

As regular readers know, I try to respond to questions via e-mail within a day or so, because I realize that sometimes you need very prompt answers! I select a few questions to publish in this column from time to time, and I address many more readers’ problems in my weekly e-mailed newsletter. Let me know at [email protected] if you’d like a free subscription. The following is a Q&A from a recent newsletter:

QUESTION: “I have yew bushes that are about 5 - 6 feet tall in front of the living room windows of a home we just purchased. The yews must be quite old as the bases are rather large. The previous owner kept the yews pruned in a single box shape, which I am not fond of. There is new growth around the base and up about a foot from the ground. My question is, is it possible to prune the yews down to the new growth and let them grow again looking more natural, but keeping them only about 3-4 feet tall? And would this be a good time to prune them?” – Karen Carlson

ANSWER: Yes this would be the right time to prune. However, you may want to stall your shears just until the first flush of growth comes out this spring. If you fertilize now and wait for the first flush of growth to come out it will give you more of an idea of what you will have to work with. When the new growth hardens off after about two weeks then you can stand back and see how you want to shape your yews.

If they appear too leggy and have too many bare places at the base you might want to do one of two things.

Either remove the yew altogether, or bring your planting bed out and put some low growing plants in front to hide the gap at the base of the yews.

Sometimes you can revive and older established planting, and sometimes it is just better to start over.

QUESTION: “I need ideas for the front of our new home. We finished building last November and have no grass as of yet. We are thinking that we will need to put in a terraced retaining wall of some sort along the front of the house so that we don't have to mow along the steepest part of the yard. Do you have any other suggestions that we might consider?” – Nikki Easley

ANSWER: From the look of the photo you attached, your lot doesn’t seem that steep. A lot of people jump to the conclusion that a retaining wall is needed just because their lot has a little slope to it. I’m not sure in your case a retaining wall is what you want to start with.

I would begin by sowing the area with a good grass seed and straw in. This will help to eliminate any erosion.

Plant some anchor plants in the corners of the house and maybe a few shrubs in the front and between the windows on the side. What you need to look at is not how the house will look from the street but how it will look to you from the house looking out. You are the ones that will be seeing the most of your landscape and you want it to look good from your perspective.

What I always tell people with a new landscape is to place a few stakes where you want to plant your trees and shrubs. Wait a week or two to visualize if that will be the right placement. Better to decide now then to dig holes that you will have to do again.

You can use ground covers or low growing hedges on the banks. A small rock wall by the driveway would give you a chance to make a flower or small shrub bed. The best thing is not to hurry into it and take one section at a time. I have seen folks put in retaining walls and wish that they had not a few weeks after it was installed.

Keep in mind the height of the trees at maturity, and how they will balance the house.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org