Replacing Old Shrubbery

Barbara Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

Do you have some old overgrown shrubbery in your yard that is begging to be replaced? Is it blocking the windows, pushing you off the sidewalk, riddled with dead areas from past attacks of insects or wind damage? Maybe, you are just tired of going out there to do the big shearing job, but you are not sure how to go about solving the problem. Removing a large tree will probably require the help of a professional, but removing a shrub is not as hard as you might think.

The first step is to attack the job on a nice winter day, then you are not fighting the insects, possibly encountering bees or destroying birds' nests. With many large shrubs, it's hard to even reach the trunk, so unless you have a tractor and heavy chain, don't worry about reaching the center. Use loppers to remove the branches of the shrub a little at a time until you finally get to the stump. Then use a spade to dig away soil until you can see a root. Use the loppers to cut the root. It helps a lot at this point to have someone pull on the stump while you cut the root. Continue in this fashion until the stump lifts out of the ground.

Once you have removed the offending shrub(s), you are now ready to take on the exciting task of planning what you will plant in the newly vacated area. There is such a wonderful array of plants available today, the choice can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time.

Before planting anything new, think about the soil. A soil test is always a good idea. It will tell you what nutrients your soil may be lacking, and it will also tell you the pH of your soil. Some shrubs are fine with almost any soil, and some demand either acid or neutral soil to thrive. You can buy a soil testing kit at the Penn State Extension AG building in Gettysburg.

Adding organic matter to your soil is another important step. You may also want to think about leveling the planting area as much as possible. Plants located on the side of a steep hill do not get enough water. You need something on the down hill side of the plant that will hold some soil to prevent immediate run-off. Retaining walls, large rocks, and loose laid stones are all possibilities.

Choosing new plants may seem intimidating to someone who doesn't know too much about them. How will you know which one to pick? The answer is, you don't have to know the names of any plants, just the name of a good nursery. Get out your measuring tape and measure your planting space. You may want to take a photo of the area showing the surrounding plantings. Be sure to note the exposure--sunny, shady, north, south, east or west.

Next take your info including the soil test results to a good nursery. Make sure you talk to a knowledgeable person. Ask that person to make a couple recommendations based on your criteria. Keep in mind here, we are not asking for a free landscape plan, just a couple plant suggestions. Go in February or March when things are a little slow so they have some time to devote to you. Make a list of any suggestions, and come back to actually buy later in the spring when the plants are available. In the meantime be sure your site is well prepared and ready to receive its new occupant.

Do not purchase any plant without thoroughly reading the tag. Don't be tempted to buy based solely on price. Many of the future monster plants are cute when they are little, and they tend to be less expensive. Don't be fooled! Buy a plant that is going to fit your space, and one that will be happy in the conditions your site has to offer, then be sure to space it properly. If the plant you are buying is going to grow to be 8 feet across, you need to dig the hole at least four feet from any building. When you buy it, it may be only two feet wide or smaller. Be careful not to plant things too close together. Read the plant tag very carefully and believe it as far as mature size. My experience is that they tend to mature a little bigger, not smaller, than the tag predicted. The problem is that it may take several years until that plant reaches its mature size, and in the meantime, you may have a good bit of blank space.

So what do you do with the extra space? This is where your perennials and accessories come in. Most perennials are easy to dig up, and they don't mind moving one bit. You want to find one or two perennials that will look good for a long time with little care, AND stay where you put them. Use these two criteria when speaking to your nursery person. A couple of my favorites are Sedums, Echinachea, and thread leaf Coreopsis. Put them in the "holes" your immature shrubbery leave, and be prepared to relocate them as the shrubbery matures and widens. A birdbath or small fountain might work for you in the same way.

A note of caution. Bulbs are a wonderful permanent addition to your landscape, but can also create big problems. Keep them away from immature shrubbery. Before you know it, they will be coming up within that mature shrub, and because they are planted so deeply, it is very difficult to remove them without damaging the roots of your shrub. Stick to the easily moveable perennials.

A final word about planting your new shrub. The planting hole needs only to be as deep as the container the plant comes in, but it should be three or four

times as wide. Before buying the plant, gently slide it out of the container to be sure it is not totally root bound . When you place the plant into the prepared hole, spread the roots out as much as possible. It might be necessary to actually slice down the side of the root mass with a knife in a couple places to release the roots. You want them to spread outward as they grow, not grow in a circle eventually strangling the plant. Even if the soil is damp when you plant, always water in your new occupant to make sure there are no gaping air pockets near the roots.

Good luck, and happy planting!

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