Left to grow unchecked, shrubs suffer from many similar problems to trees – they get too large, they rob the garden of light and they become space-filling blobs rather than positive assets in the garden. Recently I was asked by friends to advise them on what to do in a newly acquired garden where the previous owners had dealt with shrubs by pruning them into ‘Christmas puddings’ regardless of their natural shape. It looked dreadful and had created a defensive wall concealing a rather lovely view of the surrounding woodland. My recommendation was to keep a select few and remove the rest.
Most deciduous shrubs benefit from a pruning after flowering or they become leggy. A neglected shrub will become a thicket of twigs. To rejuvenate it you can either cut it down close to the ground so that it starts again, or remove a third of the old growth each year for three years – that way you don’t lose a year of flowering. Some shrubs can be treated rather like a tree, but rather than ‘raising the crown’ you ‘lift its skirt’ to bring light to the plants beneath it and, if you are lucky, reveal some attractive stems. If you too are faced with several rampant shrubs, it may be advisable to get a experienced gardener to do the first pruning for you and guide you on future maintenance. And a good, robust shredder will reduce the trimmings to compostable or mulching material and save endless trips to the local recycling centre.