It’s a Grumpy pet peeve—hiding your house behind a wall of overgrown bushes. Walking through my neighborhood, I often have difficulty seeing the actual dwellings huddled behind giant hollies, boxwoods, Loropetalum, gardenias, and privets. Plus, it raises questions in my mind. Why do these homeowners block their homes with overgrown, unsightly plants?
Why Did This Start?
This sad state of affairs has its roots in the birth of suburbia and the rise of the concept called «foundation planting.» You couldn’t be happy with just a lovely house sitting on a nice lot. No, you had to «anchor» it to the landscape with a girdle of shrubbery. This concept became so pervasive that building codes wrote it into their regulations. Builders usually comply by installing the cheapest, most nondescript shrubs they can find, like Japanese holly, nandina, and juniper.
Foundation planting might make sense if you’re trying to hide an ugly foundation or complement the home’s architecture. However, this is rarely the case. I can’t count how many otherwise attractive houses I’ve seen that are swallowed by green blobs for no reason. And don’t even get me started on the «we planted for extra privacy» thing. There is no good reason to block the view from the window with evergreen bushes. Shutters, blinds, and drapes do that.
Why You Shouldn’t Block Your Home with Shrubs
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another practical reason why monstrous bushes shouldn’t be growing up against the house. It dramatically increases maintenance by holding moisture against the walls. The results are rotten wood, moss, mildew, termites, and frequent repainting. You should always maintain an open buffer between plants and walls—at least a foot wide—to allow airflow and surfaces to dry.
How To Fix This Landscaping Mistake
«But Grumpy,» you implore, «the bushes in front of my house are too big for me to move, and I’m afraid if I cut them too much, they’ll die. What can I do?» Answer: either bite the bullet and hire landscapers to remove the behemoths or prune them to the proper size. Correct pruning should not kill them.
Here is a rule to follow when pruning back big shrubs. Almost all broadleaf evergreen shrubs can be pruned back as far as you need to, even to bare wood, and they’ll sprout new foliage and grow back. This rule applies to the following:
- Cherry Laurel
How To Prune Needle-Leaf Evergreens
It’s trickier with needle-leaf evergreens, though. It will likely die if you cut back a branch beyond its innermost foliage. So don’t do that. Just shorten the branch while leaving some needles.
Go out this evening and look at your house. Are there any bushes you wish had never been planted? Any that block views or access? Any that makes your plantings a jumbled mess? Get out your pruners and loppers.