Neglected Fatsia Japonica pruning woes

jamesharcourtjamesharcourt West SussexPosts: 323
Hi all, a long story short - I took my eye off this shrub for years and now in a bit of a straggly and weird shape.  I found a photo of it from about 6 years ago ... and another more recent one and you'll see what I mean.

You'll see there's green foliage kinda "underneath" all the weird straggly/woody stuff on the outside ... and a load of yellow foliage on the other side of the fence in the neighbors garden!

I'm a bit of a hesitant and inexperienced pruner, so any advice appreciated on when and how to restore the original shape (or thereabouts)

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  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 1,360
    edited October 2018
    Take off any brown/yellow leaves that are wilted or crispy dry.  You can do that straight away. You could also take off some of those side branches that have had the ends cut off and have no leaves on them, back to a main trunk/branch.  A low-nitrogen feed (eg bone meal) and/or a mulch of compost (compost-bin stuff not potting compost) won't hurt but I don't think it's essential.

    Then in Spring I would cut back the thick old stems down to where there's a green shoot or cluster of new small leaves or down to the ground if there's no green low down, and give it a good feed and water (you can do just a few branches first if you like, then the rest later in the summer or even the following year). 

    I take out maybe 4 or 5 old branches from mine every year to keep it nice and bushy, timing late spring to late summer depending on when I notice it's getting too big (pics in this thread, including one of the inside showing old pruning cuts and regrowth)



  • jamesharcourtjamesharcourt West SussexPosts: 323
    Ok thanks @JennyJ, this is really useful ... sounds like you've got a plant which is even older than ours but have pruned it properly and it looks nice and bushy ...

    Do you think I should limit how much I prune back to 1/3rd of the tree maximum (as per fruit trees), or does it not matter so much?

    Also - when you say Spring, is it better to do that early on in Spring?  If I did it before Winter would it cause problems?
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 1,360
    My Fatsia was in the garden when we bought the house in 1988 and it was mature then, so I'd say it's at least 35.  It's pretty tough but a hard winter can damage the top/outer leaves, ie the youngest and most exposed ones.  Mine is against an east-facing wall so it might be early-morning sun on frosted leaves that does the damage, rather than cold alone (that's just my theory though).  Pruning encourages new growth, so I'd leave it until you're confident that the hard frosts are over, which will depend on where you live, then prune hard and feed. 
    I've only ever cut the whole lot down once, in summer, when we needed to have a new soil pipe put in (the Fatsia is right in front of it) and it grew back fine, but I was a newby gardener then or I might not have dared!
    If you live somewhere very mild and you really can't stand to see it as it is over the winter, you could take a chance and prune now, but here (South Yorkshire) I wouldn't.
  • jamesharcourtjamesharcourt West SussexPosts: 323
    Ok, I might not take the risk.  I'm in Sussex and it has been a scorching summer and I'm kinda worried about a really bad winter to even that up!

    When making the cuts in Spring to reduce size, should these be cutting into the green stuff or the wood stuff just above the green stuff? 

    And does it matter if there are leaves on the stuff being cut down, will there be an issue with not having enough foliage to photosynthesize?    I'm thinking of cutting down the branches that are sending leaves into my neighbor's garden ...

  • IamweedyIamweedy Cheshire East. Posts: 1,342
    My Fatsia Japonica is really tough, and beautiful. It is now just showing its Candle like Flowers. I think it would take some doing to kill it. I have chopped mine back several times.



    'You must have some bread with it me duck!'

  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 24,528
    edited October 2018
    They're actually very tough, James. The ideal spot for them is in a bit of shade, or even a lot of shade, and if you can protect them a bit from severe frosts, that makes it easier for them. Having said that, they'll cope with even quite prolonged frosts and low temps, and come back. We have periods where it can be below minus five for several days, and on several occasions, and although they droop, they come back no problem. Snow is also not an issue - just knock it off as it can cause younger stems to snap. An inch or two isn't an issue though, only heavier amounts. 
     
    New growth will appear once weather improves, and you can then remove anything dead or yellowing. They'll produce new green growth lower down and in various other parts.  :)
    I'm just looking at your initial pix though, and wondering if it's a bit dry where you have it. They do best in damp ground, though not waterlogged. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....


  • jamesharcourtjamesharcourt West SussexPosts: 323
    You're right @Fairygirl it is the driest part of the garden there, but it's so mature and right next to a tree that moving it would be impossible.  I can keep it moist no problem but I can't provide much more shade without moving or putting something up next to it (which I can't).  It did grow quite happily there when it was younger but I think the lower down parts get more shaded so if I make it smaller hopefully I can achieve that.

    Do you think reducing the overall height now is risky?  Or better to do that shaping in spring?
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 1,360
    James, yes you can cut of branches with leaves on.  If you cut just above a green shoot/tuft of small leaves that shoot/leaves should grow, but cutting down lower will encourage new shoots from lower down so you can cut as hard as you like.

    Fairygirl is right that they're supposed to prefer damp ground, but mine is in dry sandy soil near the house wall, so they're not very fussy!  Now that it's autumn you should be getting rain over the next several months anyway.
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 24,528
    You can prune the long branches off in spring and it should regenerate.  :)
    Yes - the winter rain will help it. It's probably struggled a bit with the summer weather this year, especially as you have quite a lot of other planting nearby, as well as the grass,  so a lot  of competition for moisture.  We had a long hot dry spell [for us] but my fatsia was unaffected as it's in a shady, dampish spot. Plants will shed foliage more when under stress  [and evergreens will always shed some in the course of a year] so in a normal year, that may not happen to such an extreme :)
    You could also take a different approach with it re the pruning, and keep the main  trunks, and have a canopy of green at the top instead. If you want to keep it bushy, just prune back in spring. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....


  • IamweedyIamweedy Cheshire East. Posts: 1,342
    *Jamesharcourt.* your Fatsia Japonica is really far too close to the fence to look it's best.  I don't know if you could grow a cutting or such to  replace it.

    When I bought my first Mahonia was planted way to close to the fence as it "was only little" when I bought it. I have just about worked out now that they do need a good space to flourish. (You might have inherited yours. )
    I am tempted to see if one would grow from a cutting.





    'You must have some bread with it me duck!'

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