Forum home Plants

Renovating mature shrubs

LucidLucid Posts: 385
edited January 2021 in Plants
Hi everyone, work has started on removing leylandii hedging from our garden. With the help of some forum members on a previous thread I identified a few mature shrubs to keep. However, with the removal of other overgrown shrubs around them we can see that although they appear healthy on top, they are actually very woody for a large part of the shrub. I am hoping they can perhaps all take some severe renovating but thought I'd check in here first. The shrubs are a camellia, an Elaeagnus Ebbingei and a Hypericum 'Hidcote'. I've got photos of the camellia to show below, but the others are similar in that they look healthy on the top and on one side, but are very woody at the back and the base.

Ideally we'd like the shrubs to have a healthy amount of green low down, but not sure if this is achievable in the state they're in. Can you hard prune even when there's no low down leaf buds etc? The shrubs all look like they're leaning forwards so would need some kind of major renovation to get the shape back.

Thanks for any help and advice, Lucid :)


  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    Woody base and around the back are normal features, especially for evergreen shrubs. You may also notice this happening when shrubs merge into one another, and areas where no sun gets onto them, the leaves fail to form and some branches will just grow/reach for the sunlight creating lop-sided shapes.

    To achieve more leaves lower down will require you to prune the shrubs at least yearly to rejuvenate branches to form further down. The shrubs you have mentioned should all respond well to this. The Camellia looks in good health. If you prune now, you will lose the flowers due in the next few months. 
  • steephillsteephill Posts: 2,810
    I have cut back camellias and had them come back well. The usual, sensible, advice is to do it over time - take out a third of mature wood each year until you have rejuvinated the whole plant.
  • I agree with the previous posts. For renewal pruning, take out no more than 1/3 of the old growth back to the base each year after flowering. Camellias come back well from this, so do the other two you mention.
  • LucidLucid Posts: 385
    Thanks for your replies @Borderline, @steephill and @Cambridgerose12. That's brilliant that we can renovate them. I was keen to keep some mature shrubs that looked healthy as we're getting rid of all of the conifers. Just one thing to check then is when removing the 1/3 of old growth (the woody stems) do I just leave everything green as it is, or should you prune some of that back at the same time?

    Lucid :)
  • You can trim the remaining 2/3rds a little, but they need those leaves to feed the new growth which will be triggered when the woodiest 1/3rd are cut down low, so don't remove much.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,818
    Agree, remove one third of the stems each year in late autumn or winter while the plants are dormant taking them down to the base and then give the shrubs a good feed of slow release fertiliser for flowering plants and a generous mulch of well rotted garden compost or manure while the soil is damp but not frozen.   This will help retain moisture in dryer months.  

    In 3 years' time the shrubs will be completely renewed and you can carry on with that system to maintain vigour and also stop them getting too big.  Make sure the camellia is well watered in any dry spells in July, August, September as this is when it is forming the flower buds for the next spring display and lack of moisture will make it abort those buds.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • LucidLucid Posts: 385
    Thanks @BobTheGardener and will do. Will be great to see them gradually progress back to full shrubs again.

    Lucid :)
  • Have no fear. It's surprising how quickly most shrubs recover. They try to redress the previously equal ratio between root and stem systems.☺️
  • Loraine3Loraine3 Posts: 573
    When I moved to my present garden there was a huge laurel hedge which encroached a good 9 to 10 feet into the garden. I had some help to remove it and found 2 Camellias and a lovely old fashioned scented rose buried in the laurel.
Sign In or Register to comment.