Exterior & Garden The Victorian House

All Tree, All Shade

Clearly I do not know how to prune roses properly because ours, especially the climbing ones, are looking leggy. I’ve been reading up about how to correct them, and it sounds like late winter is the time to do any major reshaping. They are blooming at least, but not in the pretty, profuse way they were when we first moved in.

Climbing Roses

The trellis that they’re growing on fell over a little while back. We tried to right it as much as possible, but it’s not easy with all of the thorns! It’s up, mostly, and tied to the porch for more support.

In other garden news, the boxwoods got a big trimming. Please, please, please fill in, hedges! I’ve read up a lot about them being able to bounce back, even after drastic pruning, but I could never find any information on how long it takes and I do know that in general, they’re slow-growing. Also, the right side is much taller than the left but I’m afraid to trim off the top. I figure I’ll wait to see how they fare after this first attempt at cutting them back.

Pruned Boxwoods

(You can see the leggy climbing roses in the background, along the left side of our porch. And our stroller really complements the color scheme, does it not?)

We’re giving a little attention to the lawn too. There’s a beautiful mature ash tree out front, but it throws more shade than the ladies on Drag Race. (That was contrived and cheesy and for that, I’m sorry. Not sorry enough to delete though.)

Ash Tree

Ash Tree

We got a quote for new sod, which was something like $600, and there’s no guarantee it would take. We could do the labor part ourselves to bring the cost down, but again there’s no guarantee it would actually grow, so we passed on that and overseeded the lawn with shade-tolerant fescue.

Sparse Lawn

It has been about two weeks and we’ve watered every day that the rain didn’t do it for us. I don’t think it’s doing much, but those little spindly blades may turn into something if we’re patient, right? That’s the hope, anyway.

New Blades of Grass

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  • MB
    June 3, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    In my experience, next year, your boxwoods will look decent, but year 2 is when that new growth will look really amazing. Right about the time you want to chop them back again, ugh. That’s why I’m typically more a fan of my mom’s harsher method of cutting way, way back (like 2/3) and just waiting until year 3 for things to look normal again. It’s mildly heart attack causing, but has been successful every time.

    Also, seeding grass in shade. Plan on just committing to that in the Spring and again in the Fall for a couple years. I think it takes a few rounds to really have it all come together. No idea if that’s what the package or experts would ever tell you, but it’s like the space has half lives. First time, half is successful, 6 months later, a bit more, and you just keep decreasing the exposed dirt and increasing the seeds that managed to survive.


    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 8:58 am

      This is my first time pruning back large boxwoods, so I was afraid to go too far with them. The sheared sides look awful! Is it really going to take that long? Ugh.

      • Pallie
        September 25, 2015 at 4:19 am

        When pruning shrubs of almost any kind, one of the first things to do is trim out any shoots or branches that are no longer actually growing or that only have growth on the tip ends. If the only growth is at tip ends, cut back until only 4-6″ remain. Watch these for new growth and trim out any that are to close together. The best time for major pruning of most shrubs is in winter when they are not actually growing. This causes them to sprout lots of new growth in the spring when the sap starts flowing again. For your climbing roses, they can actually be cut back at any time of the year. Best bet though is to trim out dead or severely unproductive branches first. Make sure all cuts a just above a node on the branch, which will sometimes cause even branches that seem dead to sprout new growth at that node. On the branches that are good, but getting too spindly or taller than you want, you can trim these back but never more than 1/3 of the branch length.

  • Kate
    June 3, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    My understanding (this is coming from someone without a yard, so all the grains of salt) that seeding “takes” better if you just keep seeding it. So every time you mow, or if it’s too sparse to mow, every week or so, go out and throw a few more handfuls of seed around. It might not take this year, but next year your lawn will be a lot lusher.

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 8:58 am

      We’ve done a bit of overseeding before, at the old house. Summer is a bad time to do it, because the seeds dry out, but yeah, I think a little in the spring and again in the fall is the way to go.

  • Libby
    June 3, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I don’t have advice about the boxwood or the grass, but you may want to do some preventative treatment for your ash tree to prevent damage by the emerald ash borer.

  • Kathryn
    June 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    It looks like your roses have a fair number of buds, so they may just be blooming later. I know mine are, it’s been a gray spring.

  • mudslide cookie
    June 3, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    I actually cut down my boxwoods too and they’re looking a little bit like trees from the sierra but, they were getting so tall…so I’m hoping the bottom fills out enough where it will be okay to cut down the top part…this prolly makes absolutely no sense…those bushes are the first thing I look at when I go outside…Grow! Grow! Good luck on yours:)

  • Liz
    June 3, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    I was going to mention shade fescue but you beat me to it. :) Are you using the Black Beauty variety? I know that one is shade tolerant.

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 9:08 am

      I don’t remember the name — it’s just a mix of shade-tolerant fescues, I think.

  • Bethann
    June 3, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    I cut my boxwoods back severely. I don’t think you can kill them. I think I might want mine dead! Until we make a decision to add a wide front porch (finally really killing off the boxwoods) I will have to contend with them. Also, I’m not a big fan of the holly tree. Foundation evergreens are nice the first few years of a house, but then they can really over take the front beds.

    Also, I have a sorely neglected climbing rose bush that I thought I killed (see a pattern) but it’s made an astonishing comeback this Spring!

    Good luck!!

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Ha! Maybe they’re hardier than I think then.

  • Amy
    June 3, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    I feel your pain as far as your lawn is concerned. We are putting our house on the market this summer so trying to add some curb appeal and our (tiny) yard has three gigantic, dead/dying pine trees. Pine trees are the devil!!! Needles everywhere. Kills all the grass. Ugh. I’m going to be posting about our curb appeal additions soon.

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 9:10 am

      They make the soil more acidic, right? I imagine that, combined with the shade, is not a good thing for grass. I hope you can improve things a bit before selling!

  • Alison
    June 3, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    The grass will come! I had bare dirt less than 2 years ago and now I have a lawn. I’m impatient with seed and always think it’s not going to grow but it always does! Have hope!

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 9:11 am

      My mom started her lawn over from scratch with seed a couple of years ago, and it looks great now! She gets a lot of sun in her yard though.

  • Courtney M
    June 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Can I ask where that giant sphere is from? I’ve been looking for one forever!

  • Annamarie
    June 4, 2015 at 3:02 am

    Shade… Drag Race… I love it. I like a person who can appreicate a good queen.

  • Jannike
    June 4, 2015 at 8:49 am

    I overseeded my tiny back lawn in early May and threw down some fertilizer as well. It took a few weeks but now everything looks great. Those tiny blades of grass will grow, be patient. Can’t help you with the boxwoods, I pulled mine out.

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 9:21 am

      Aw, I love boxwoods! Why did you pull yours out? Just not a fan?

  • bella
    June 4, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Have you thought of embracing the shade and planting some moss? My childhood home had a side yard that was shaded and full of moss. Loved it.

  • ryan
    June 4, 2015 at 10:46 am

    as a general rule, you should do all your cutting back after the last frost but before things start budding out for spring. in austin, that’s usually late february/early march. i’ve always heard that you should prune roses back by 1/3ish around valentine’s day. not sure if that timing applies everywhere, but that’s the rule i use. and you should be good to hack the hell out of established perennials like boxwoods. they don’t grow all that well in my area (and i’m more into wild native gardens than manicured ones anyway), but i have to imagine they’re super hearty. gardening is a marathon, not a sprint, so i say hack the hell out of them and they’ll grow in fuller in the long run. that way you get rid of the hollow middle part a bit better. i employ this same philosophy on my silverado sage bushes in my yard. good luck!

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 10:57 am

      We did this a couple of weeks ago, but even that was probably on the late side. I was never a great gardener, but I learned a lot by planting and tending to things at the old house. I still have more to learn here though, obviously!

      • AlabamaHicks
        June 4, 2015 at 12:10 pm

        Have you found GardenWeb yet? Has been the best crowdsource of gardening wisdom online for at least the last 10 years, maybe more.

        Another vote for heavy pruning here – roses, boxwood…will the village allow you to give that tree some air between the branches? It will be healthier if it gets some attention. Pruning is a big part of gardening, there’s even bible verses about unpruned grapevines yielding few, small, and bitter fruit.

  • Susie
    June 4, 2015 at 10:53 am

    I think you should rip out the bushes and start over. I’m sorry, but they look dead! Maybe some flowers or something else?

    • Making it Lovely
      June 4, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Well, they look pretty terrible right now, admittedly. They aren’t dead though — they were green and leafy before being cut back. I like boxwoods, so if I can keep them I would like to.

  • Laura
    June 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    We have roses lining the walkway and a climber going over the gate. Roses need air flow; they don’t like being next to houses. We don’t prune the climber, we just direct it on the trellis. We went to a seminar hosted by our city on growing roses. It was really helpful.

    We also have boxwood at every home in our HOA. The landscapers trim them once a year and ours has at times looked a bit bare on one side but filled in within a month. We also have automatic sprinklers that water a short time morning and evening. I’m guessing yours hasn’t been pruned regularly or pruned enough? They look too tall. That’s what yours looks like to me. We also had one die. Maybe it is time to replace yours. Baby boxwoods are so cute. :)

    We had a shady lawn in the backyard at our old house and finally replaced it with a brick patio.

    Have you thought of getting a consultation from a professional landscaper?

    Good luck!!

    We live near Seattle so maybe our milder climate makes a difference.

  • Alicia C.
    June 9, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Landscape Architect here (albeit a southern one. :)) the blades of the fescue will definitely thicken over time. But the difference between seed and sod is that sod will continue to spread and fill in, whereas seed only puts a grass plant where the seed fell. So you will have to continue to seed the bare spots. Fall is the best time, with spring being second. One thing to remember is when you do water, water deeply and infrequently to promote deeper roots that can do better through summer drought. The other thing to note, is that grass (seed or sod) just doesnt do well in the shade. There are special seeds and sods now that do better than others used to so if you get more seed just try to look for a shade mix. Good luck!

    • The Cameron Team
      June 15, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      I have two huge oak trees – one in front and one in back of my house. I’ve had to move on to other ground cover, because grass just isn’t working. Too shady, too sandy.

  • The Cameron Team
    June 15, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see how the boxwoods develop. I always assumed that they were half dead when they looked like that. I hope they aren’t. I’d like to see them recover.

  • A Look Back at 2015 | Making it Lovely
    December 22, 2015 at 11:01 am

    […] paint near the furnace vent, and having a few window sills and plinths replaced. I also wrote about our attempts at pruning, and growing grass in the shade of our “beautiful mature ash tree.” I loved that tree. Sadly, the village […]

  • A ‘New Horizon’ for the Front of the House – Making it Lovely
    May 26, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    […] job of removing dead wood from the interior of the hedges. (My arms bear many scratches today.) The boxwoods were butchered a bit last spring in an attempt to reduce their size, but they’ve filled in enough to move on to phase two, […]