blueberrybundtcake

What to do with these bushes

We have four mountain laurels across the east side of our house, and they used to all look great and bloom well and all that jazz. Now, not so much.

Here they are:



(I can take another picture of the whole stretch later, but the sun was interfering if I backed up anymore.)


From left to right,

The first one is doing okay; it's about the right size and it does flower, albeit not as well this year as it did 10 years ago ... it did fine last year, so it might have just been a frost issue this year.

The second one is too big, looks bleak, and didn't flower.

The third one (which is actually a replacement for one killed by roofers) got broken (again, but by painters) and is coming back. It does have a tall scraggle, though.

The fourth one is pretty healthy and flowers, and the height works on that end, since there's no window.

Ground plants are mostly bulbs, columbine, and violets. That's a hydrangea on the far right end.



We're trying to decide which of these should stay (with pruning) and which should go, and how to replace what goes.

We we're thinking #4 could just get pruned, and #3 could potentially lose its tall piece but keep the nice short growth.

We're thinking #2 needs to go, and we're unsure about whether #1 would look and do better without #2.


We were considering maybe blueberry bushes could work here, but we're not sure if it would be odd to mix mountain laurels and blueberries aesthetically. We're open to any suggestions. We have notoriously bad luck with rhododendrons, though azaleas have done well, and we have some further right going around the corner:

That's a double flowering white azalea to the right of the tomato, and there's an abused pink one between the tomato and birdbath (contractor damage) ... and yes, the yew is a whole different issue. There are also two more pink azaleas on the far wall, flanking a faucet.


What would you all do with this side bed?


Thanks,

BlueberryBundtcake

Comments (57)

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5
    11 months ago

    4th of july for your area .. or just some random date provided on the world wide web???


    one should always try to figure out where the info comes from when a general calendar date is the answer .. e.g. many places suggest planting in winter ... yeah right.. my ground is frozen solid to 2 feet ... so perhaps the suggestion isnt as general as offered ...


    in this case ... even my zone colder.. just do it.. there is plenty of season left for new growth to mature and harden off before its starts getting real cold ... generally ... you dont want to go in frost/freeze.. with soft new growth .. that will be killed by cold.. before it has a chance to harden off ...


    to insure such.. i would not go fert'g them... to force growth ... perhaps because by the time the fert gets active.. it may be approaching too late ... besides.. mature old shrubs simply dont need fert.. ever ...


    just do it.. and make yourself happy.. and quit worrying about it .. at worst.. you butcher them.. and end up getting rid of them.. and then you can plant some future nightmare ... lol ... but i doubt all that ...


    ken

    BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA thanked ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    11 months ago

    I'd favor the hard pruning methodology and take them back to somewhere between 8 to I6" from the ground.

    "mature old shrubs simply dont need fert.. ever ..."

    Not at all a valid conclusion :-) There are no absolutes in gardening and plants often benefit by fertilization regardless of how long they have been established. And as previously noted, the foliage color IS pale and might be adversely affected by the nearness of the concrete foundation so the plants could very well benefit from fertilization with something intended for acid lovers.

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  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    11 months ago

    I think it goes with the corn being knee high by the Fourth of July. Probably read or heard it from a local nursery or arboretum, maybe the tree company. The fourth is usually about a week or two after they flower, so it made as much sense as anything else. New growth is about two inches long, so just starting their growth spurts.


    You've got a great point ... prune it, and if we still arent happy with them they can be replaced in the fall or next year.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    11 months ago

    8"-16" is a stump ... the low portion of the third bush is three years of growth after the breakage. If I'm going to cut it that short, it seems more practical to just take the bush(es) out and buy a new three foot tall bush.


    I don't think they care about the proximity to the foundation for pH. They've been there over thirty years and looked great most of them.

  • liquidfeet Z6 Boston
    11 months ago
    last modified: 11 months ago

    No, Hard pruning is better than planting a new shrub. These shrubs are homesteaded in place. There will be no transplant stress if you do the hard pruning now and wait. New shrubs are always a risk. And it's July.

    Why do homeowners have such a hard time pruning? Just do it. Don;t worry about dormant buds, about blooms lost, about hurting the plant, about how awful the bare plant will look for a while.

    Just prune. Then wait, wait, wait. Plants move at a slower rate than we bipeds. Don't pull them out of the ground and destroy them this fall if you don't see enormous growth between now and October.. Wait until mid June next season, or later, so you can see for yourself how these babies do after a hard prune. Once you've done this once you'll be ready to do it with other shrubs, and you'll be that much more knowledgeable at gardening. These laurels will be fine if you just give them the discipline they have been waiting for..

  • liquidfeet Z6 Boston
    11 months ago
    last modified: 11 months ago

    Here's what a rhododendron looked like after I gave it a hard prune two falls ago. I took off all the branches with leaves. I wish I'd cut it back farther. If I had, it would be more dense today.

    Note that rhododendrons and mountain laurels are close cousins. They behave much the same to hard pruning.

    Here's the debris pile.



    Here's what it looks like today. It's fine and will fill out, but it would be more full, without that hole in the middle, and shorter, had I done the emotionally difficult thing of cutting it even shorter. This is two and a half season's worth of growth. I'm so glad I did this.


  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    11 months ago

    I don't mind being aggressive with something like a forsythia, quince, or a yew ... you can basically chop those to the ground and have a bush again in a year or two. The yew gets hacked drastically with threats of hacking to the ground on a regular basis (as I said, whole different issue there); and we have forsythia that get large chunks taken out no problem. I should have taken pictures of the quince's branch heaps ...

    With these mountain laurel, this is four or five years of regrowth:

    Black line is barely two feet. Tuft up to the red line is almost three feet. There's a reason these were installed as three foot tall bushes ... (the one on the far left has only grown about a foot and half in thirty years).

    I could prune the two on the left back to about three feet tall, but is that actually going to make them look good in a few years, or might something like an azalea or a blueberry bush look better? Is this a losing battle?

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago

    Put fertilizer,compost, and worms.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Plenty of worms there, unless the birds or toads ate them all ... we can add compost. What fertilizer do you recommend, when, and how much/often? We don't generally fertilize anything outside, so are unfamiliar with doing so. Soil acidity is generally appropriate for acid lovers (blueberries, azaleas, etc.), so presumably would be suitable for the mountain laurels, too.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago

    Have you tried using blood meal? Or Bone Meal?


    "Blood meal is a nitrogen amendment that you can add to your garden. Adding blood meal to garden soil will help raise the level of nitrogen and will help plants to grow more lush and green. ...Blood meal is also used as a deterrent for some animals, such as moles, squirrels and deer"


    Blood meal is a good idea.


    "Why Use Bone Meal For Plants? Bone meal acts as a great fertiliser for a few key reasons. The first is that it's a great source of phosphorus, which is an essential nutrient for plants to help them flower and new plants to produce strong roots, so is good for root vegetables such as onions, garlic, carrot and parsnip."


    Nitrogen is a very good fertilizer.

    I don't like it but maybe Miracle Gro? Thing is Miracle Gro has chemicals instead of miracles.


  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago

    Okay................

    Miracle Gro has "Fake Chemicals".

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 months ago
    last modified: 7 months ago

    No......they are just as real as any other chemicals :-) They just tend to be developed in a lab, typically as a byproduct of the petrochemical industry.

    I think the point Mars is trying to make is that fertilizers can be derived from synthesized (in a lab) chemicals or from naturally occurring materials (the blood, bone or cottonseed meal). The plants do not really care about the source - only that they receive what they require. Manufactured or synthesized ferts are usually very fast acting, offering nutrient availability immediately. Natural or organic ferts require an additional process involving soil organisms to convert then into a usable form, so they tend to be slow acting or deliver their nutrients over an extended period. For this reason - stimulating and feeding soil biology - they are often favored for improving or 'feeding' the soil, which in turn will feed the plants. Mulching with compost, shredded leaves or other natural material will do much the same.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago

    You practically said my words.😄

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    I think there's a bag of holly tone in the closet ... do they expire (lose efficacy)? I think it's been sitting there for like 7-10 years.


    Blood/bone meal ... any concern with animals being attracted to it? We have pretty much everything.

    I've never heard of cottonseed meal ... I'll have to look into it.


    Leaves are not in short supply; we could mulch some of them. The shrubs generally keep the leaves that end up there until spring and have bark mulch in their bed. Compost and leaf mulch are both readily available, though.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    We also have ample pine needles if they'd make good mulch there.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago

    Pine Needles can attrack snakes and spiders. And mulch looks better. @BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA Bone/Blood meal actually that repels moles and some other garden pest.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 months ago
    last modified: 7 months ago

    Maybe we should debunk a few myths :-)

    First, there is no single product that is defined as "mulch" - mulch is any non-living product applied to the top of the soil surrounding plants to help suppress weeds, moderate soil temps and help to preserve soil moisture. So bark, wood chips, pine straw, shredded leaves, grass clippings, compost, rocks or gravel, shredded tires, even old scraps of carpeting are ALL valid mulches. Aesthetics may factor into the equation but that should not be the overriding concern.

    Second, pine straw is no more likely to attract snakes and spiders than any other kind of mulch product. I might be more concerned about wood based mulches attracting termites. btw, spiders are extremely beneficial to a garden....you really do not want to discourage them.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago

    gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9) what about Brown Recluses?

    They like hiding in leaves and pine straws.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 months ago

    And they also hide under debris, wood piles, rocks and any wood based mulches as well.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago

    True.........

    Good thing I have not found any.

    What about you?

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    I wasn't actually worried about voles ... I was more worried about foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, rats (haven't seen any of those, but one of the neighboring towns had an issue).

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 months ago

    They are not present in my area. In fact they have a rather limited native range and I doubt BlueberryBundtcake needs to worry about them in MA either.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago
    last modified: 7 months ago

    I don't have a rat problem over here. Plant onions around the bushes so that the rats can go away. Or soak cotton balls in the strongest smelling peppermint oil you can find. And for coyotes, take all stinky smelling stuff out of your garden. For raccoons:


    "One homemade “taste” raccoon repellent recipe uses 1 bottle hot pepper sauce or 1 bottle cayenne pepper powder and mixes it with a gallon of water and a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid. The soap helps the liquid to adhere to what you're spraying, and should be sprayed on the entire area that you would like to protect"


    And that recipe also works well with skunks.

    For foxes

    1.Using noise-making devices, such as transistor radios or motion-sensitive alarms.

    2.Installing a motion-activated sprinkler.

    3.Using a loud voice or banging on a pot or pan.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 months ago

    Although they can eat fruits and berries in a push, coyotes prefer meat. The only reason they would be attracted to your garden is if you used a lot of unprocessed food scraps in your compost - these attract rodents and the rodents attract coyotes. And since coyotes are prey animals, they will also be attracted to anything that smells like prey.....and that includes both bone and blood meal.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago
    last modified: 7 months ago

    Wow! I did not know that bone meal and blood meal and compost attracked coyotes. Here where I live I have not seen coyotes. The problem overhere is Deer and Wild Hogs.

  • floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK
    7 months ago

    I see we have the old mole/vole confusion arising again. They’re not the same thing. And I’d be interested in reading the scientific evidence that blood and bone meal deters moles. It has some effect on voles but only at high concentrations. Onions will have no effect on rats. And anyway, rats would have no interest in Kalmia. And going further back up the thread, adding worms to a garden bed is futile. They’ll come of their own accord if there’s food there for them. If you add them and there’s insufficient food they'll leave. I don’t know what you’re reading Mars but it sounds like the bumper book of horticultural fairy tales.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 months ago

    Coyotes live in the green belt that borders my property. I rarely see them although I hear them often.......they can wake me up at night!! They never bother my garden at all and they do keep the squirrel population down to a manageable level. And if you have a cat, it better be an indoor-only cat if you don't want it to become a coyote dinner!

    Deer cause far more damage to my garden than anything else....except maybe slugs and snails.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    We hear the coyotes and see them ... I think some live/run on the aqueduct and more on the nature preserve. The fox lives down by the pond or in the nearby woods. It's bad enough when there's a coywolf standing in the backyard ... I don't need anything enticing them to come up by the house. No cats, and dogs only go out with us. We're pretty sure it's a skunk that was rooting in the garden behind the deck, based on skat. It's definitely around, based on smell.

  • Mars SC Zone 8b Mars
    7 months ago
    last modified: 7 months ago

    Coywolves are pretty. Here in SC there are coyotes and wolves. But i've never seen one. I go camping here a lot and I sometimes hear them. Slugs and snails also do a lot of damage to my garden. They even bother my catson my cow peas.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    7 months ago

    Pretty, yes ... scary, also yes. We here them all the time, but we've seen a coyote in the backyard and a pair that we think was a coywolf and possibly a full Wolf for the second one.

    We don't have much of a slug problem, *knock on wood*, but the deer will eat pretty much everything and trample the rest ... and the turkeys join in the trampling. At least the deer and turkeys run away when you yell and chase them, though they've probably already munched the favorite plants. Mama deer and her twins really love to eat our hostas and daylilies. The turkeys tend to head for the neighbor's yard if they hear us come out now ... though they're also afraid of the fox, we learned ... they flew into a tree when we were in the front and the fox was in the back.

    The chipmunks are trying to get the award for most damaging for veggies. They climb the pots, jump from trellis to trellis, you name it. Oh, and they don't care about mint ... They run through it constantly, I think one of their holes might be practically in the clump.

    The squirrels tend to stick to the hickory nuts and acorns ... probably because they don't want to have to cross the yard and risk the hawks (or falcons, though we've only seen the peregrines go after birds, where as the hawks definitely help control the squirrels). As I said, we have pretty much everything.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    4 days ago

    Well, the mountain laurels seem to have redeemed themselves this year, so there may be hope for them without drastic measures:



  • Home Owner
    4 days ago

    They are so pretty up against your dark gray house!

  • Marie Tulin
    3 days ago

    I'm glad they bloomed and that one is lovely But I'm going to be a downer: the nekkid legs are not attractive and you'd be half way to 4 times the blossoms from bottom to top if you'd renewal pruned. . I hope you find the courage to try it.

    But I've been inspired. I'm going to go prune my dead looking but quite alive azalea Mary Fleming down to the ground. I've been picking at it and picking at with my pruners and it just detracts from the garden. How about next mid spring I'll show you mine if you show me yours?

    Marie



  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    3 days ago

    The two on the left got pretty heabily deer pruned this winter. They could use some pruning, too, particularly the second one in, but much of the missing foliage is a deer problem (the little blue ties are cloth soaked in stinky stuff to deter them). The one on the right was less munched for whatever reason - maybe location, maybe just a less tasty variety (they're all slightly different) - and it also gets a bit less wind load (less desiccation) and a bit more water due to its location (a bit more sheltered and close to downspout).


    The left pair will get their prunings this year, like the right one got last year ...

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5
    3 days ago

    The left pair will get their prunings this year, like the right one got last year


    ==>> rejuvenation pruning is done within 3 to 6 inches of the ground.. for a full renovation of the shrub over 3 years ...


    you gave your a hair cut.. so it rejuvenated at height .. but left all those ugly legs ...


    either plant something in front of the legs to hide them.. or start a full rejuvenation


    ken


    watch a couple of these?


    https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ffab&q=rejuvenation+pruning+of+flowring+shrubs&iax=videos&ia=videos

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    2 days ago
    last modified: 2 days ago

    To be clear, the two on the left got pretty much no pruning, by us, last year. We cut off anything dead or damaged, of course, but no serious pruning got done. The lower foliage was removed by the deer, so it's just missing. The right two got pruned. (The short one got its awkward tall piece removed, and the tall one got reined in. Its lower foliage was also victimized by the deer, but not as badly as the two on the left. (The bare twigs at the bottom are stripped, not dead - unless the deer killed them in stripping their leaves.))

    Funny you should mention something in front of them ... there used to be heather there, but it died and got removed. There's still daffodils (done now) and columbine, but yes, it does leave the trunks relatively exposed most of the time. Any suggestions for what would do well in front of them? East side of the house, full sun to the left with a bit less moving towards the right in the picture (loses sun earlier), lots of hungry bunnies.

  • Marie Tulin
    2 days ago

    I'll put in a plug for plantsydd, a deer and rabbit deterrent. I found it extraordinarily effective against our voracious rabbit population. The testimonials for a deer deterrent are glowing. I have no reason to disbelieve them given our rabbit "success."You'd need to spray your shrubs; having tried to mix up a batch on my own, I'd definitely recommend buying the ready mix.

    It may be difficult to find at retail but mail ordering is quick. Not cheap but certainly less than the actual cost of lost plants and the personal disappointment and outrage at the remaining hydrangea stubs after the rabbits ate them in the winter.

    BTW it's dried blood. "Organic" if you care. It smells when you apply it but that

    dissipates within a day.


  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    2 days ago

    Re: dried blood, see above discussion about coyotes, foxes, et cetera. Have you found plantskydd attracts predators?

    Honestly, I'm not sure our deer can be detered entirely ... I mean, they ate the bottom of the eastern red cedar, too. The little blue strips are soaked in a mixture of hot sauce and garlic or onion powder with a touch of dish soap, similar to what we spray on hostas and such (though the stupid things still munch them now). We've also recently tried sprinkling Irish Spring soap bits around, which is having some effect, but who knows how long that'll last. They do still run when we run out yelling at them, at least. Getting the rabbits to pick another spot would be a nice bonus, since it would get their poo away from where the dogs go out (so there would be less scolding them not to eat said poo ...).

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    yesterday

    Here's a closer look at the deer damage to show what I mean by stripping:

    Second from the left ... these branches' leaves were eaten:

    Far left ... even some of the new growth ends with nothing, since it was chewed off:

    Second from the right ... this is a live branch that was kept during last year's pruning and stripped bare by the deer:


    Gnawing on the yew:

    There's also a whole section of the yew with no new growth because it was all eaten, and I assure you this yew has no trouble creating new growth.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    yesterday

    Here's a better look at the deer damage:

    Far left:

    Note the little stubs with ratty ends where the deer chewed off the leaves and buds.


    Second from the left:

    Large section totally stripped of its leaves:


    Second from the right:

    This branch was kept during pruning last year ... now it's totally bare thanks to the deer.


    Here's some gnawing on the yew, too:

    The yew also has large sections with no new growth because the deer ate it all. (I assure you that this yew has no trouble creating new growth.)

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    yesterday

    On a happier note, here's more flowers:

    Left (slightly past prime):

    Second from left with a cute little bumblebee:


    Right (lastest blooming, so still in prime):

    (Second from right doesn't bloom, yet.)

  • deanna in ME Barely zone 6a, more like 5b
    yesterday

    First, let me saw how delighted I was to see Marie use the word "nekkid." We potty-trained the last youngling by promising him he could sleep "butt-nekkid" as long as he used the potty. Who knew it could be that easy? Usually nekkid-ness is positive, but I can see the detraction when mountain laurels are the subject.

    The mountain laurels are indeed beautiful this year (the one on the right, for sure). Deer are not talented pruners, so I hope they can leave the ones on the left alone. Deer heavily pruned an unwanted shrub for me. They pruned it so deeply that I was finally able to see the trunks to rip them out. I hope they can find a similar target in your yard and leave the laurels alone.

  • bengz6westmd
    yesterday
    last modified: yesterday

    The mountain laurels are up against the concrete base of the house, and moisture leaches calcium carbonate from the concrete and raises the soil pH there -- not at all good for mountain laurels.

  • Marie Tulin
    yesterday

    We never had deer before last winter but they finally found us. i have my own proof of their voracious appetites. i promise myself that I’ll spray with plantskydd and will try to remember to report back

    The problem with leaving the buffet open for all season dining is that deer will keep returning . Who wouldnt keep coming back for free meals.?

    Thats why im suggesting a known effective deterrant. in the winter when their food sources are scarce itish spring soap simply isnt going to work.

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    yesterday

    They leave the bushes alone spring through fall ... and eat the hosta and daylilies, hotsauced or not. Any experience with predators and the plantskydd?


    bengz6westmd, they and the azaleas have been there since the '80s, I don't think there's an issue with pH. I havent checked it, but our soil is naturally acidic (blueberries love it, lilacs not so much), so even if there is leaching, it'd draw it to neutral rather than sweet. I have hollytone or something like it in a closet somewhere if its needed. (I think it was purchased for the blueberries and never needed.)

  • Marie Tulin
    yesterday

    Why worry about predators? Hawks prey on voles, mice & rabbits. Go for guys! Feral and outdoor cats prey on birds.....I'd invite a hawk to feast!

    Fox and owls prey on voles, mice, and rats. Who objects to that?

    I'm not worried about vermin being attracted to granules. Vermin find better food in poorly constructed compost piles and debris piles in gardens.


    I'll just reiterate the stuff works. And as garden products go it is pretty benign. Would I stake my reputation on that? No I would not. Technology and advanced methods of measuring effects- both harmful and good- has led to unwelcome information about Roundup and slug baits.



  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    22 hours ago

    I have no problem with the hawks, peregrines, owls, and eagle ... they're already here and only inconvenient if they decide to sit on my car when I'm trying to bring in the groceries (true story - it was a falcon, lol).

    I'd rather not have the fox and coyotes/coywolves venturing forward from the backyard. I haven't seen the bobcat that lives down the road, and I'd like to keep it that way. I know they're around, and they live around here, and that's fine ... I just want to make sure I wouldn't be enticing them closer to our house.

  • Marie Tulin
    19 hours ago

    Am i out of my mind to think id love to see a red fox in my garden?

  • BlueberryBundtcake - 6a/MA
    Original Author
    18 hours ago

    The fox either lives by the neighbor's pond, in the back hedge, or in the woods in the corner of our yard. I think it's a grey fox, but I'm not an expert at distinguishing between grey foxes and red foxes on the move. It's neat seeing it back there, but I don't really need it coming up to the side of the house.