Second Day of Working Outside, Be Bold!

Now that the first day of working outside in the spring is past, it is time to get a little bolder in the garden. Today I boldly trimmed back some Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’ (St. John's Wort) that I wrote about late last summer. The good qualities of these shrubs? Well-shaped without pruning, bluish-green foliage, peeling bark for winter interest, and bright yellow flowers in late June, early July when not many other shrubs are blooming.

The bad qualities of these shrubs, at least in my garden? The Japanese beetles love them and so did some kind of bag worm. I discovered the bag worms when it was nearly too late and though I hand picked off all that I could, the damage was done, and the die back was extensive. I’m not entirely sure if the die back was due to the bagworms, though they are Suspect Number One, or if this was just a natural die back from the shrubs being nearly 10 years old. I did have another one of these shrubs that had extensive die back in another location, without bag worms, so this may just be how these shrubs are. I dug that one out last spring.

So, with nothing to lose, I cut these shrubs back extensively today. We will see if this rejuvenates them or finishes them off. Either way, I could not leave them as they were, which was mostly dead.

Here are the before and after pictures.



I’ve never had to do such radical cutting back in any other place I’ve gardened because I’ve never stayed long enough to get to that point. My previous gardens, including this one, all started as bare lots, and I left the first two before I had to fix any mistakes, deal with overgrown shrubs or do any other extensive renovations to any flower beds.

But now that I’ve been here 10 years, with no plans to move any time, ever, I have to fix my mistakes (primarily planting invasive plants when I knew better), remove overgrown or dying out shrubs like these, and renovate some perennial flower beds.

Does anyone have any advice for renovating the perennial flower beds? My plan is to wait until most of the plants start to sprout later this spring, then dig out the whole bed, set the good plants aside in the shade, clean out the bed, mix in fresh top soil or compost (maybe mushroom compost from the local mulch store), and then replant just what I want in there. Sounds easy, huh!? Any other ideas for renovating flower beds?

By the way, the pictures of the crocus have nothing to do with anything I've written here today, just thought I'd show some pretty flowers blooming on a sunny Sunday in central Indiana.


  1. It would seem to me that you could deal with each plant per it's needs, Carol.
    Woody perennials could be cut back, the others you can divide-that would rejuvante them!
    You sure have been a busy bugger!
    Did you get those peas planted?

  2. Ten years is a long time in one place. I'd imagine the Hypericum will be better off starting from scratch.

    Sissy's right that you could just work on the plants in situ, but if you've got the stamina, Carol, digging everything up, amending it and replanting would give you a creative edge.

    Once you eliminate things that you no longer want from that border, the remaining plants may be recombined in new and different ways - arranged any way that you want. Over the last few years you've gained specific knowledge of and insight into that exact spot on this earth.

    And it will be fun!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. I'm with Annie. Taking everything out would be best, so you can really amend the soil and think outside the box when replanting. Treat yourself to something cutting edge, or rare, or at least, out of character. Mix it up a little!

    It will be a lot of work, though, and you want to have all your amendments ready at hand before you start removing plants. There was an article by Renee Beaulieu in Fine Gardening many years ago about renovating a perennial bed, and she described it exactly as you did.

  4. My only advice about rejuvenating the flower beds is to be sure to take before and after aictures. They would be nice to see.

  5. Just be prepared to have an overabundance of plants! If you are not planning a major redesign and if it is large bed, tackle one portion at a time so you can get the plants back in. This is from personal experience. I created a nursery area for the extra plants plus I gave lots away when we remodeled.

    And I have a question. You are only 100 miles south of me, so why aren't my crocus in bloom? The colored buds appeared yesterday.

  6. I happy to see you out in your garden, can wait to see the pictures later in the summer

  7. I agree with Annie but you can take it in stages if it's too much work to do in one go. Dividing up plants will rejuvenate them and they will grow into big sturdy plants quite quickly.
    Good luck!

    BTW I see that you boldly prune where no one has pruned before. :-)

  8. I've only renovated an entire border in one fell swoop once -- and it is a lot of work -- for that article I wrote for Fine Gardening that Kathy mentioned. Of course, my co-conspirator Chris Curless and I were were taking photos and actually shot a hilarious video at the same time, which made the process take a little longer. If enough of the bed is no longer working, I'd say go ahead and heave everything out, and do a thorough job adding compost, etc. It's tricky keeping the plants alive while they're out of the ground, though, so it might make more sense to work in blocks, depending on how big the border is. And I'd recommend starting as early in the season as possible -- then the plants don't miss a beat (as long as they don't dry out on the tarp).

  9. It was fun reading about your return to the garden - and I'm so envious. We're wintering in Arizona and I won't be home to my garden until mid April. I'm so anxious, as I started a new one last summer, and planted 250 bulbs before I left in October. Can't wait to see them - they should be out of the ground by the time we get home to the Pacific Northwest.

  10. All... thanks for the comments and validating my "complete overhaul" method.

    Sissy... I did not plant the peas, yet. I am targeting this weekend.

    Annie, are you suggesting my Hypericums are not going to come back out? I think you might be right. I really did hack them back pretty good.

    Kathy, thanks for the validation and I will have the amendments ready when I start the "big dig".

    Gary, I am indeed taking pictures along the way. The first ones have been posted.

    Earth Girl, my sister has already called after reading your comment to claim any extra plants. I guess a 100 miles makes a difference for a crocus. I have them blooming all over.

    Yolanda Elizabet, yes I have boldly pruned, perhaps to the point I'll just have to dig the rest out.

    Renee, thanks for the comment and I have started early, today as a matter of fact.

    Jackie, thanks for the visit and I hope your flowers are all blooming for you when you return.

  11. Oh no, Carol - I didn't think you killed them! I just meant that they get all twisty and nipping the tops makes them break into little 'brooms'. I think they'll come back with a more balanced form.


  12. Cutting back and pruning has always been our downfall. I have many pruning books but still don't know how to do it. So the yews, hydrangeas, burning bush, japanese quince, barberry etc. keep getting bigger and bigger. It seems such a travesty to cut nicely growing plants even if it's good for them.


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