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We moved in to a house with bushes trimmed neatly, but well over the sidewalk.

Do I trim this back all at once, or over a long period of time (months? Years?)?

We are in southeast Michigan, and will have several frosts before spring really hits. When do I prune these?

The branching inside appears to be fairly well filled in with thin branches. I'm guessing a hedge trimmer will be fine, cutting everything back. If not, how should I prune them?

several bushes overgrowing sidewalk

May help identify this bush:

close up of one section of needles for plant identification

Interior of bush showing branching and how far over the sidewalk it has grown:

interior of bush showing branching structure

  • Who pruned these guys? The shape is great! But I wouldn't bother pruning in between individual shrubs. My thought is they are softening the edges of the sidewalk beautifully. Do you need more room? I'd leave them right where they are, keep the sides angled so that the top is narrower than the bottom...just like they are. That will help keep them vigorous at the bottom. To move, prune back harder or replace would cost an awful lot. And would take at least 5 years to look as good as these do now...just saying! – stormy Mar 17 '15 at 22:24
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Those are Taxus, or yew. Which means you're in luck! That's because Taxus are one of the few conifers that can regrow from adventitious buds on old wood.

This means that you can cut them back hard (which destroyed most conifers), and they will grow out again. Take it back as far as you need, but go back to a live branchlet where possible, so not leaving a bare stub.

It will look rough for the first couple years, but you can start reshaping even after one season's regrowth, so the second year won't look too dreadful.

While you're at it, you could clear out the twiggy dead stuff in the center. That'll let in even more light, which will help the new growth sprout out.

If you wish, you can do this over 2-3 years, taking back a few stems each time. This looks a little ragged during the process, but it lets in light and starts the adventitious buds growing, so that when the bush is finally cut back, there will already be green growth in there. Or you can do it all in one year.

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Note that those are well-shaped, in that they are wider are the bottom and narrower at the top. People often make the mistake of trying to make them vertical, which leads to the bottom dying away since it gets very little light.

Depending on your level of urgency, rather than moving them (which is fine if you feel urgent, and lots of labor), I'd go with cutting them back firmly, but not too terribly hard, year after year as tending to look better than just whacking them all the way back in one go, but not involving a lot of hard labor. Leave some green, but not a lot, and maintain the correct shape. As you open up the dead(-looking) brown parts they will sprout new green growth, and you'll be able to cut back a bit more the next year. Most of the brown parts are alive, supporting the green at the outer edge, but not green themselves as they are shaded out by the outer greenery - as they get more light, they green up.

I butchered the heck out of one, once. It did come back. It took quite a while. Its neighbors I did not hit quite so hard, and they looked a lot better, a lot faster, heading for the same shape from the same overgrown condition.

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Those are Yew. If you cut them back drastically, it will take a long time before new foliage fills in the voids.

Based on their size, I'd say they were planted way too close to the sidewalk. If you feel up to it, I personally would move them back 1 or 2 ft. Otherwise I think you will want to trim them back a little at a time over the next few years.

  • Can you give me an idea of the root/underground size or structure I'd have to deal with to move them? I have a compact tractor (ford 1210 with hydraulics for attachments and three point with PTO in the back), but no attachments for this type of work. Sounds like moving them back and rotating them 90 degrees to present the long side to the sidewalk might be best if trimming isn't reasonable. – Adam Davis Mar 17 '15 at 15:53
  • For bushes that size, probably a 2ft rootball. I moved bushes three times that size because they were overtaking a sidwalk and I wanted to use that bed for herbs instead. Those were 3 ft rootballs, which are a LOT heavier and bigger than 2ft. I ended up rolling them onto plywood and sledding them to the new location. – Escoce Mar 17 '15 at 15:57
  • Thanks, this is certainly an option I hadn't considered! 2ft, while heavy, doesn't seem unmanageable, and better than waiting for a heavy pruning to fill back out. – Adam Davis Mar 17 '15 at 15:59
  • If you do this, keep in mind that a 2' diameter root ball, by about 2 1/2' deep, will weigh in at ~415 lbs. You may want to rent some equipment if you do this. – J. Musser Mar 17 '15 at 17:31

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