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I have a Eugenia hedge that has bordered our house for what our neighbors say has been >60 years (Southern California). Many of the individual trunks are thick, with few branches. After years of marginal pruning, the hedge width was interfering with pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. Strong pruning (to reduce to a more reasonable width) has left a hedge with most of the new growth at the very top, with some at the very bottom. Most of the trunks (which are very old!) have few branches (see pics).

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Beyond aesthetics (it is ugly!), it is failing as a privacy hedge, as now our neighbors can confirm that we are also terrible gardeners to the rest of our yard.

This article suggest planting Eugenia 3-5 feet apart (ours are much more closely planted). This article states that it is good to trim a Eugenia hedge more narrowly at the top than the bottom (to allow the bottom to receive sunlight).

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This article has good suggestions on reviving a Eugenia hedge. I have removed a fair amount of the inner dead branches & debris, and I did so in the spring during the wettest winter in SoCal history. Still, it seems that the hedge needs more than these efforts. Other suggestions are to cut off the top 1/3 of the plant or to remove & replace with younger plants. Before taking such drastic measures, I am looking for advice or suggestions (plus, I will have to explain my actions to neighbors & husband!).

I'm looking for suggestions for reviving this old hedge so that it will have thick green growth from bottom to top-- so that it can once again serve as a lovely privacy hedge.

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    "good to trim...hedge more narrowly at the top than the bottom (to allow the bottom to receive sunlight)." That applies to pretty much any hedge plant - vertical sides are just not a good idea, despite seeing a lot of them in practice (many of which can be seen to display problems) - comment only, as it does not solve your current problem. Expect any solution to take time, though. Perhaps put up a temporary fabric screen for privacy while time passes. The top 1/3 suggestion does not strike me as overly drastic, but I have no experience with this plant. Need light at the bottom to grow.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 20:11
  • @Shannon Have you tried anything with your hedge so far? How'd it work out? I am facing a similar situation with a forsythia.
    – MackM
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 13:15
  • @MackM I have been hacking out all the dead branches buried in the hedge, cutting some of the skinnier stems that only have leaves at the end--- At the moment it looks good, but that is more likely due to the fact that San Diego has had a surprising amount of rain this year.... My intentions are to do a few hard trims (1/3 as suggested) to some of the trunks this fall. Guaranteed my intentions will fall short-- but wanted to give it the winter to grow back. We had some on the side get hacked (accidentally) very low, and they grew back very lush. It was just ugly for a year. Good luck!
    – Shannon
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 15:18
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    @Shannon Thank you! It sounds like you're doing exactly what I'm doing with my forsythia. I thinned out the 1/3 least-healthy-looking branches this year and am hoping in 2 more seasons I'll have what I want. Anecdotally, my thinned shrub is already looking much healthier!
    – MackM
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 15:41

1 Answer 1

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+100

The first thought is to consider hedge laying which is an old and tested technique that works in an agricultural context. This may or may not work since your existing trunks are quite thick already and will take some persuading to be effectively laid. Also it defeats the purpose of the hedge which is privacy since you lose the top for a few years as the laid sections recover their height.

An alternative is to embark on a multi-year project where you cut back every third or fourth trunk by a half and remove its top growth. This will force new growth on the cut trunk which is desirable. The trunks on either side of the cut specimen will try to fill in the space left by the growth removed. This can be discouraged by pruning to allow some light to penetrate down to the sprouting stem.

As the new growth appears consider the process of pleaching which consists of allowing sprouts to grow long so that you can fill in areas that are thin as a result of the major pruning.

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