Do you have the perfect spot aesthetically for a Japanese maple tree, but the location is far too hot? Try planting a Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense) aka Plum Delight or Fringeflower, instead. Just choose a leggy specimen, pick the strongest looking stem or stems for the trunk, and trim away the others, shaping it as it grows. You can form a beautiful tree that is evergreen, with leaves that change from green to purple, and you get hot pink sprays of blooms twice a year. It can become quite large, so give it plenty of room in sun or partial shade. There is a lovely example in the Idea Garden located in a corner of the Tyler Rose Garden.
Try pruning other bushy shrubs into trees. I’ve seen a huge red tip photinia (Photinia fraiseri) that shades a back yard barbeque area with the lowest branches five feet from the base. It took me a few second looks to figure out what it was.
Creating azalea “trees” is an option rather than pulling out those old spindly azaleas that have such thick stems that you don’t want to chance tweaking your pruners on them. Use a hand saw if necessary to cut off unsightly branches and to shape them into a graceful specimen. Then plant a dwarf variety of azalea in front of it or try some evergreens such as holly ferns to soften the knobby knees of the trunk.
Cleyeras and hawthorn would work too. If your shrubs look too heavy and you’re not trying to make a screen, open them up with selective pruning and you’ll discover a whole new look for a common overgrown bush. Get creative and have fun!
Dorothy Hersey, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service