I was told that some of the overgrown shrubs at my house should be “limbed up.” What does that mean?—GG, Texas
Answer: “Limbing up” refers to a pruning technique that will transform a shrub into something that more resembles a small tree. Sometimes it is called “tree forming” or “pruning to a standard.” Though it isn’t difficult, it requires the ability to evaluate the existing limb structure and decide what should be retained for the desired form. Then you simply eliminate the rest. Always cut back to a crotch, leaving no ugly stubs. There is likely to be some occasional new growth from the newly exposed limbs, but keep this rubbed off, or clipped away, and eventually there will be little if any pruning needed.
It is often a desirable route for the situation you describe, where the other options have their drawbacks. Removal of large shrubs is hard work, possibly costly and even more costly should you elect to replace them. Cutting them back severely looks terrible for a time, and eventually you’ll be faced with the same problem.
Tree forming can lift the shrubbery up and over windows they were blocking, reducing the amount of sunlight entering the home, a highly recommended practice for reducing cooling bills. In your part of the country especially, shade on the house is a big energy saver. Plus, limbing up your shrubs will free areas below for groundcovers or perennials, so you increase your gardening space.
Shrubs common to your area that are quite beautiful when limbed include Loropetalum, privet (Ligustrum), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), sasanqua (Camellia sasanqua), chaste tree (Vitex), crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia), Photinia and many hollies (Ilex). Give it a whirl. You won’t lose anything by trying.