Rejuvenating an overgrown garden

I am helping to renovate the garden of a house that the previous owners neglected for decades.  The original gardeners planted it without thought to the mature size of the shrubs, and no one has pruned them in many years.  Along the front of the house grow azaleas and other large shrubs that, unpruned, would cover the windows.  After years of neglect, later owners cut back the shrubs to expose the windows, and now the shrubs look spindly and ragged instead of full because the new owners pruned them out of desperation, not deliberately and carefully over the years.

The jungle before we began pruning

To rejuvenate the overgrown landscape, I am attacking the shrubs with loppers and chemical brush killer.  I try to avoid herbicides when I garden, but I make exceptions for large shrubs that I cannot dig out by the roots and invasive plants that regenerate from fragments of roots.  I use herbicides in ornamental areas when the weeds are out of control or are invasive perennial weeds.  In this garden, overgrown with bamboo, weedy trees, and enormous shrubs, I need help from herbicides.  We hope to make the garden low-maintenance enough so that weeding chores will be minimal in the future for the new homeowners.

In this picture are several magnolia and oak trees, among other shrubs.

In an area about thirty feet square, there is a mature pine tree, a large cedar, four or five magnolia trees, and a couple of other trees.  Adding to the jungle effect are wax myrtles, ligustrum, gardenias, camellias, and azaleas with ivy, wisteria, and Virginia Creeper running through it all.   It appears that the original owners planted a pine tree, a magnolia, and the shrubs.  The other shrubs and trees came up as volunteers, no one bothered to pull them up when they were babies, and now they have formed a sickly mass of vegetation.  Nothing, except perhaps the pine tree, has enough room for proper growth.

My seven-year- old knows how to weed, and follows this simple logic: she asks herself, when encountering a seedling tree or shrub (right now, she reliably identifies pine tree seedlings) “Would they want a mature pine tree in this spot?”  If the answer is no, she yanks up the tree (I have to stop her sometimes in public areas).  If you walk around your yard and remove seedling trees and shrubs now, you save yourself or future owners of your home a battle armed with loppers and herbicides in thirty years.

Azaleas grow eight to 20 feet tall and wide at maturity; loropetalums grow up to 20 feet, ligustrum (a shrub home builders love to use as foundation plantings under windows that are four feet off the ground because it grows quickly) grows up to 18 feet tall or higher, and camellias grow 12-25 feet tall.  Lower-growing varieties of these plants exist, and may be good choices to reside under windows.  However, the cheapest shrubs at the garden center are not usually the dwarf varieties. 

Under the windows are azaleas and camellias

If you prune shrubs that are too big for their spot regularly, as in several times a year, they will behave themselves, but if you are sick or busy for a couple of years, they will obstruct your view out the living room window.  Perhaps you don’t know the identity of the shrubs around your house; the builder put them in and you haven’t done anything to them besides prune them since.  If you have to prune them several times a year to keep them under control, they are too large for the spot, and you will save yourself a lot of work in the future if you replace them with something appropriate. 
I waded into the jungle and began cutting off shrubs and small trees at the ground with the loppers, and spraying the remaining stump with an herbicide recommended for killing brush.  I have tried killing shrubs organically by cutting them back numerous times or digging them out by the roots, but most established shrubs are difficult to dig.  I expect to be done with these plants after one or two sprayings, and by cutting it back first and spraying the cut stump, I use significantly less herbicide than if I sprayed the entire plant. 

Brush pile after trimming, with my daughter for perspective

I will be writing about this garden in future articles, and I will be describing my battle with the bamboo that is advancing on the house from a nearby abandoned home.  As for bamboo, my only advice is, don’t ever plant it, and do everything you can to kill existing bamboo.  I tried the herbicide on it, but I am afraid it will laugh and continue growing.  
Bamboo jungle, technically on the other side of the fence, but bamboo ignores fences