Can't see the forest for the trees? Here's your chance.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The winter loss of mature trees, particularly evergreens used for screening and hedging, may provide a golden opportunity to revamp a part of the landscape sorely in need of opening up.

Overgrown vegetation has the capacity to gobble up space and light, defining areas in a way that is not only dull but depressing. Many people don't see this, either because the changes are gradual or because they feel removing established plants is too drastic. Sometimes, Mother Nature does us a favor.

D.C. landscape architect Cynthia Ferranto calls to mind a client's overgrown hemlock hedge that was inherently compromised by an insect pest but wasn't going anywhere until the storm arrived. "That hedge was completely wrecked," she said. Leaden monsters such as the hemlock, or Leyland cypress, even southern magnolias, can be replaced with lighter evergreen fare in a reduced scale in keeping with their confined yards.

Ferranto likes the Emerald Green arborvitae, which stays narrow and grows to just 12 or 15 feet, or the Foster's holly, "because you can trim it and it's loose-looking. I had some with tips hitting the ground [with snow], but they'll pull through." There are upright varieties of southern magnolia that are far more contained than the spreading species that took such a hit last month. Alta is one, the wider D.D. Blanchard is another.

The skip laurel (Prunus laurocerasus Schipkaensis) is an evergreen shrub that will grow to 10 feet and provide an effective screen in confined and shady spaces.

Scott Brinitzer, an Arlington-based landscape designer, says replacement screens don't have to be evergreen. Deciduous trees and shrubs, while often needing more elbow room than evergreens, can withstand winter storms better and allow "for a broader selection of plant material," he said.

The Japanese cedar, or cryptomeria, is one evergreen that seemed to have come through the crushing snow beautifully. While not small -- it can reach 50 feet tall -- its lowest branches can be removed to lighten its base while revealing attractive red flaking bark. "It did very well," said Ferranto, who suggests one other handsome replacement for that toppled line of Leyland cypress: "A fence."

-- Adrian Higgins

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