Dogwoods, cedars or shrubs: spouses have different ideas!

Sometimes, the questions I receive are more concerned with "domestic relationships" than with the specific landscape problems they describe. Two people who agree on most everything can have very differing opinions concerning what to plant around the home they share...
QUESTION: "We have a 1/4 acre lot our house sets on, two neighbors to the side, a busy road directly behind us with only a berm to separate us, and a brand new below ground pool we just had put in right in the middle of our backyard.
"At first, I wanted to put dogwoods along the berm, but have since then noticed they don't stay the size we need to get the privacy we want. Then I found these Thuja Green Giants we could put along two sides of our yard; the berm to hide the road, and the neighbor without a fence. With that formal of a backyard, there is no way I can feel out of place playing badminton in my white pole shirt and pants on a sunny day drinking lemonade, right?
"But now I have another problem, and no it's not that my wife hates playing badminton. She doesn't like the thought of the Thuja Green Giants for some reason. She's thinking tall grasses and short deciduous trees of some sort, with small shrubs and flowers beneath them across the entire berm. So now what? Back to square one, huh?
"Could you give us some pointers and perhaps guide us in the right direction on how we should handle our privacy issue? We've been reading up on what things we could do for quite a while, but have not yet come to a solution. Thanks for all your help. It is greatly appreciated." - Nathan
ANSWER: Well, at the risk of sounding as if I'm "sitting on the fence," you both could be correct. Yours an easy solution - planting the Green Giants - but her solution has more variety and texture. Grasses are good; maybe some of the flowering shrubs such as Knockout roses. Another thought would be to mix in some Bamboo. Use these mostly as background plants and then put in a host of perennials for investment-type landscaping. The perennials come back larger and stronger year after year while providing different seasons of blooms. If you wish to put in some ornamental smaller trees you may want to look at the Velma's Delight dwarf crape myrtle. I hope this helps you agree on a solution!
QUESTION: "I have some burning bushes in the front of my home. They no longer have any leaves on the bottom of the bush. If I trim them will they come back again, or will I harm them? I thought maybe you could help me out." - Sandra Shinkey
ANSWER: You don't mention the age of your shrubs, but burning bush plants become leggy as they age. Trimming doesn't generally help this situation. They may have fulfilled their purpose in the landscape and may need to be replaced.
If age isn't it, a few other common problems of this plant variety are disease, pests and nutritional deficiencies.
Due to the heat last spring/summer, spider mites were a huge pest causing many customers with burning bushes in their landscapes to become concerned. Once they leaf out, you can hold a white sheet of paper under some of the leaves and tap the branch lightly. If spider mites are the cause, they will fall onto the paper. Then, visit your local hardware store for their recommendation on a pesticide to treat the plants.
Burning bush prefer full sun, but will grow in other situations. The more sun they receive, the deeper red the leaves in late summer/early fall.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org. For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org
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