Acuba pruning. Yikes! Looks bad now

last year
last modified: last year

Hello, I'm a newbie in my first spring in my new house. It had a professionally landscaped yard when the house was built in the 1960s, with some change over the years, and I am determined to look after it and keep it up to shape. At least this summer so I can 'get to know it.' The problem is, there was no maintenance while the house was on the market/sold/and during the cold winter after we moved in. So I'm playing catch-up and learning as I go.

My neighbor, an active gardener, came over to identify my plants (i have the original landscape architect's drawings, but some things have changed). I've been reading up on caring for the various plants and am starting with pruning the Acuba Japonica since 1) there are numerous black dead branches and 2) it looks somewhat overgrown, and also comes down over the wall.

As background, part of my yard has a 2ft high stone wall, like a retaining wall; and in the soil behind that wall (so basically 2 feet of depth for the Acubas) are planted various shrubs including a lot of Acuba. There is about 2 ft of depth on top of the wall and behind that is a wooden fence. So the Acuba are growing with the fence behind them, and aiming towards the yard.

I went out tonight with some loppers and tried to get a start. Here is what happened and I would love to hear suggestions.

I started with one particular Acuba bush and went to work with loppers. l lopped off a number of branches that had turned black, aiming to cut at a spot (on the stem) that was an inch or two below where the black started. In the process, I removed a lot of tall (mostly black) branches (I estimate the stems of this Acuba is 4-4.5 feet). There were a few completely dead stem, dead for a while now, looking like the older, thicker stems.

I noticed that the ends of the Acuba on the left and right (As you face it) were growing out so wide that they were running into the Acuba plants next to them. Basically it is getting crowded in there. I didn't prune any stems that weren't dead. But after I stepped back once I did this, the Acuba looks awful. It is as if there is a "hole" in the middle. Meanwhile on the left and right it's full, but still seems unkempt. Any tips or things I should consider? Thank you!

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