Read The Plant Label…Or You Might End Up With Cupcakes

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the perfect plant

Has this happened to you?  You walk through the nursery, and you spot “the perfect plant.”   You can envision it in your yard and know precisely where you will put it.  

After coming home and planting it, you pat yourself on the back for finding such a great plant.  Time passes, and your beautiful plant starts to grow, and grow and grow.

perfect plant

 Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) 1-gallon Approximately 1 ft. Wide and tall.

perfect plant

 Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ pruned like ‘cupcakes.’

Fast forward a year or two now it looks bad unless you constantly prune making it high maintenance.  Now your beautiful plant no longer looks so lovely (above and below).  It now looks more like a ‘cupcake’ because you have had to prune it back to keep it small enough for your space.  

No more flowers, no nice foliage…

perfect plant

 More ‘cupcakes.’

Unfortunately, there is an epidemic in our area of homeowners and landscapers who prune flowering shrubs so that they end up looking like ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodles’ just so that they fit into their allotted space.  More about that in another post…

perfect plant

 Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ in its natural shape. They can grow up to 8 ft. high and wide but can be easily maintained at a more moderate 4′ x 4′.

Texas Sage Flower

 Texas Sage Flower

Also with flowers this beautiful, why plant it somewhere where you will have to prune them off so that it can fit?  

So our lesson is…. be sure to READ THE LABEL of plants before you buy them, which should list how large they will grow, along with the correct sun exposure.  If it’s not listed, ask the nursery salesperson for this information, or use your smartphone to get the information.  

Then you can go home and place your new “perfect plant” where they will have plenty of room to ‘stretch out’ and dazzle you with their beauty. 

**Allowing enough room for plants is just part of what it takes to grow attractive shrubs.  Pruning is the next part of the equation.  Click here for guidelines on how to properly prune your flowering shrubs.

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
33 replies
  1. Grace
    Grace says:

    You showed Jason how to prune our Texas sage at our the house and I must say, ours always looked so much nicer than our neighbors' cupcakes =) That is a funny way to describe the way people prune them and totally accurate.

  2. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    We have lots of "cupcakes" in our neighborhood. I like a more natural look. I always feel that if you are going to plant something that will be there for years…plant something pretty.

  3. janie
    janie says:

    Very good advice. It applies to everything, doesn't it? Don't bite off more than you can chew? I remember my Dad telling me that. LOL

  4. says:

    Hi Grace,

    Thanks for commenting!

    Back when I managed commercial landscapes, I would always train my landscape crew on the right way to prune these shrubs. But, over time they slowly started reverting back to 'cupcake' pruning and I would have to retrain them all over again….

  5. Scott & Liz
    Scott & Liz says:

    Noelle, So very true. I feel your pain at traing crews, been there done that. I just refered to misplaced plants in my latest post Bloody Bougainvillea. Topiary has its place but its just not for me in most landscapes.
    Great topic, and great treatment of the topic. Well done,Noelle.

  6. FlowerLady
    FlowerLady says:

    I have never seen 'cupcakes' in the landscapes here. I have read about 'crepe murder' though. I have two Texas sage in huge pots, and I've been trimming them, and after reading your post realize I need to 'let them grow'. I need to move them to a different location so they can spread. I have another one in a huge terra cotta pot that I don't trim and it blooms more, now I know why. TX sage is one of my favorite plants, as I am partial to purples/blues in my gardens. I look forward to reading about pruning these come spring.


  7. sweet bay
    sweet bay says:

    I haven't seen cupcakes in the landscape before seeing your pictures, but I've seen a lot of meatballs! Texas Sage looks so wonderful growing naturally.

  8. Northern Shade
    Northern Shade says:

    This post made me laugh. I'm not familiar with Texas sage, so when I saw the first two cupcake photos, I didn't know why people would grow it. Then I saw your last two pictures, with the natural shape, and pretty flowers, and understood.

    The previous owners of my house planted a Viburnum, that grew taller than the house, with it's trunk a hand distance from the house. It was madly overgrown for the spot. I suppose that in its pot, it looked the same as the perennial that would grow 2 feet tall. Literacy is a good thing.

  9. Rosey Pollen
    Rosey Pollen says:

    It;s Rosey again. I can't believe I wasn't on your followers list! I love your blog, and visit it plenty to get good info, I guess since I faved you on Blotanical I forgot to follow you as well.
    Have a good weekend, Noelle!

  10. Jim Groble
    Jim Groble says:

    Our oldest lives in Tutsin Ca and wants to garden in their yard. I'm sending her to your site. We have all the water we ever need and it will snow about 100 inches in the winter. I am amazed and impressed by dry climate gardeners.

  11. Kiki
    Kiki says:

    Wow..I am in love with those giant green cupcakes..super cool!They almost seem magical! Great post!! Lovely photos and varieties!

  12. JGH
    JGH says:

    This is too funny, Noelle. We have some of those around here, too. And some that look like bowling balls! I guess it's better to have a cupcake than a dead plant – but only slightly 😉

  13. Pam/Digging
    Pam/Digging says:

    Meatballs, mustaches, and now cupcakes–too funny. I'm sure most of this sort of pruning is to keep a misplaced plant in bounds, as you note. But sometimes I have to wonder if people just like to prune things — to "keep things neat" — and end up with this by accident.

  14. Amy
    Amy says:

    I know first hand. My front bed has esperanza (way to big) for the area. So, I am going to put it in the backyard or give it to a neighbor. It is too much work and no blooms. Good post and soooooo true! -Amy

  15. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Good post how true we all do it.

    I tend to move things when i realise they are going to get too large and try to get cuttings going first just in case I have a casualty. With care though most things will move otherwise how would landscapers move mature trees.

    I like your discreption of cup cakes very good.

  16. Jan (Thanks For 2 Day)
    Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) says:

    Those cupcakes are very odd looking and not eye-appealing at all! I've never seen anything like that here. But I totally understand the 'too large for that area' conundrum. I am guilty of planting a few of those myself…and yes, I've had to keep them trimmed so they'll fit into the space. Problem is, if I like the bush, I want to try it out. For me, pruning has never looked 'bad' on a bush and I do get to enjoy their blooms…azaleas, burning bush, and others. I agree with your point–although sometimes I suppose I do break the rules!

  17. catmint
    catmint says:

    Hi Noelle, I laughed at the cupcake shape. Somehow even though you know it will outgrow its space, you often just can't believe such a sweet little thing will ree-ally get so big. (There's an Australian song called "From Little Things Big Things Grow" – wasn't about plants, but it could be.) Cheers, catmint

  18. GrafixMuse
    GrafixMuse says:

    What great advice. I wish the previous owners of my home had heeded your advice. They planted shrubs near the house and along the walkway that grow 8-feet high and wide. We tried trimming them a few times, but they need to go.

  19. Martha
    Martha says:

    Wonderful post. I've seen sage cupcakes in New Mexico and am not even sure I've seen the plant in its natural state.

    In Houston I occasionally see asymmetrical planar blobs too. I always attributed it to the pruner pretending to be a Jedi with his weed whacker.

  20. Nell Jean
    Nell Jean says:

    I never thought of cupcakes, but pillboxes and lollipops are rampant here.

    In a nearby town, you could tell which houses thad the same yard man. All the formerly beautiful Camellias had been pruned to a lollipop on a single trunk.

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