Over-Pruning Epidemic Hits Again….


Okay, for those of you who have read my ‘ramblings’ for any length of time, you are probably familiar with my personal crusade against the widespread pruning epidemic of creating balls, cupcakes, frisbees and other assorted shapes with flowering shrubs.

The fact that pruning flowering shrubs too often can lead to early plant death plus extra maintenance because it causes your shrubs to grow faster as well as causing them to require more water may not be reason enough for someone to stop.

Well, maybe the fact that repeated pruning (shearing) of flowering shrubs can leave them looking like this, may help them to finally stop….

widespread pruning epidemic

Not very pretty, is it?

This is what is left of three Desert Cassia (Senna nemophila) shrubs after they had been repeatedly pruned into round shapes using hedge-trimmers.

Well when flowering shrubs are repeatedly sheared with hedge trimmers, to create the much desired green ‘ball’ – it keeps the sunlight from penetrating inside of the shrub.  This leads to the death of some of the interior branches.  In addition, pruning repeatedly with hedge trimmers, does not get rid of any old branches and therefore new branches do not grow.

Now a healthy flowering Desert Cassia (Senna nemophila) looks much healthier and beautiful.

widespread pruning epidemic

The Desert Cassia, above, was planted by me in a large feature area located next to a golf course.  I would have the landscape crew prune it back to 2 ft. every spring, once it had finished flowering, which is when this particular shrub should be pruned.

I did not let the crew use hedge-trimmers, although they certainly wanted to.  But, I actually took the time to teach them the reasons why repeated shearing with hedge trimmers was a bad idea and then I made sure that they used loppers or hand pruners to prune them correctly.

Now, when flowering shrubs are pruned back severely to 1 – 2 ft. – they don’t look pretty.  In fact, they look like a bunch of ‘stick’s sticking up out of the ground.  But this stage only lasts a few weeks.

But, what happens is that the pruning stimulates the formation of new growth, which produces more leaves and flowers then if you just continued pruning off the top inch or so.  

widespread pruning epidemic

I would much rather see a flowering shrub with flowers on it, wouldn’t you?

Now, if you haven’t gotten enough of my ‘preaching’ against over-pruning, you can read more at Flowering Shrubs Aren’t Meant to be Cupcakes

So, do you want to stop over-pruning your shrubs?

How do you start?

Well, it is best to start by severely pruning your shrubs –


I will work on a list of the most popular shrubs that grow in the low & high desert and give you a timeline in my next post 🙂

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."
8 replies
  1. Mark
    Mark says:

    Couldn't agree more. I have just moved in to a new subdivision in Chandler and it is amazing how often the landscaping crews are trimming up the shrubs. Just let them grow naturally.

  2. Desert Dweller
    Desert Dweller says:

    Thanks again for ALL your great insights on proper vs. improper pruning. Doing things well saves money – spend enough time designing, so spaces are not over planted or planted with too-large plants at maturity…then don't have crews out so often. Why cannot developers, HOA's, individual owners get that? Simple – they see it done badly so much, they think it is right and want it. Arrgh!

  3. catmint
    catmint says:

    thanks for this. I don't use hedge trimmers, only secauteurs and try to careful and sensitive, but i must admit I do get carried away at times. I can use all the info you provide.

  4. loveithandmade
    loveithandmade says:

    Sad, sad looking hedge-trimmed plants. My neighbor was "helping me out" and trimmed my rosemary so much that all that was left was the dead inner part, so he ripped them out they looked so bad.

  5. Skeeter
    Skeeter says:

    Poor bush. I must prune the Camellia as they were planted too close to the front porch. If I let them go, they will probably cover the entire porch. The previous homeowner never should have planted them there and they are way too large to move. So I just trim them each year…

    Your theory's of nursery or Big Box store are right on the money with me….

  6. Lon W.
    Lon W. says:

    Yeah. 19mar1017, The gardeners would do well to quickly read what is available. They are just killing the plants. Plain and simple. Cutting down to the ground limits their maintenance efforts and makes it appear that they are “working.”

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