Have you ever paused in the shade of a mesquite tree (Prosopis spp.) and noticed that its branches grow every which way? 

I was reminded of this when I was visiting a client earlier this week and was advising him on how to care for his mesquite tree. I looked up and saw a cluster of branches growing up, down, sideways, and in curvy pathways.

In an ideal situation, mesquite trees resemble the shape of more traditional tree species, as shown above. However, they don’t always turn out this way. 

Have you ever wondered why mesquite trees grow in such crazy ways?

The answer is quite simple – in nature, mesquites grow as large shrubs. The branches of shrubs grow in all directions, up, down, sideways, etc., and so do mesquites.  

The problem arises when we train them up as trees, and their branches don’t always behave as a tree’s do. Because of this, mesquites that have been pruned into trees, do best being pruned by a professional, particularly when they are young and certain branches are being chosen to remain while others are pruned off.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and you can see the results of bad pruning practices in many places. 

I do love the shade that mesquite trees provide and I must admit that I enjoy a good chuckle when I see the unusual shapes that some mesquite trees have taken.

How about you? Have you ever seen a mesquite tree with crazy branches?

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) before pruning

We had experienced a delightful spring with hot temperatures staying away for the most part. The weather has been so lovely that I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the garden. One garden task that has needed to get done is pruning back my winter/spring flowering shrubs.

What are winter/spring flowering shrubs you may ask? Well, they are those that flower primarily in late winter and on into spring. In the Southwest garden, they include cassia (Senna species), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata)

The time to do this varies depending on the plant and the region you live in, but generally, you want to prune them back once flowering has finished. 

I’ve decided to show you how I have pruned my cool-season shrubs and I find that using hedge trimmers make quick work of this job. Yes, I realize that I preach against using hedge trimmers for ‘poodling’ flowering shrubs into formal shapes, BUT they are very useful for corrective pruning for the health and beauty of your shrubs. I only use them ONCE a year.

Above, is a photo of my red globe mallow shrubs before I pruned them. They put on a beautiful show for several weeks, but have gone to seed, and they aren’t particularly attractive in this state. 

Newly pruned globe mallow shrubs

This is what they look like after pruning. As you can see, they have been pruned back severely, which is needed to keep them attractive and stimulate attractive, new growth. Don’t worry, while they may look rather ugly, in a few weeks; they will be fully leafed out.

Valentine bush before pruning

Here is one of my Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs. This is one of my favorite plants, and it adds priceless winter color to my garden. One of the things that I love about it is that it needs pruning once a year when the flowers have begun to fade.

Valentine bush after pruning

I prune mine back to approximately 2 feet tall and wide, but you could prune it back even further. This pruning is necessary to ensure a good amount of blooms for next year. Don’t prune it after this as you will decrease a number of flowers that will form later.

Finally, it was time to tackle pruning my feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisoides). I love the golden yellow flowers that appear in winter and last into early spring. They add a lovely fragrance to the garden as well. However, once flowering has finished, they produce seed pods that will turn brown and ugly if not pruned.

I’ve created a video to show you how to prune these shrubs. Unlike the others, I only prune them back by 1/2 their size.

*As you can see in the video, my grandson, Eric was having fun helping out in the garden.

That is all the pruning that these shrubs will receive, which will keep them both attractive and healthy.

It’s worth noting that hedge trimmers aren’t a bad tool to use – rather, the problem is when they are used incorrectly to prune flowering shrubs excessively throughout the year.

I hope that this post is helpful to you as you maintain your shrubs. If the video was helpful, please click ‘Like’ and subscribe to my YouTube channel as I will be making more garden videos to help care for and maintain your Southwest garden.

*What do you prune in mid-spring?

For those of you who are familiar with ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees, you know how their stately beauty enhances desert landscapes. The curving branches of this tree are a lovely shade of green, which reaches toward the blue sky creating welcome shade underneath.

I have three of these palo verde trees planted around my landscape, but the one in my back garden is my favorite. Its broad canopy adds welcome relief from the summer sun, and I’m able to grow flowering perennials underneath its branches that otherwise wouldn’t survive in full sun.

Two weeks ago, this ‘Desert Museum’ tree experienced an unfortunate event. It happened around 9 p.m. on a windy day was drawing to a close. I heard a sound that sounded like firecrackers and didn’t think much of it, attributing it to kids in the neighborhood.

However, once the next day dawned, my husband called me outside to view the damage to my beloved tree. A massive section had broken off.

I must admit that I was heartsick when I saw what had happened. We had had our tree pruned by an arborist last summer and wasn’t expecting any major problems like this one. That being said, the combination of the extra weight on the branches from the flowers as well as the windy conditions of the day before was simply too much for this section of the tree.

The broken branch served to illustrate something that I frequently tell my clients; properly pruned trees are much less susceptible to branches breaking off, but they aren’t immune as my tree clearly showed. 

Under normal circumstances, I would have been upset about the loss of this major branch, but I felt a bit worse than that since we are hosting a wedding in our backyard in a few weeks and the ceremony was to take place underneath this lovely tree.

The affected branch was pruned back to a couple of smaller branches and the debris removed. Yes, my tree looks quite lopsided, however, ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees grow fairly quickly, and within a year, it should have filled in.

As for the wedding, plans for it take place underneath the tree haven’t changed. The small branches will grow more quickly in response to the pruning cut just above them, and I’ll probably notice the off-center appearance more than anyone else. It will still serve as a beautiful backdrop. 

Have you ever had a ‘substitute’ teacher?  As most of you know, a substitute teacher doesn’t do things the same way our regular teacher does.

A few years ago, I was asked to step in as a ‘substitute’ for my father-in-law’s landscape.

Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
 
My father-in-law had always been a meticulous gardener and took a lot of pride in his landscape.
Have you ever seen rounder shrubs?
 
A few years earlier, I had designed the landscape around his new home and tried to convince him to allow his plants to grow into their natural shapes.  But as you can see from the photo above, he didn’t follow my advice.
 
He eventually took out his backyard grass and replaced it with artificial turf and whenever flowers or leaves would fall on the grass, he would vacuum them up – I’m not kidding.
 
We would often joke with each other about our very different styles of gardening – especially when he would come over to my house for a visit and see my plants growing “wild and free” as he would say.  
 
But despite our differences, we shared the same love for plants and the garden.
 
Unfortunately, his gardening days were numbered and he asked me to come over and help him with the gardening tasks that he could no longer do.
 
My father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in October 2010 and it progressed very rapidly.
 
So, I became his ‘substitute gardener’ and I was happy to be able to help out so that he could still enjoy the beauty of his garden, even if he could not care for it himself.
 
 
In early August of 2011, I lightly pruned back his gold lantana.  At this point, my father-in-law spent most of his time indoors sitting down. But, as I was pruning, I saw him slowly make his way out, with his walker, so he could watch me prune his plants.
 
At this point, he could no longer talk due to ALS and I’m certain that if he could have spoken, he might have asked me to make the lantana ’rounder’.
 
After this light pruning, the lantana would grow back to its original size before stopping during winter.  If they had not been pruned, they would have look quite overgrown for my father-in-law’s taste.
Light pruning involves removing 1/3 or less.  The timing of this light pruning is crucial – prune too late and your plants will be extra susceptible to damage from frost.  Don’t prune after early August in zone 9 (July in zone 8) gardens. Pruning in fall should not be done for this very reason. 
 
 
Another part of the garden that my father-in-law took a lot of pride in was his flowering annuals.  Every year, he would plant the same red geraniums and white-flowering bacopa in winter.  Once spring rolled around, he would plant red and white vinca. He never deviated by trying out newer colors or varieties.
 
I found myself taking over this job as well and when I came home and see all there was to do in my neglected garden – I didn’t mind.  It felt so good to be able to control how his garden looked because ALS had taken control of everything else.
 
My father-in-law died in September 2011, just 11 months after being diagnosed with ALS.  
 
It’s been almost 3 years since he passed away, but whenever August comes around and I find myself lightly pruning back my gold lantana – I enjoy the memory of one our last moments together in the garden as I pruned his lantana.

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