Many of us are familiar with how over-pruning can take away much of the beauty of flowering shrubs, in addition to contributing to their early death.

But, have you ever wondered what they look on the inside?

I found this ‘ugly’ example alongside the drive-thru of Taco Bell.

Over Pruned Shrubs

Over Pruned Shrubs

It isn’t pretty, is it?

The side of the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage was sheared away because it was growing over the curb.

The result of planting the shrub too close.

You can see the thin layer of leaves that cover the shrub and the dark, interior where sunlight seldom reaches.

If this resembles your shrub(s), the good news is that you can usually fix them.

Over Pruned Shrubs

Imagine going from the shrub on the left to the one on the right?

You can still do this in April for your Cassia (Senna species), Sage (Leucophyllum species), Ruellia, Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and Lantana shrubs.

I teach you how in my popular online shrub pruning workshop where you’ll learn how to rejuvenate over-pruned shrubs and how to prune them the right way in the future.

Declare your landscape free of shrubs pruned into balls, cupcakes, and squares 🙂

Over-Pruning Epidemic Hits Again….

My inbox has been filled lately with pruning questions.  Specifically, how to prune back overgrown flowering shrubs.

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

You may be wondering why you need to severely prune back overgrown shrubs?

Well, as you can see from the photo, above – as a shrub’s branches age, they produce fewer leaves and flowers.  As time passes – these branches die, which leave ugly, bare areas.

Here are a few more examples of overgrown shrubs that need to be severely pruned back…

'White Cloud' Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens 'White Cloud')

‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’)

You may think the formally pruned sage shrubs in the photo above, look okay besides being a bit on the large side.

But, what you don’t see is a large amount of dead branches inside.  In reality, these shrubs are covered in a very thin layer of growth.

overgrown shrubs

Here is an example of old Cassia (Senna nemophila) shrubs that have only been pruned formally.  You can see that there are more dead areas than live growth.

So, how do you go about severely pruning old, overgrown shrubs back?

First of all – don’t do this during cooler months because it will take your shrubs a very long time to grow back. In addition, it can make frost-tender shrubs more susceptible to frost damage.  Wait until spring for pruning back summer-flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea, sage, oleanders, etc.

You need a good pair of loppers and sometimes a pruning saw and you are ready to go. Simply prune your shrub back until there is only about 1 – 2 ft left.

Hedge trimmers can help if you use them to remove the outer part of the shrub and then you can get your loppers inside to prune off larger branches toward the base.

Below, are photos of ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrubs that started out overgrown, were pruned back severely, and grew back.

overgrown shrubs

Overgrown shrubs.

overgrown shrubs

Pruned back to 1 ft.

This is the ugly stage.  But you need to go through this ‘awkward’ stage to achieve beautiful, healthy shrubs.

I promise that it doesn’t last long…

overgrown shrubs

New growth appears 3 weeks later

8 weeks after pruning

8 weeks after pruning.

12 weeks after severe pruning.

12 weeks after severe pruning.

You can see that the severe pruning caused the shrub to grow young, new branches that produce beautiful green growth and flowers.

overgrown shrubs

**Although severe renewal pruning keeps your shrubs healthy and attractive – there are a few cases when an old, overgrown shrub won’t grow back. It is doubtful that the Cassia shrubs, above, will survive for long either with or without severe pruning).

This usually indicates that the shrub has declined too much and would not have survived for long even without pruning.  If this happens, you are better off replacing your shrub.**  

Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers

Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers

A good guideline for severely pruning your shrubs is to do this every 3 years or so. Of course, you can do this every year if you like to help keep your shrubs from outgrowing their space.

I hope that this helps to answer some of your questions.

If you would like to learn more about how to prune shrubs the right way, I invite you to learn more about my popular online shrub pruning workshop.   

I didn’t post a blog on Friday, but I had a very good excuse…

Frost-damaged Bougainvillea ,  Annual pruning

Frost-damaged Bougainvillea

It was time for my springtime annual pruning.

In my zone 9a garden, we do experience temperatures below freezing and as a result, some of my frost-tender plants always suffer some frost damage.

The best time to do this is once the danger of frost is over, which in my area is approximately March 1st.

Arizona Yellow Bells with frost damage.

Arizona Yellow Bells with frost damage.

I really don’t mind, because they look beautiful 9 months out of the year.

'Rio Bravo' Sage needing a trim.

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage needing a trim.

This past Friday, I had no consults, the kids were at school and I wasn’t scheduled to babysit my granddaughter.

So, I put on my old gardening clothes, boots and gloves and headed out into my back garden.

Tobey came out to supervise.

My Bermuda grass is still dormant, but once nighttime temperatures stay above 55 degrees, it will start to green up fast.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, in the upper sixties.  I started first on my Orange Jubilee shrub and then moved on to my ‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage shrubs.

 Annual pruning

Annual pruning

Every  2 – 3 years, I prune back my ‘Rio Bravo’ severely, which rejuvenates them.  Old wood doesn’t produce as much leaves or flowers and eventually dies.  Severe renewal pruning stimulates new growth and helps keep your shrubs from becoming too large.

To say that I am a bit passionate about pruning flowering shrubs the right way, is an understatement.

You can read more if you like in my previous post….

Shrubs Aren’t Meant To Be Cupcakes

I spent three hours pruning 10 large shrubs.  It was so nice to experience the outdoors with nothing to listen to except for the breeze and the birds.

There is something so satisfying about surveying how much work you have accomplished after you have finished pruning.

Of course, after I finished, I went inside and took 2 ibuprofen for my sore back.

I think I will let my husband put my pruned branches in the trash can 😉

How about you?  Are you ready to prune yet? 

A couple of weeks ago, we were spending our weekly visit with my husband’s parents. Because my father-in-law is suffering from ALS, he can no longer do anything around the house or the garden for that matter.

My father-in-law always did his own landscaping chores. He took great pride in having a meticulous landscape.  And yes, that included pruning his shrubs into round, green balls 😉

Landscaping chores

Landscaping chores

We would often tease each other, because I love the more ‘natural’ look as opposed to his more formal landscaping.

Landscaping chores

Now that I help out in his garden, I am very careful not to leave any debris behind such as fallen leaves or leaf for that matter. You see, his garden is so clean, you would almost think that he vacuumed it.

In my garden, I feel like my garden is clean if I use a leaf-blower once a year 😉

Well, back to our visit with my in-laws. My father-in-law asked me if I would prune back his flowering Gold Lantana.

Oh boy, this was a big deal. You see, I do not like to prune any plants that are flowering. In fact, I get up on my soapbox often, preaching against it.

But, you know what I did?

Landscaping chores

Landscaping chores

 I pruned it…..

You can see how much I removed in the pile to the left.

My father-in-law even came outside with his walker to see how it looked, which as a big deal since he has a lot of difficulty walking now.

So why did I do it?

Well there are two reasons.

First, it is okay to lightly prune plants that are growing large this month. Now, my father-in-law’s Lantana really did not need to be pruned, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt them.

When pruning in August, I would avoid pruning more then 1/3.  The reason is that as fall approaches (I know it’s hard to believe with temps still in the low 100’s), plants will continue to grow until the cooler weather arrives. So that nice-sized flowering plant can become too big by the time November comes around.

Landscaping chores

So if possible, I wouldn’t prune unless your plant is outgrowing its space. But, if you prune lightly in August, you should be okay until spring, when you can prune your plants back more severely.

The second and most important reason that I pruned back my father-in-law’s Lantana is because I love him and I know how much his garden means to him. I realize how hard it must be for him to not be able to do much of anything now.

After I was finished pruning back his Lantana (which really didn’t need it), I could see in his eyes how happy it made him. He typed “Thank you” on his iPad, which is how he communicates now. The software he uses actually ‘speaks’ whatever he types in.

Sadly, even now that is now hard for him to do. It is harder for him to type with his one finger, which is the way he has always typed.

Yesterday was my in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary. My father-in-law ‘texted’ my husband asking him if he could arrange to have roses delivered to my mother-in-law.

The words he asked to be put on the card were simple, yet communicated everything:

“Thank you, my love.”

That simple phrase brought tears to my eyes.

Summer To Do List

Many people tell me that they are tired of their boring, round green shrubs.  Often, they are surprised when I tell them that those ‘boring’ green balls would actually flower if given a chance.

So, how do you take those boring green balls and turn them into beautiful, flowering shrubs?  

pruning flowering shrubs

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage shrubs

The first step is to rejuvenate your green ‘balls’ by severely pruning them back.

Now I warn you, this is an ugly stage.  Your shrubs will look like a bunch of sticks poking out of the ground.

pruning flowering shrubs

Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs, newly pruned.

This is best done at certain times of the year, depending on what type of flowering shrub you have.  For example, if you severely prune summer-flowering shrubs back in December, you will have to wait a long time for them to leaf out, once the weather warms.

I pruned the ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrub below in March and by early April, it had already begun to produce new branches.  

pruning flowering shrubs

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage, 1 month after severely pruning.

So, when should you prune your shrubs?

Here is a list of some of the most common shrubs in the low desert and when they should be pruned. (If you live in the high desert, you can adjust the timing by a month or so later.)

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea species) – March

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) – March

Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) – March

Cassia species (Senna species) – May (once flowering is finished)

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) – June

Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) – May

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species) – March

Oleander (Nerium oleander) – May or June

Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) – March

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) – March or April

If you look closely at the list above, you can see that in most cases these shrubs are either pruned once they have finished flowering OR just after the danger of frost is over in the spring.

The reward for your efforts is a beautiful, flowering shrub like the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage, below.

'Green Cloud' Texas Sage

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage

If your shrub is getting a bit large later in the year, you can prune it using hand pruners and removing no more then 1/3 of the growth.  Just be careful not to use hedge-trimmers.

So, do you have to prune your flowering shrubs severely every year?

Absolutely not.

As long as your shrub is attractive and not outgrowing its space, you can save severe pruning for every 3 years or so, which will remove older branches and cause new ones to grow in their place.  This is what I do in my own garden.

Want to learn about pruning flowering shrubs the right way? I invite you to check out my popular online pruning workshop. I’ll teach you how to maintain beautiful flowering shrubs by pruning twice a year or less.

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 –

BUT ONLY AT THE TIME OF YEAR WHEN YOUR PARTICULAR SHRUB SHOULD BE PRUNED.

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 🙂

I know that none of us wants to admit to procrastinating…..but in my case the evidence is getting more clear with each passing day.

Beautifull Gold Lantana

Beautifull Gold Lantana

The pathway to my front door, is getting narrower and narrower and soon, there will be no pathway visible and guests will have to wade through my Lantana.

Now, I may be guilty of procrastinating occasionally, but I am also a “glass half full” kind of girl as well.  And my procrastination does show how beautifully my Gold Lantana is growing 😉

To be completely honest, it is hard to make myself venture outside to do any type of gardening in the month of August with hot and sometimes humid temperatures.  And so, I patiently (impatiently) wait for September to arrive with cooler and drier weather before I start working in the garden again.

Now if your garden is anything like mine, you have lush green shrubs covered in blooms that are growing like crazy.  This makes early September a great time to prune them back a bit……NOT severely, just a bit (1/3 or less).  

By pruning your plants lightly, they will have time to grow back a little before the cooler temperatures of winter bring a stop to most growth.  That way you will not be stuck with overgrown shrubs all winter.

The reason NOT to prune severely this time of year is that your plants will produce lots of new, tender growth that will be extremely susceptible to frost damage and can cause their death during a hard freeze which we sometimes experience.  Do NOT wait until October to prune because it may be too late for some of the growth to come back and you may be stuck with some ugly plants until spring arrives.  **Do not prune winter flowering shrubs such as Valentine (Eremophila maculata) since you will have greatly reduced flowering.

And so, this procrastinator is ready to head out into her garden to lightly prune her Lantana, AZ Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans),  Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species) and Bougainvillea.

What will you be pruning this month?

Monthly Garden Bouquet – August

Isn’t it interesting how the best laid plans go awry?  I had great plans for the beginning of this week.  I was getting ready to build my flower garden.  I have had visions of a garden filled with both annual and perennial flowers suitable for cutting for bouquets.  

My garden however, had other plans……

Yesterday evening, I noticed that one of my ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees was leaning against the fence that blocks off the side yard.  I call this area a ‘yard’ and not a ‘garden’ because it is where our dog run is located.  My husband and I rushed out to see what had happened and our tree had fallen part way over.  The night before, had brought a monsoon storm to our neighborhood and the high winds brought the tree down.  It was only held up by the fence.

I was honestly surprised that this tree had fallen.  I loved this tree…..it’s beautiful yellow flowers blooming throughout the spring, it’s bright green trunk and branches and the welcome shade it brought to my desert garden.

flower garden

Flower Garden

You can see the tree in the background.  I normally do not take pictures of our side yard because besides the two Palo Verde trees, there is not much to see besides the dogs….

 This is Seiko (pronounced ‘Psycho’) and he is telling me that he is hungry. We did not name him…..he came with the name 😉 The chicken wire along the bottom of the fence is to keep our little dog, Tobey,  from coming in to play with Seiko.

I posted a picture of this tree earlier this year as the sun was setting.  I loved how the sun set off the beauty of the yellow blossoms.

flower garden

Oftentimes, when a tree has fallen part way and the roots are still in the ground, I am often called to a client’s home to ascertain if their tree can be saved by pulling upright and re-staking it.  This can be a tricky to determine sometimes.  If the roots are girdled (growing around in circles) then I usually do recommend removing the tree because the roots aren’t growing outwards which help to anchor the tree.

If the tree went over because of not being pruned correctly or watered incorrectly, then it might be saved if these things are done properly.  I do remind people to keep in mind if they do stake their tree back up, that there is an excellent chance that it will fall again, which can be a hazard.  But, if they are very attached to their tree and want to give it another chance, then by all means I tell them to go for it.

Sadly, it turns out that our tree had girdled roots and had to come out.  It is difficult to diagnose girdled roots ahead of time because it usually occurs at the nursery.  Either by being planted incorrectly, or by being in it’s container for too long.  When I would purchase trees for the landscapes I managed, the nurseries would often contact me to let me know they were having a great sale on their container trees.  The usual reason was that their trees had been in the containers for quite a while and instead of transplanting them to larger containers, they put them on sale.  As a result, I made it a rule to never buy a tree on sale – I did not want to take a chance that they were in their container/box too long and the roots were beginning to grow around the root ball.

My initial plan for this morning had been to go to our local big box store and purchase the supplies for my new flower garden.  But, instead I spent my morning cutting down our tree with my husband and daughter, Rachele.  Why didn’t we hire someone to remove it for us you may ask?  Well, it is hard for me to spend around $400 to remove a tree when I was used to removing fallen trees with my crew years ago.  I just can’t see paying someone to do something that I had been trained to do myself.  But I think the more important motivation is that $400 is a lot of money to spend when we can do it ourselves.

pruning

You know what happens when you start pruning one tree in your garden?  You find more trees that need a little pruning here and there.  And so I also did some pruning on my remaining Palo Verde trees.  *I really like electric chainsaws….they are much lighter and quieter then the gas powered models.

I really enjoy pruning both trees and shrubs.  What I don’t like is having to clean up afterward.  My kids and I usually have a great system where I do the pruning and they help clean up the branches.  But today, three of my kids were in school, which left me and my husband to do the cleaning up 😉

pruning

It is usually at this point that I start questioning the wisdom of doing it ourselves instead of hiring someone else to do it instead 😉

As I walked through the cut branches, I noticed some of the few remaining yellow flowers beginning to wilt….

flower garden

Flower Garden

It made me rather sad…..