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Have you ever wondered how sustainable your landscape is?


Earlier this week, we began our series of posts on sustainable landscaping and talked about what a sustainable landscape is.  You can find the first post here.

Most of us like the idea of having an attractive landscape without wasting resources such as fertilizer, excessive pruning and water, time and gasoline unnecessarily.  But, oftentimes we do things in our gardens that create the need for additional resources.

Today, we will look at one of the major problems that I see which often goes wrong and prevents people from having sustainable landscapes.

MISTAKE #1:

Most people fail to take into consideration how large their new plants will grow.

For example:


This young ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) measures roughly 1 foot high and wide.

But, just a few years after planting, it does grow quite a bit…


This ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), which is similar in size to ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage reaches sizes up to 8 feet tall and wide.

It’s hard to believe that such a small shrub can grow so much in just a few years time.


This trailing rosemary was initially quite small when planted next to this boulder.  However, the homeowner did not allow for the fact that the rosemary would grow and eventually ‘swallow’ the boulder.


This small ficus tree looks rather innocent, doesn’t it?  But, it is harboring a secret…


It will grow absolutely huge!
This ficus tree absolutely dwarfs this house.  

The mistake of not allowing for the mature size of plants when planting, leads to…

MISTAKE #2:

Over-planting.


At first glance, there appears to be nothing wrong with this landscape area.  There are some larger dwarf oleanders in the background and nine young Texas sage shrubs.

But, do you think that the Texas sage shrubs will fit in this area once they start to grow toward their mature size of 6 – 8 feet?

I don’t think so.

Over-planting occurs when people don’t allow for the mature size of the plants.  Of course, new plants look rather small and somewhat straggly once first planted, which often leads to over-planting to make the new area look more attractive.

That is what happened to this area below…


Would you believe that the shrubs planted above are actually the same as those shown below?


It’s true.  The only difference is that in this space, the mature size of the shrubs was taken into account, so there was no over-planting taking place.

Think about how much less money and maintenance this area uses compared to the previous area?  There are fewer plants, less maintenance and it looks much nicer!

Mistakes #1 and 2 lead us to…

MISTAKE #3:

Excessive pruning.


So, what do you think people do if their plants are planted to closely together – they prune them…a lot!

Drive-thru’s are places that you can usually find over-planted landscapes.  The one above is filled with 2/3’s more plant material then is needed.

The over-pruned shrubs in the forefront are actually Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs, which look much more attractive when not over-pruned.


There are 3 Valentine shrubs in the photo above that are allowed to grow to their natural shape after their annual pruning in May.


These silver sage shrubs at our local Costco store have also been over-pruned due to the fact that they were planted too closely together.

Over-pruning often leads to artistic expressions…

‘Abstract Art’


‘Mushrooms’


‘Cupcakes’

Words fail me attempting to describe the pruning 
of these sage shrubs.

Here are some interesting facts about over-pruning that you may be surprised to hear.

Over-pruning…

– makes plants grow faster (as they attempt to re-grow the leaves lost)

-creates more maintenance (faster growing plants tend to be pruned more often)

– uses more water (in their attempt to re-grow lost leaves pruned away).

– creates green waste (branches/leaves head to the landfill)

– leads to unhealthy plants (from the stresses of too much pruning).

– wastes time used for un-needed pruning.

Have you ever seen the inside of shrubs that have been excessively pruned for years?

I warn you, it isn’t pretty…




Not too pretty, is it?

Over time, flowering shrubs that have been excessively sheared, can develop large dead areas and eventually decline.  This leads to old shrubs being removed and a new ones put in.

MISTAKE #4

Growing plants that aren’t adapted to your climate.


Plants that are not well-adapted to your local climate require excessive resources such as extra water, fertilizer and other maintenance.  

Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum) are just one example of a plant that often struggles in our southwestern, desert climate.  No matter what we do, they will never look as nice as the queen palms growing in more tropical climates.
The lesson to be learned from this is that not planning for the mature plant size, over-planting, over-pruning and wrong plant selection uses up a lot of resources.

1. Excessive amounts of water are used due to over-planting, over-pruning and for plants not well-adapted to our arid climate.

2. Money is wasted on buying more plants then are needed.

3. The costs of maintenance used for excessive planting and pruning include another resource – gasoline.

4. Declining health of plants that have not been pruned properly or those ill-suited for our dry, hot climate.

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So how does your landscape compare with examples, above?

If you see some similarities – don’t worry.  There are things that you can do to decrease the amount of resources that go into maintaining your landscape.  

My goal is to help you toward not only a more sustainable landscape, but one that is also beautiful and attractive.

In my next post, we will start to talk about 

“Small Steps Toward a Sustainable Landscape”.


In honor of Halloween, I thought that I would do a ‘scary’ post for all of you.  


Now, this post isn’t filled with ghouls, witches, skeletons or zombies.  But that doesn’t make it any less scary.  


Over the years, I have photographed examples of truly horrific pruning, which are quite scary 😉


WARNING:  The following images are not for the faint of heart…



These used to be Jacaranda trees.  I say “used to” because they died because of this severe and unnecessary pruning.

This is a photo of a Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) that was pruned the wrong way.

Unfortunately, this was a landscape that I was in charge of 14 years ago next to the clubhouse on a golf course.  

My well-intentioned crew member, thought he was doing me a favor by pruning them for me.  He was so proud of the work he had done, that he came into my office and asked me to come outside and see his handiwork.

I must say, that it was hard to criticize him because he was so proud of his work.  Needless to say, I transferred him to doing more clean-up and less pruning around the golf course.

A few months later, he returned to his small town in Mexico where he became mayor 🙂

*This is what Red Yucca are supposed to look like when in flower…


As you can see, you don’t cut the grass-like, succulent foliage below – ever.  The flowers can be pruned to the base when they die.  If the base clump become to wide, then divide the base much like you would perennials.

This photo was taken of another landscape area about 12 years ago that I was in charge of by another golf course.  I made sure that the crew did not prune it 😉


Last month, I was in the historic district of downtown Phoenix returning from a landscape consultation when I drove by these very sad California Fan Palms.  

While fall is the time to prune back – this is NOT the way to do it.  Too much was removed.  For guidelines on how to prune palm trees, click here.


This was a beautiful Palo Brea tree.  Unfortunately, it was ‘topped’ in order for the homeowner to preserve their view of the mountains.

‘Topping’ trees is very bad for trees.  It leaves the upper branches open to sunburn, which is often followed by insect infestations or disease.  

In fact, topping trees causes the tree to grow faster, to replace the lost foliage, which leads to an increased need for pruning.  The branches that appear after ‘topping’ have a very weak attachment, which makes the new branches a hazard because they are in danger of breaking off.

**If a tree is blocking a view that is important to you – then remove the tree instead of subjecting it to torturing it with this type of pruning.


Here is another example of ‘topping’.  This parking lot in Scottsdale, has trees like this.

Believe it or not, this ‘topped’ tree is a Willow Acacia (Acacia salicina).

This is what it should look like…


Hard to believe that they are the same type of tree, isn’t it?


I don’t think that I have ever seen an agave pruned so badly before.

The only time you need to prune an agave is to remove the bottom leaves, once they die.

I think that this agave would have looked much nicer if they had left it alone, like the one below…


It would also be much healthier and less likely to be susceptible to insect attack.


Believe it or not, these are citrus trees.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I drove by and saw what had happened to these trees.

You may be thinking that maybe they suffered from severe frost damage and had to be cut back.  But, I assure you, this wasn’t the case.  I worked just down the road from this house and there was no reason for these trees to be pruned this severely.

Ideally, citrus trees are pruned in March, concentrating on removing dead branches and suckers.  

In fact, did you know that the lower branches produce more fruit that tastes sweeter than that on the higher branches?  That is why you see citrus growers letting the lower branches of their trees grow instead of pruning them up into tree shapes.

**Just don’t let any branches (suckers) from below the bud union grow because they are from the root stock and are thorny and will produce sour fruit.


Much like the Red Yucca I showed you earlier, these Desert Spoon have been butchered.

They also did the same to their own Red Yucca, off to the right.

Desert Spoon has a beautiful, natural form.


The only pruning to be done is to remove the bottom leaves once they turn brown and die.

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I hope you haven’t been to ‘scared’ by these scary pruning practices.

Sometimes it is easy to get carried away when pruning.  But it is important to remember that a plant’s leaves make the food for the plant.  Take away the ability of the plant to make food, it will re-route resources normally used for dealing with environmental stresses as well as defenses against insects and disease toward growing new leaves.

This will make your plants/trees more susceptible to other problems, not to mention leaving them ugly.


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.


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), you can fix them.

Below, is a link to a previous blog post of how to do ‘renewal pruning’ on your desert flowering shrubs and what they look like as they grow back.


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

The other evening, my husband and I got away for a few hours to go and see a movie.  On our way, we stopped by for dinner at El Pollo Loco.


As we were leaving, I looked toward the drive-thru and saw numerous Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs.

 
As you can see, the shrubs are planted very closely together, so they do not have room to grow to their natural size.
 
So, landscapers come in and prune away the attractive natural shape of these shrubs along with their colorful, winter flowers.
 
The problem with this area is over planting.
 
 
You can really see it on the other side of the drive-thru lane.
 
Often, landscape architects and designers add more plants then needed because when first planted, plants look scrawny and small.  Not necessarily something their client wants to see.  They want immediate impact from plants.
 
But, just 2 years later, you have unattractive green blobs because there just isn’t enough room for them to grow and they require frequent visits from the landscaper.
 
So, what can be done?  Well, if I were managing this property – I would pull out every other shrub in order to allow the remaining shrubs more room to grow.
 
 
This not only will create a more attractive landscape, but one that requires less maintenance, thereby saving money.
 
Valentine shrubs need to be pruned once a year in May.  
 
That’s it!
 
Prune them back to 1 – 2 ft. wide and tall and you are done for the year.
 
 
For more information on Valentine shrubs and why they are one of my favorite plants read:
 

You know what?

Sometimes it is easy to tell who in the neighborhood uses the same landscaper.  

It is pretty evident from these photos that I took over the summer that quite a few people in this neighborhood are using the services of the same landscaper….

This is the first ‘mushroom-shaped’ Olive tree that I have ever seen.
To me, this Texas Sage looks somewhat like a small loaf bread, don’t you think?
For those of you who have seen Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano) in its natural form, may not recognize this heavily pruned one, above.
These two Texas Sage shrubs remind me of a lumpy cake that you have just pulled out of the oven.
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I hope you are all enjoying a great start to your weekend.
This is the last weekend for awhile where I am not busy, so I plan to enjoy it 🙂