Have you ever driven past a landscape that had some problems with it? As a horticulturist and landscape consultant, my attention diverts whenever I see ‘Landscape No-No’s’ like this one.
I recently shared the photo of the landscape, above, on my Facebook page and invited people to identify three things wrong with the landscape. I received a lot of comments including “looks like Versailles by the inept” and “shrubs arranged like funny looking ottomans spread across gravel.”
It’s important to not that my reasons for showing examples like this aren’t to shame the homeowners. Instead, my goal is to help others to learn to identify problems and give them easy steps to correct or avoid them in the first place.
So, using this landscape as an example, let’s look at the problems and later, focus on how to solve them:
1. Shrubs are planted too closely together.
It’s obvious that there are too many plants in this area and the mature size of the shrubs wasn’t factored in the original design. The types of flowering shrubs in this area – desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis), Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), and ‘Green Cloud’ sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) are good choices. The problem is that they are spaced too closely together and pruned the wrong way.
2. Lack of different plant types.
As you can see, there is a tree, a couple of succulents (prickly pear cactus & yucca), and a LOT of shrubs. However, the landscape suffers from an overabundance of shrubs.
3. Incorrectly pruned flowering shrubs.
These lovely, flowering shrubs have been turned into anonymous, green blobs, lacking in beauty and character. In fact, you would have to look closely to be able to identify what each shrub is. The problem has to do with what is missing from this landscape, which are attractive shrubs allowed to grow into their natural shapes, covered in colorful flowers. Other problems associated with maintaining flowering shrubs this way is that it is stressful for the plant, shortens their lifespan, causes to them to use more water to regrow their leaves, and creates more maintenance.
Now that we have identified the problems, we can now look at the solutions. I will use the landscape above as my example:
- Remove excess shrubs. Remove 24 of the existing 32 shrubs so that you are left with eight flowering shrubs. To decide what shrubs to remove, learn what type of shrub they are and look up how large they are at maturity. Then, make sure that the ones that remain have enough room to grow. Shrubs should be places up near the house, to anchor the corners of the landscape, and flank an entry.
- Severely prune back remaining shrubs. One of the things I love about most shrubs is that they have a ‘restart button’ where much of the damage that has been done due to excessive pruning can be reversed. Severe renewal pruning entails pruning back shrubs to approximately 1 1/2 feet tall and wide. You’ll have nothing left but woody branches and little to no leaves. However, this stimulates plants to produce new, healthy growth. This type of pruning should be done in spring. The key is to keep hedge trimmers away from your newly pruned shrubs forever. Any pruning should be done using hand pruners, loppers, and pruning saws. This will work with most shrubs except for a few that were in declining health.
- Incorporate lower-growing plants such as groundcovers and succulents. A well-designed landscape has plants with varying heights, including those at ground level. For the landscape above, I’d add a few boulders and plant some gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) and twin-flower agave (Agave geminiflora) alongside them. Other ideas for low-growing succulents include ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, Moroccan mound, and artichoke agave. Flowering groundcovers would also look nice like angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), and sandpaper verbena (Glandularia rigida). I like to use damianita, trailing lantana, and penstemon for color at lower heights.
Here is a snapshot of a landscape area at the Desert Botanical Garden where plants have room to grow and are allowed to grow into their natural shape and form.
Transforming the problematic landscape shown earlier, and others like it isn’t difficult, and the results are dramatic. What you are left with is a beautiful landscape filled with healthy plants that use less water and needs little maintenance.