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Aren’t these shrubs beautiful?

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

Thunder Cloud Sage (Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’)

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’)

You would think that the beauty of these shrubs, in flower, would be enough for people to stop pruning them into absurd shapes, but sadly, this is not the case. In the Desert Southwest, there is an epidemic of truly horrible pruning that affects not only Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species), but also Cassia (Senna species), Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and even Oleander.

Unsurprisingly, excessive pruning like this is NOT healthy for shrubs and it strips them of their beauty.

You don’t have to go far to see these sad shrubs. All you need to do is drive down the street, like I did…

Okay, it should be rather obvious, but I will say it just the same,  “Do not prune your shrubs into the shape of a ‘frisbee’.

I kept driving and found even more examples of truly awful pruning.  Sadly, all within a 5-minute drive of my house.

I call this ‘pillbox’ pruning. These Texas Sage & Cassia shrubs were located across the street from the ‘frisbee’ shrubs.

An attempt at creating a ‘sculpture’? Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

 A second attempt at creating a sculpture?

Let’s get real. Shrubs pruned this way do nothing to add beauty to the landscape. And, when pruned this way, they cost more, take more time, and use more water – it’s true!

Now on to some of my favorite ‘cupcake’ examples:

An entire line of ‘cupcakes’. ‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’) 

Do you think they use a ‘level’ to make the tops perfectly flat? I honestly wouldn’t put it past them.

You can see the dead area on the top, which is caused from this shrub being sheared repeatedly.

This dead growth is caused by lack of sunlight.  Repeated shearing (hedge-trimming) keeps sunlight from reaching the interior of the shrub.   As a result, branches begin to die.

After driving around for awhile, I drove toward home when I saw the saddest ones of all…

 Now if you look closely, you can see a light layer of gray-green leaves, which really don’t begin to cover the ugly, dense branching that has been caused by years of repeated shearing.

 I actually like topiary, but not when done to a Texas Sage. Some people prune up their shrubs so that they can clean up the leaves underneath more easily.

Now, I am not against formal pruning, when performed on the right plants.  But, it is not attractive when done on flowering, desert plants and it is also unhealthy for the shrubs themselves and contributes to their early death in many cases.  Add to that the fact that it greatly increases your maintenance costs due to repeated pruning and having to replace them more frequently.

Now if you have shrubs that look like any of these pruning disasters, don’t panic! They can be fixed in most cases.

 Now, why would anyone want to remove the flower buds from your shrubs by shearing,  when you can have flowers like this?

If you are tired of unnaturally shaped shrubs in your landscape, I understand.

Believe it or not, most flowering shrubs need pruning once or twice a year at most – and NOT the type of pruning into weird shapes.

I find it ironic that your yard will look better when you do less.

So, if you are wanting to declare your landscape a ‘cupcake-free’ zone, I have something I think you’re gonna love. I invite you to check out my popular online shrub pruning workshop where I teach you how to maintain flowering shrubs by pruning twice a year or less. Hundreds of students have taken the course and are reaping the rewards of a beautiful outdoor space filled with colorful shrubs at a fraction of the work.

Are you ready to break out of the cycle of green blobs?

Earlier this week, I was stopped at an intersection when I noticed the sad plants on the corner.

sad plants

I apologize for the poor-quality photo, but I only had a few seconds to take a picture with my phone through the window.

What was so sad about these plants was that they were mere shadows of themselves.

Many people would be hard pressed to recognize the over-pruned specimens above to what they look like when allowed to grow into their more natural shapes.

Here are photos of the same type of tree, taller shrub and cupcake shape shrub growing in happier  circumstances…

Palo Brea tree (Parkinsonia praecox)

The small mushroom-topped tree is actually a Palo Brea tree (Parkinsonia praecox), which has a beautiful shape.  The trunk is beautiful as it twists upward.

Unfortunately, the flowering shrubs underneath it have fallen victim to over-pruning.

Yellow (Mexican) Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana).

The taller shrub from the ‘sad’ plant photo is a Yellow (Mexican) Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana).

It can be grown as a small tree or tall shrub.    

over-pruned

Yellow flowers appear off and on throughout the year.  However, I doubt that the over-pruned Yellow Bird-of-Paradise is ever able to produce a single flower before it is pruned off.

over-pruned

Can you believe that the cupcake-shaped shrub in the first photo is actually the same kind as this gorgeous flowering shrub?

Perhaps more then any other type of desert shrub, those that belong to the family Leucophyllum (often referred to as Texas Ranger or Sage) are pruned into balls, squares, cupcakes and even disks.  

over-pruned

Unfortunately, due to a badly designed landscape, the lower shrubs don’t have enough room to grow. A single tree would have plenty of room to be able to grow, but not two.

A better plan would have been for there to be a single Palo Brea tree with 3 Texas Sage shrubs along the wall.  The groundcover, Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum) works okay in this area.

**You know what is interesting about this small piece of landscape and countless others?  It would cost so much less if people would allow enough room for plants to grow to their full size, not to mention much more attractive.

There would be FEWER PLANTS to purchase, LESS WATER needed and far LESS MAINTENANCE required.

It makes you think about why people over-plant and over-prune, doesn’t it?

For more information on how to properly prune shrubs, check out my previous post, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

If you would like to see more badly pruned trees along with a link to how to properly prune trees, check out “Scary Pruning Practices and the Unfortunate Results.”