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Which type of shrub would you prefer in your garden?


This one?


Or, this one?

Believe it or not, these are the same type of shrub. 
Did you know that over-pruning causes a lot of problems in the landscape that affect the shrub, water usage and your wallet?

I was recently asked to write an article for the folks at Water Use It Wisely, which is a water conservation campaign created by cities in the greater Phoenix metro area.   

The article I wrote talks about the specific problems that over-pruning causes along with ways to avoid over-pruning.


You can read the article by clicking, here

I hope you find it informative.  **If you have a friend or neighbor who has an over-pruned landscape, you may want to forward the link to them 🙂

Southwest landscapes are suffering from a widespread malady that I like to refer to as ‘poodle-pruning’.  


Beautiful, flowering shrubs are reduced to round ‘blobs’ by over-zealous homeowners and landscapers.  


For those of you who have read my blog for a while, you probably know that over-pruning flowering shrubs is a huge pet peeve of mine.


Over the years, I have seen many examples of over-pruning and in some rather interesting shapes.  However, last week I saw an example of pruning that caused me to stop my truck in the middle of a busy parking lot so I could take a photo.


I don’t think that I have EVER seen such precise pruning before.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the landscaper who did this had a ‘level’ with him to create these precise lines on these Texas Sage shrubs.

Of course, I have seen flowering shrubs pruned into other shapes in my travels around the Southwest…


Here is an example of perfectly formed ‘cupcake’ Texas Ranger shrubs.


I think these sage shrubs look like a lumpy cake, don’t you?


The owners of this property must be fans of modern art, which is what these sage shrubs remind me of.

But for me, I would rather see these flowering shrubs rescued from the overzealous pruning epidemic.


I think that they look much nicer when pruned no more then twice a year.

Now, is not the time to be pruning your Sage shrubs (Leucophyllum species).  Wait until the danger of frost is over, in late winter or early spring before pruning.

For more guidelines on pruning, click here.


I prune my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrubs once a year in March.

I then let them grow throughout the year and they help to screen out the bare wall.  I also get a fabulous floral display off an on throughout the warm months of the year.


I am certain that the landscaper who did this pruning is very proud of their work and I admire their attention to detail.

But, I would much rather see these flowering shrubs maintained correctly with just a minimum of pruning, wouldn’t you?


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?  

‘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.
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.
‘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 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
 
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.

Has this happened to you?  You walk through the nursery, and you spot “the perfect plant.”   You can envision it in your yard and know precisely where you will put it.  


After coming home and planting it, you pat yourself on the back for finding such a great plant.  Time passes, and your beautiful plant starts to grow, and grow and grow.

Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) 1-gallon
Approximately 1 ft. Wide and tall. 
 
 
Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ pruned like ‘cupcakes.’
 
Fast forward a year or two now it looks bad unless you constantly prune making it high maintenance.  Now your beautiful plant no longer looks so lovely (above and below).  It now looks more like a ‘cupcake’ because you have had to prune it back to keep it small enough for your space.  


No more flowers, no nice foliage…

More ‘cupcakes.’

Unfortunately, there is an epidemic in our area of homeowners and landscapers who prune flowering shrubs so that they end up looking like ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodles’ just so that they fit into their allotted space.  More about that in another post…
Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ in its natural shape.
They can grow up to 8 ft. high and wide but can be easily maintained at a more moderate 4′ x 4′.
Texas Sage Flower 
Also with flowers this beautiful, why plant it somewhere where you will have to prune them off so that it can fit?  
 
So our lesson is…. be sure to READ THE LABEL of plants before you buy them, which should list how large they will grow, along with the correct sun exposure.  If it’s not listed, ask the nursery salesperson for this information, or use your smartphone to get the information.  


Then you can go home and place your new “perfect plant” where they will have plenty of room to ‘stretch out’ and dazzle you with their beauty. 


**Allowing enough room for plants is just part of what it takes to grow attractive shrubs.  Pruning is the next part of the equation.  Click here for guidelines on how to properly prune your flowering shrubs.