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Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) before pruning

We had experienced a delightful spring with hot temperatures staying away for the most part. The weather has been so lovely that I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the garden. One garden task that has needed to get done is pruning back my winter/spring flowering shrubs.

What are winter/spring flowering shrubs you may ask? Well, they are those that flower primarily in late winter and on into spring. In the Southwest garden, they include cassia (Senna species), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and Valentine bush (Eremophila maculata)

The time to do this varies depending on the plant and the region you live in, but generally, you want to prune them back once flowering has finished. 

I’ve decided to show you how I have pruned my cool-season shrubs and I find that using hedge trimmers make quick work of this job. Yes, I realize that I preach against using hedge trimmers for ‘poodling’ flowering shrubs into formal shapes, BUT they are very useful for corrective pruning for the health and beauty of your shrubs. I only use them ONCE a year.

Above, is a photo of my red globe mallow shrubs before I pruned them. They put on a beautiful show for several weeks, but have gone to seed, and they aren’t particularly attractive in this state. 

Newly pruned globe mallow shrubs

This is what they look like after pruning. As you can see, they have been pruned back severely, which is needed to keep them attractive and stimulate attractive, new growth. Don’t worry, while they may look rather ugly, in a few weeks; they will be fully leafed out.

Valentine bush before pruning

Here is one of my Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs. This is one of my favorite plants, and it adds priceless winter color to my garden. One of the things that I love about it is that it needs pruning once a year when the flowers have begun to fade.

Valentine bush after pruning

I prune mine back to approximately 2 feet tall and wide, but you could prune it back even further. This pruning is necessary to ensure a good amount of blooms for next year. Don’t prune it after this as you will decrease a number of flowers that will form later.

Finally, it was time to tackle pruning my feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisoides). I love the golden yellow flowers that appear in winter and last into early spring. They add a lovely fragrance to the garden as well. However, once flowering has finished, they produce seed pods that will turn brown and ugly if not pruned.

I’ve created a video to show you how to prune these shrubs. Unlike the others, I only prune them back by 1/2 their size.

*As you can see in the video, my grandson, Eric was having fun helping out in the garden.

That is all the pruning that these shrubs will receive, which will keep them both attractive and healthy.

It’s worth noting that hedge trimmers aren’t a bad tool to use – rather, the problem is when they are used incorrectly to prune flowering shrubs excessively throughout the year.

I hope that this post is helpful to you as you maintain your shrubs. If you’d like to learn more about pruning shrubs in the desert garden, I invite you to learn more about my popular online pruning workshop. I’ve helped countless people just like you learn how to maintain beautiful, flowering shrubs with pruning twice a year or less! 

*What do you prune in mid-spring?

The other day, I was driving home from a landscape consult and as usual – I was on the lookout for examples of good and bad landscaping.

This particular day, I saw some great examples that  I would love to share with you.  

First the good…

 Isn’t this landscape grouping, attractive?

There is great texture and color.

The Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) is one of my favorite flowering shrubs, which can be trained as small trees – I have 3 at home.

The spiky foliage of the Red Yucca help to provide contrast with the softer edges of the tree and Lantana.

Speaking of which, you cannot beat Lantana for summer color.

Here is another good example of landscaping…


Although, the Texas Sage, above, is planted a bit too close together, the homeowner has solved the problem by pruning them back severely to approximately 1 ft. using loppers.  Notice that they did NOT use hedge shears or trimmers, which is a good thing!

What this does is to keep the shrubs within bounds, but since they weren’t sheared, the flowers and natural shape of the shrubs can be enjoyed.

You can really tell the difference when you see the photo below from the house next door – which is a bad example by the way…

The same shrubs, planted too close together.  But, the homeowner elected to shear them back with hedge-trimmers.  
The flowers and absence of the shrubs natural shape make these look like green ‘cones’.
Finally, I saw this really bad example of landscaping… 

Isn’t this terrible?
Believe it or not, this is a Mesquite tree that has been ‘poodled’ – meaning sheared into a round shape.
Pruning trees this way is very unhealthy for them for many reasons:
– Shearing trees actually stimulates excess growth meaning that you will need to prune them more often then a properly pruned tree.
– Sunlight has difficulty penetrating the interior, which can lead to the eventual death of interior branches.
– New branches will grow at a ‘weak’ angle, which makes them more susceptible to breakage.
These are but a few of the reason of why not to ‘shear’ or ‘top’ trees.
**How about you?  What examples of good and bad landscaping have you seen this summer?
You can learn more about why it’s wrong to ‘top’ trees in this article from the International Society of Arboriculture.
Although I greatly enjoy being able to grow many frost-sensitive plants such as Bougainvillea and Arizona Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans), I do not particularly like how they look in the winter, once frost has hit our area – zone 9a.  
And so, when hints of spring are in the air….I am itching to get back into the garden to prune them back.  In our area (the Phoenix metro area), this is generally the beginning of March which is usually after the last frost has occurred in our area.
First on my list is the Bougainvillea.  I have three in my back garden. 
 
Not too attractive is it?  You can clearly see where the frost damaged the top growth.  The bottom growth is still green as the top branches protected them from frost damage.
 
Now you would assume that you just cut back all the leafless branches, but DON’T.  Many of the naked branches are still alive.  Look closely at the branch below and you can see that the part of the branch on the left is brown with no hint of green – prune the brown part of the branch off, leaving the green shaded part alone.

You can also look and see tiny leaflets starting to emerge.  This is also a sign to look for when determining what part of the branches to prune.
 
Why not prune earlier to remove the ugly, naked branches you may ask?  Well, the answer is simple….if you prune too early and frost hits your area, it will damage the newly emerging leaves and could easily kill the live tissue inside of the branches, leaving you with a much smaller plant or a dead one.  So, as ugly as it looks in the winter….leave it alone, please?
 

All finished!  Okay, I admit, that it still does not look all that attractive and many may feel compelled to remove all of the naked branches.  But, look closely below….
 
 This is why you do not want to remove all of the naked branches.  This is my Bougainvillea one week after pruning.  Beautiful leaves are beginning to grow out from those formerly naked branches.
**Tips for pruning Bougainvillea…WEAR LONG SLEEVES to protect yourself from the thorns.  I used hand-pruners and loppers to prune all of my shrubs. 
I am working hard today at pruning back many of my other desert shrubs and will be posting about them this coming week, so please visit again :^)