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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 🙂
A sustainable, low-maintenance landscape is not only beautiful, it can save the use of unneeded resources such as maintenance, time and money.

To date, our series on sustainable landscaping has talked about what is a sustainable landscape.  Next, we talked about what often goes wrong in the landscape that causes us to use unneeded resources.  


In our quest toward a more sustainable landscape, we started to discuss small steps that you can take towards a more sustainable garden.  In part one, we covered plant selection and what types of plants to avoid as our journey toward a sustainable landscape progresses.

Today, we will finish up our series on sustainable landscaping with additional steps you can implement in your garden right now.


Reduce over-crowded landscapes by removing excess plants.



As you can see, there are far too many shrubs in this area, which helps to contribute to over-pruning.


To help solve this problem, simply remove the excess shrubs.  How can you tell which ones to remove?  First, find out what type of shrubs they are – in this case they are ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’).


Then use one of the resources I gave you last time to research the plant, which would tell you that this type of shrub will grow about 6 feet high and wide.  So, the shrubs should be placed at least 6 feet apart.  


Using the photo above as an example, start out with the first shrub on the left, measure out to the next shrub that is at least 6 feet away.  Any shrubs between these two shrubs need to be taken out.  Repeat the process until the remaining shrubs are at least 6 feet apart.


Stop unnecessary pruning.




These shrubs have plenty of room to grow in the landscape, yet they are pruned every couple of months.


This type of pruning is called ‘poodle’ or ‘cupcake’ pruning.


It is really quite amazing how much more work over-pruning causes and in ways you may be surprised to discover, click here to learn more. To reduce the amount of resources (green waste, water, plant replacement, and maintenance bills) wasted on unneeded pruning.


So declare your landscape a ‘poodle’ and ‘cupcake’-free zone.  Believe me, your plants will thank you for it and your plants will look much nicer.


Allow shrubs to grow to their natural size.




When you allow enough room for plants to grow, the temptation to over-prune is greatly lessened.


Plants have a lovely shape that we frequently ruin, by making them into ‘balls’ or other unnatural shapes.  This does not only affect the health of the plant, it can also remove flowers.


Note: I am not saying that all pruning is harmful.  Pruning done properly can be beneficial for plants.


So, what if you have a landscape filled with over-pruned shrubs.  What can you do to transform them into more naturally-shaped shrubs that are more sustainable? 


The answer is relatively simple and it does involve pruning…




This over-pruned shrub is located in my neighborhood.  I cringe whenever I walk by it while walking our dogs.


It is seldom allowed to grow any leaves before the landscapers come just about every leaf off.  Frequent over-pruning has led to old, woody growth that is unproductive.  


The solution to transforming this shrub is called rejuvenation pruning, which entails pruning the shrub all the way back to 1 1/2 feet.  In most cases, this will stimulate attractive, new growth that you can allow to grow into their natural shape.


*I mention ‘in most cases’ because there is always a chance that the shrub will not recover from this type of pruning.  However when this happens, it is usually an indicator that the shrub was already declining and would not have lived long regardless of whether it was severely pruned or not.


Below, is an example from my own garden…




On the left, you can see a sage shrub that has been allowed to grow into its natural shape, which is more sustainable then over-pruning.  In addition, I also get a lot of beautiful flowers.


Every 3 years of so, when the branches become woody and unproductive, I prune it back severely (in spring) and within 4 – 6 weeks, it is already growing new branches filled with attractive foliage.


Water your plants deeply and infrequently.




Would you be surprised to discover that 80% of your water bill is used outdoors?  It’s true.


Would you also be shocked to discover that most of us over-water our plants?  In fact, more plant problems are caused by over-watering then under-watering.


So, why waste water, which is a precious resource in the western United States needlessly?


While you can have a landscape filled with desert-adapted plants that need no water, after established – your plants will look better if given some supplemental water.


For my own landscape – I water my shrubs and perennials once every 3 weeks in the winter months and it looks beautiful.


In the summer, I water every 7 – 10 days.  


The key is to water shrubs to a depth of 2 feet, perennials/groundcovers to 1 foot and trees to 3 feet.


So, how do you know how often to water?


There is excellent information available for the Phoenix metro area that you can access here.


For those of you who in other arid climates – check with your local extension office for watering guidelines.  


However, if that seems rather complicated, there is a new irrigation controller that does all the work for you.  All you have to do is enter your zip code, once the controller is installed and it will keep track of your local weather and water your plants only when they need it.  You can find out more about this Smart Irrigation Controller, here.


*For those of you who would like more information, I have written more extensively on landscape watering for desert gardens that you can access here.


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I hope you have found these posts helpful toward your goal of creating a more sustainable landscape.


Our last post will cover the last small steps that you can do to achieve a sustainable garden, so please check back.






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

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…


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.


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.  


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.


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.

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.”


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), the good news is that you can usually fix them.

Imagine going from the shrub on the left to the one on the right?
 
You can still do this in April for your Cassia (Senna species), Sage (Leucophyllum species), Ruellia, Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and Lantana shrubs.
I teach you how in my popular online shrub pruning workshop where you’ll learn how to rejuvenate over-pruned shrubs and how to prune them the right way in the future.
Declare your landscape free of shrubs pruned into balls, cupcakes, and squares 🙂

My inbox has been filled lately with pruning questions.  Specifically, how to prune back overgrown flowering shrubs.

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)
You may be wondering why you need to severely prune back overgrown shrubs?
 
Well, as you can see from the photo, above – as a shrub’s branches age, they produce fewer leaves and flowers.  As time passes – these branches die, which leave ugly, bare areas.
 
Here are a few more examples of overgrown shrubs that need to be severely pruned back…
‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’)
You may think the formally pruned sage shrubs in the photo above, look okay besides being a bit on the large side.  
But, what you don’t see is a large amount of dead branches inside.  In reality, these shrubs are covered in a very thin layer of growth.
 
Here is an example of old Cassia (Senna nemophila) shrubs that have only been pruned formally.  You can see that there are more dead areas than live growth.
 
So, how do you go about severely pruning old, overgrown shrubs back?
 
First of all – don’t do this during cooler months because it will take your shrubs a very long time to grow back. In addition, it can make frost-tender shrubs more susceptible to frost damage.  Wait until spring for pruning back summer-flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea, sage, oleanders, etc.
 
You need a good pair of loppers and sometimes a pruning saw and you are ready to go. Simply prune your shrub back until there is only about 1 – 2 ft left.
 
Hedge trimmers can help if you use them to remove the outer part of the shrub and then you can get your loppers inside to prune off larger branches toward the base.
 
Below, are photos of ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrubs that started out overgrown, were pruned back severely, and grew back.
 
Overgrown shrubs.
Pruned back to 1 ft.

This is the ugly stage.  But you need to go through this ‘awkward’ stage to achieve beautiful, healthy shrubs.

I promise that it doesn’t last long…

New growth appears 3 weeks later
8 weeks after pruning.
12 weeks after severe pruning.
 
You can see that the severe pruning caused the shrub to grow young, new branches that produce beautiful green growth and flowers.
 
 
**Although severe renewal pruning keeps your shrubs healthy and attractive – there are a few cases when an old, overgrown shrub won’t grow back. It is doubtful that the Cassia shrubs, above, will survive for long either with or without severe pruning). 
 
This usually indicates that the shrub has declined too much and would not have survived for long even without pruning.  If this happens, you are better off replacing your shrub.**
 
Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers
A good guideline for severely pruning your shrubs is to do this every 3 years or so. Of course, you can do this every year if you like to help keep your shrubs from outgrowing their space.
 
I hope that this helps to answer some of your questions.
If you would like to learn more about how to prune shrubs the right way, I invite you to learn more about my popular online shrub pruning workshop