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Overgrown, old Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

You have undoubtedly seen an old, overgrown shrub filled with mostly leafless branches that rarely flower anymore. Or, perhaps it is an aged succulent that has brown patches that are slowly encroaching onto the upper parts of the plant from the base. So, what is the solution for plants that no longer add decorative value to our landscape?

Old rosemary filled with unproductive woody growth

While some woody plants such as Texas sage or oleander can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, not all plants respond favorably to this and grow out again. Let’s take a look at some Southwestern favorite shrubs and succulents and talk about whether you should prune severely or when it’s best to replace.

Oleander that has undergone severe renewal pruning in spring.

Many shrubs can be rejuvenated by severely pruning them back, which gets rid of old, woody growth and stimulates the production of new branches, which will flower more (in the case of flowering shrubs). It is helpful to think of severe renewal pruning as the “fountain of youth” for many plants. This type of pruning is best done in spring, once the weather begins to warm up. Shrubs that respond well to this include bougainvillea, jojoba, lantana, oleander, Texas sage, and yellow bells. It’s important to note that not all shrubs will come back from this method, but the pruning didn’t kill the shrub – it only hastened the demise of the plant that was already in progress. If this happens, replace it with another.

Old desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

There are some plants that don’t respond well to renewal pruning or where that isn’t possible to do in the case of succulents. In this case, the solution is simple – take them out and replace them with a younger version of the same plant. Examples of plants that are better removed and replaced include aloe, desert spoon, red yucca (hesperaloe), rosemary, and prickly pear cactus. When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

Heavenly Cloud Texas Sage several weeks after severe pruning.

When you think about it, the cost isn’t very high, when you consider the beauty that these plants added to your landscape for eight years or more.

*Have you severely pruned back an old shrub and had it come back beautifully? Or, maybe you recently removed and replaced some old succulents?

 

What do you do when you see damaging insects such as aphids sucking on your plants?


Do you reach for the nearest bottle of insecticide? Pluck them off or spray them with a hose?  


Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing.  I learned this lesson long ago before I went to school to become a horticulturist.


I remembered this important lesson when I passed by a severely pruned oleander shrub on my way to our weekly bagel lunch after church.  


The oleanders were growing back nicely.  However, there was some yellow aphids on the young leaves.

Years ago, my oleander shrubs had an infestation of yellow aphids like this, and I was anxious to get rid of them.

I had several methods at my disposal – insecticidal soap, a strong jet of water or my fingers – all of which, would help get rid of most of the aphids.  But, life got in the way, and I didn’t have a chance to get out to treat my shrubs until about ten days later.  

Can you guess what I found?  Not a single aphid.  I didn’t have to do a thing, and the aphids were gone, and my shrubs look great.

So, what happened to the aphids?

When harmful insect pests first appear, it can take a week or two before their natural predators follow.  In the case of aphids, lacewing and ladybugs showed up and ate the aphids.  

Plants are tougher than we give them credit for and can handle a certain amount of insect pests without any adverse effects to the plant itself.  

So, when I come back in a couple of weeks to the same bagel shop, I expect to see no aphids in sight and a healthy oleander shrub.

Do you ever find yourself pulling into the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant?


I do.


Lately, I have been very busy with landscape consults as well as working on a large golf course re-landscaping project, which have resulted in more than my share of visits to the local drive-thru.  Add to that my preparations for a local craft fair in November (along with my sister and mom where I am making basil salt, seed bombs and air plants mounted on creosote roots), preparations for an upcoming family reunion as well as hosting my daughter’s baby shower – we will probably be making quite a few more visits to the drive-thru.


Normally, drive-thru restaurants are places where you can see examples of poor design showcasing overplanted and over pruned shrubs that are too large for the narrow landscape spaces by the drive-thru lane.  However, I was truly surprised during one trip through at my local fast food restaurant.


First, let’s look at the landscaping you normally find as you visit the drive-thru…



Over pruned feathery cassia shrubs (Senna artemisioides)
These shrubs would actually work well in this space if you reduced the amount down to three and allowed them to grow to their natural size and form…

Feathery cassia in bloom

Do you think that those overpruned shrubs ever have any flowers appearing in late winter and spring, like this one?

I didn’t think so.


In the Southwest, the types of shrubs that you are most likely to see growing along drive-thru landscapes are oleander and Texas sage species.  

Lately, Valentine bush, which is one of my favorite shrubs, has also been showing up more often in these areas.  

Again, the problem is too many plants in not enough space.  Couple that with the compulsive need to strip the natural beauty from these beautiful, flowering shrubs in an attempt to create anonymous green shapes and you have the perfect scenario for drive-thru landscapes.

With so many bad examples of landscaping while visiting the drive-thru, I must admit that I’ve become somewhat de-sensitized and purposely ignore it.

However, a recent visit to the drive-thru made me take a second look as I drove past this…


Notice anything different?

The plants actually fit into this space and without over pruning!

There is room for the bougainvillea against the wall to grow and while the lantana could use a little more room – it is looking great too.  

What I really liked about this landscape was the use of banana yucca.  Its leaves added great spiky texture and the flowers are just lovely.

*I did notice the overpruned dwarf oleanders in the background, but I’m ignoring them.

Using fewer shrubs and allowing them room to grow is a great start to rethinking the drive-thru landscape.  

The next important part is to stop the frequent pruning of flowering shrubs.

I’d love to see a mix of shrubs and succulents in drive-thru landscapes for more interest, less maintenance and that is more water efficient.

For now, I will keep trying to keep my eyes open for another great example of a drive-thru landscape.


But, I think it may be awhile…

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For other examples of drive-thru landscapes, click here.

If you have shrubs that resemble this and would like to have beautiful shrubs with a pleasing natural shape that actually flowers as well as see some other examples of bad pruning – click here for some of my favorite pruning posts.

It’s that time of year, the weather is cooler, the trees are dressed up in their colors and people are almost ready for Halloween.  


My youngest daughter, Gracie, is going to be a ‘butterfly princess’ this year and my son Kai will be the ‘Brawny’ paper towel guy.  I bought him work boots (he loves those), a flannel shirt and of course, a package of ‘Brawny’ paper towels.  

This year, we will be hosting the family Halloween night with my sister, brother and their families.  I can hardly wait.  


This post has been a huge favorite every year.  I hope you enjoy it!

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My kids, aren’t the only ones ready for Halloween.  Use your imagination and see how these plants are prepared as well…..



Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana) beginning growing it’s snake-like flower stalk.
Growing up to one foot a day, like a snake coming out of the snake charmer’s basket.


 
Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila) climbing up the pillar and underneath….hanging down 
like spiderwebs.


 
A Yucca reclining like a lovely lady.  
But beware….she stabs you with her leaves if you get too close….
(This Yucca was trained to grow this way)


 
Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) dressed as a giant.

 
 
The ‘claws’ of an Agave


 
Ocotillo (Fouquierea splendens) with a Medusa hairstyle.

 
Sticks of Fire (Euphorbia tirucalli), will not burn you….but it is poisonous.


 
The spooky silhouette of a Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla).
You can almost hear the hooting owls…


 
Crested Saguaro (Saguaro carnegiea)
A saguaro all dressed up with a new hairstyle.



Twin-Flowered Agave (Agave geminiflora), sprouting horns.

And finally….  

 A beautiful White Oleander (Nerium oleander) flower lures you in with her subtle fragrance.
But Beware!  She is deadly if ingested…


I hope you enjoyed the plants in their “costumes”.

Are you or your children dressing up for Halloween this year?  
What as?

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) – December
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.

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Now for those of you who really like the appearance of formally pruned shrubs….

Don’t worry – there is hope.  

There are some types of shrubs that do very well when formally pruned.

But, I’ll leave that for my next post 🙂