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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.






Have you ever wondered how sustainable your landscape is?


Earlier this week, we began our series of posts on sustainable landscaping and talked about what a sustainable landscape is.  You can find the first post here.

Most of us like the idea of having an attractive landscape without wasting resources such as fertilizer, excessive pruning and water, time and gasoline unnecessarily.  But, oftentimes we do things in our gardens that create the need for additional resources.

Today, we will look at one of the major problems that I see which often goes wrong and prevents people from having sustainable landscapes.

MISTAKE #1:

Most people fail to take into consideration how large their new plants will grow.

For example:


This young ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) measures roughly 1 foot high and wide.

But, just a few years after planting, it does grow quite a bit…


This ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), which is similar in size to ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage reaches sizes up to 8 feet tall and wide.

It’s hard to believe that such a small shrub can grow so much in just a few years time.


This trailing rosemary was initially quite small when planted next to this boulder.  However, the homeowner did not allow for the fact that the rosemary would grow and eventually ‘swallow’ the boulder.


This small ficus tree looks rather innocent, doesn’t it?  But, it is harboring a secret…


It will grow absolutely huge!
This ficus tree absolutely dwarfs this house.  

The mistake of not allowing for the mature size of plants when planting, leads to…

MISTAKE #2:

Over-planting.


At first glance, there appears to be nothing wrong with this landscape area.  There are some larger dwarf oleanders in the background and nine young Texas sage shrubs.

But, do you think that the Texas sage shrubs will fit in this area once they start to grow toward their mature size of 6 – 8 feet?

I don’t think so.

Over-planting occurs when people don’t allow for the mature size of the plants.  Of course, new plants look rather small and somewhat straggly once first planted, which often leads to over-planting to make the new area look more attractive.

That is what happened to this area below…


Would you believe that the shrubs planted above are actually the same as those shown below?


It’s true.  The only difference is that in this space, the mature size of the shrubs was taken into account, so there was no over-planting taking place.

Think about how much less money and maintenance this area uses compared to the previous area?  There are fewer plants, less maintenance and it looks much nicer!

Mistakes #1 and 2 lead us to…

MISTAKE #3:

Excessive pruning.


So, what do you think people do if their plants are planted to closely together – they prune them…a lot!

Drive-thru’s are places that you can usually find over-planted landscapes.  The one above is filled with 2/3’s more plant material then is needed.

The over-pruned shrubs in the forefront are actually Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs, which look much more attractive when not over-pruned.


There are 3 Valentine shrubs in the photo above that are allowed to grow to their natural shape after their annual pruning in May.


These silver sage shrubs at our local Costco store have also been over-pruned due to the fact that they were planted too closely together.

Over-pruning often leads to artistic expressions…

‘Abstract Art’


‘Mushrooms’


‘Cupcakes’

Words fail me attempting to describe the pruning 
of these sage shrubs.

Here are some interesting facts about over-pruning that you may be surprised to hear.

Over-pruning…

– makes plants grow faster (as they attempt to re-grow the leaves lost)

-creates more maintenance (faster growing plants tend to be pruned more often)

– uses more water (in their attempt to re-grow lost leaves pruned away).

– creates green waste (branches/leaves head to the landfill)

– leads to unhealthy plants (from the stresses of too much pruning).

– wastes time used for un-needed pruning.

Have you ever seen the inside of shrubs that have been excessively pruned for years?

I warn you, it isn’t pretty…




Not too pretty, is it?

Over time, flowering shrubs that have been excessively sheared, can develop large dead areas and eventually decline.  This leads to old shrubs being removed and a new ones put in.

MISTAKE #4

Growing plants that aren’t adapted to your climate.


Plants that are not well-adapted to your local climate require excessive resources such as extra water, fertilizer and other maintenance.  

Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum) are just one example of a plant that often struggles in our southwestern, desert climate.  No matter what we do, they will never look as nice as the queen palms growing in more tropical climates.
The lesson to be learned from this is that not planning for the mature plant size, over-planting, over-pruning and wrong plant selection uses up a lot of resources.

1. Excessive amounts of water are used due to over-planting, over-pruning and for plants not well-adapted to our arid climate.

2. Money is wasted on buying more plants then are needed.

3. The costs of maintenance used for excessive planting and pruning include another resource – gasoline.

4. Declining health of plants that have not been pruned properly or those ill-suited for our dry, hot climate.

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So how does your landscape compare with examples, above?

If you see some similarities – don’t worry.  There are things that you can do to decrease the amount of resources that go into maintaining your landscape.  

My goal is to help you toward not only a more sustainable landscape, but one that is also beautiful and attractive.

In my next post, we will start to talk about 

“Small Steps Toward a Sustainable Landscape”.


The other evening, my husband and I got away for a few hours to go and see a movie.  On our way, we stopped by for dinner at El Pollo Loco.


As we were leaving, I looked toward the drive-thru and saw numerous Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs.

 
As you can see, the shrubs are planted very closely together, so they do not have room to grow to their natural size.
 
So, landscapers come in and prune away the attractive natural shape of these shrubs along with their colorful, winter flowers.
 
The problem with this area is over planting.
 
 
You can really see it on the other side of the drive-thru lane.
 
Often, landscape architects and designers add more plants then needed because when first planted, plants look scrawny and small.  Not necessarily something their client wants to see.  They want immediate impact from plants.
 
But, just 2 years later, you have unattractive green blobs because there just isn’t enough room for them to grow and they require frequent visits from the landscaper.
 
So, what can be done?  Well, if I were managing this property – I would pull out every other shrub in order to allow the remaining shrubs more room to grow.
 
 
This not only will create a more attractive landscape, but one that requires less maintenance, thereby saving money.
 
Valentine shrubs need to be pruned once a year in May.  
 
That’s it!
 
Prune them back to 1 – 2 ft. wide and tall and you are done for the year.
 
 
For more information on Valentine shrubs and why they are one of my favorite plants read:
 

I must admit, that I have been looking forward to this topic and have been pouring over past photos of my landscape consults.  I didn’t realize how many photos that I had accrued over the years of boring gardens so it has taken me a while to put this post together.

My last post asked the question, “Does Your Garden Have the Blahs?”  Is it boring, overgrown, sparse, or just lacks interest?  Well, don’t worry; we will go over some simple steps that you can do to chase the ‘blahs’ away.

Part 1 has to do with deciding what to take out of the garden and what to keep.  Your homework assignment was to take a picture of your garden and then print it out.  Now, get out your red pen and get ready…..

Now at first glance, you may be wondering what is wrong with this front garden.  Well, the homeowners felt their garden was boring and lacked color.   This garden had some attractive plants, but some were too large for their allotted space and had to be pruned continuously.  Other shrubs were not placed correctly and blocked the view of those behind them.
 So, I got out my red pen and got started…..
Shrubs that blocked the view into the garden and were too large for their allotted space and so were circled in red and removed.  Those circled in blue were pruned back.
Shortly afterward, you can see the difference removing a few plants and some pruning makes.  The client also added some new plants (not blooming in this picture) that would provide color in the winter when they were in residence.
Here is an example of a gardener who got a little carried away……
This garden is not what I would call ‘blah’, but the homeowner tried to fit all of her favorite plants into a very small area.  All they succeeded in doing was to create a messy planting area, which is not pleasing to the eye.
I counted at least 6 shrubs in this small area.  Because they were so crowded, they had been pruned often to keep them from overtaking each other and removing many of the flowers in the process.  By removing 3 of the plants, the rest would have room to grow into their natural shapes and provide a beautiful focal point to this garden.

This front garden has a grove of beautiful trees.  However, there are four trees crowded into too small a space.  Each individual tree had to be pruned to keep them from running into each other and therefore, you could not enjoy their full size and beauty.  

By removing the circled trees the two remaining trees would be better appreciated since they could then reach their full potential.

This entry area was well designed and only suffered from some old perennials (Angelita Daisies).  Many flowering perennials are short-lived and need to be replaced every few years.  They are relatively inexpensive and add so much interest to the garden.

Unfortunately, many gardeners make the mistake of not replacing their plants and as a result, their garden becomes more and more bare with each passing year, like the one below…..

If your garden looks like this one, you probably do not need to remove anything, since there is hardly anything left.  You can see a drip irrigation line sticking up by the boulder where there used to be a plant.  This is a perfect example of a garden where short-lived plants were removed and never replaced.
Sometimes, the wrong plant is planted the wrong place…..
These are Ficus trees that were planted in a raised planter around a pool.  When they were initially planted, they were small and fit well into this limited space, but no longer.  
This Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs naturally grows more then 4 – 5 ft. wide and should be removed from this area.
Gold Lantana is beautiful and is usually covered with yellow flowers, but not his one.  It has been pruned, using hedge trimmers, to keep it from encroaching on the water meter, but it had never been severely pruned, which if done each spring, would eliminate this problem.  
There are two different solutions  – the first is to simply prune the Lantana back severely to about 1′ and let it grow out until it is approximately 3′ x 3′.   The other solution is simply to remove it and plant a replacement further away from the water meter.
Many situations simply require occasional severe pruning, which can rejuvenate plants, reduce maintenance and greatly improve their appearance.  So if any of these pictures remind you of your garden – a severe pruning, may be all you need to do.
Severely pruning this Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum), will remove the dead interior growth which will be replaced with new, attractive growth that will flower.  By pruning back to approximately 2′ x 2′, you will have an ugly bunch of sticks for a few weeks, but in most cases, they will begin to leaf out again.  **This is best done in the spring time.  Some plants will not recover from this type of pruning, which indicates that they were declining and would not have survived for long even without being pruned.
In some cases, when there is little green growth (above), it is best to just remove the plants and start over.  But, you can always try to cut them back severely to about 2′ in size and see if they come back…..you don’t have anything to lose, so try it and you may be surprised when it comes back.

 There is nothing that needs to be removed in this garden.  But a good pruning would improve the appearance.  All three shrubs should be pruned severely every 2 – 3 years in spring and then allowed to grow into their natural shape.  The Cat’s Claw Vine, (I don’t recommend planting this vine), should also be pruned down to the ground every few years to remove old, woody growth and keep it in check.



Again, I would not remove anything from this garden, but it does need improvement.  It looks like a bunch of round blobs dotted haphazardly around the landscape.  At first you may fault a bad design, but if you take a second look, it is more a problem of incorrect pruning.  Each type of shrub in this landscape grows to varying heights and shapes, when not pruned into round ball shapes.  By decreasing the amount of pruning and banishing the hedge trimmers, the shrubs would grow into their natural shapes would greatly improve the appearance of this landscape.  A little texture would be welcome in the shape of large boulders, accent plants and some mounding perhaps.

**You can read more about recommended pruning for shrubs in an earlier post, “Shrubs Aren’t Made To Be Cupcakes, Frisbees or Pill Boxes.


As you can see, we covered a lot of different boring gardens.  I hope the examples that I have shown help you as you evaluate your own garden and use your red pen.


I will start working on Part 2, which will cover more of the design aspect – specifically, where to place plants in the landscape.  




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On  personal note, life is crazy and busy, but there are two things that I would like to share with you.


First, my nephew (Little Farmer of Double S Farms), swallowed a penny earlier this week and then complained of pain.  It turns out it got lodged in his esophagus and he had to go the children’s hospital where they put him to sleep so they could use a scope to get it out.



He did great 🙂


The second thing that I would like to share is that in exactly 1 week, my brother and sister-in-law will give birth to their twin boys.  I can hardly wait!

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.