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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.

Over Pruned Shrubs

Over Pruned Shrubs

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, OR the wrong plant in the wrong space .

You can see the thin layer of leaves that cover the shrub and the dark, interior where sunlight seldom reaches.

This isn’t healthy for your shrubs, shortens their lifespan, and increases the amount of water they require.

If this resembles your shrub(s), the good news is that you can often fix them.

Over Pruned Shrubs

Imagine going from the shrub on the left to the one on the right?

It is possible and often a certain type of pruning known as ‘rejuvenation pruning’ is the way to do this.

In my online shrub pruning workshop I love teaching my students how to rejuvenate their over-pruned shrubs.

It’s important to not that not all shrubs respond to rejuvenation pruning, but Cassia (Senna species), Sage (Leucophyllum species), Ruellia, Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and Lantana shrubs respond well as long as they aren’t too old and healthy.

I encourage you to declare your landscape free of shrubs pruned into balls, cupcakes, and squares and transform it into one filled with beauty 🙂

sustainable landscaping

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.

sustainable landscaping

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.

sustainable landscaping

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.

sustainable landscaping

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…

over-pruned shrub

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…

sustainable landscaping

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.

sustainable landscaping

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?

What Keeps a Landscape From Being Sustainable?

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:

Leucophyllum frutescens 'Green Cloud'

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…  

'Rio Bravo'

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.

sustainable landscape

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.

sustainable landscape

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

sustainable landscape

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.

sustainable landscape

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…

sustainable landscape

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

sustainable landscape

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.

sustainable landscape

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.

sustainable landscape

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

sustainable landscape

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'

‘Abstract Art’

Mushrooms

‘Mushrooms’

Cupcakes

‘Cupcakes’

sage shrubs

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…

sustainable landscape
sustainable landscape
sustainable landscape

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.

sustainable landscape

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”.

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.

Texas Sage shrubs

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…

Texas Ranger shrubs

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

over-pruning flowering shrubs

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

over-pruning flowering shrubs

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.  

over-pruning flowering shrubs

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.  

'Rio Bravo' sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Rio Bravo')

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.  

over-pruning flowering shrubs

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?

over-pruning flowering shrubs