Tag Archive for: Pruning shrubs

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

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)

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')

‘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.

overgrown shrubs

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

Overgrown shrubs.

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…

overgrown shrubs

New growth appears 3 weeks later

8 weeks after pruning

8 weeks after pruning.

12 weeks after severe 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.

overgrown shrubs

**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

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.   

I do hope you all had a good week.  I have had a busy week of consultations as well as preparing for two upcoming speaking engagements, (which I love to do by the way).  But the most exciting thing is that I am working on getting ready for a trip along the east coast – I can’t wait to tell you more about that ๐Ÿ™‚

I have enjoyed this series of ‘Curing the Garden Blahs’ and would like to cover the topic of form and texture since they belong together along with color, which we covered in an earlier post.  

You may not be too familiar with these concepts and wonder what part they play in a good garden design.  To help, let my ask you the following question – have you seen a landscape that really catches your interest, but you cannot tell exactly why?  Landscapes full of flowering plants do attract our attention, but have you ever been attracted to one that does not necessarily have lots of flowering plants?  If so, chances are that the designer made sure to incorporate both texture and form when they created the garden.

Well, let’s get familiar with texture first.  Texture refers to the visual surface of a plant, such as rough or smooth as well as the size and shape of foliage, flowers, branches and bark.  Here in the desert, we definitely have our share of plants with rough surfaces, but no matter where you live the following photos should help you understand the concepts of texture and how it relates to your landscape plants.

Curing the Garden Blahs

Ouch!

Curing the Garden Blahs;Purple Prickly Pear

Curing the Garden Blahs;Purple Prickly Pear

In direct contrast are those plants with smooth surfaces…..

Agave desmettiana

Agave desmettiana

Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)

Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)

Different types of texture are also expressed in the different shapes of foliage and bark.

First, examples of fine textured plants which are characterized by small leaves and flowers and sometimes have a ‘lacy’ appearance.

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens)

 Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens)

Threadleaf Cassia

Threadleaf Cassia  (Senna nemophila)

Curing the Garden Blahs ;Alyssum 'Royal Carpet'

Curing the Garden Blahs ;Alyssum ‘Royal Carpet’

Here are some examples of plants that have a coarse texture which is characterized by large leaves that tend to be bold and make a statement in the landscape.

Purple Orchid Tree (Bauhinia variegata)

  Purple Orchid Tree (Bauhinia variegata)

Geranium

 Geranium

Curing the Garden Blahs

 Australian Bottle Tree (Brachyiton populneus)

One way that designers draw attention the landscape is to pair different textures together.  The following picture is an excellent example of this…..

Curing the Garden Blahs

  Agave weberi with Purple Trailing Lantana

The coarse texture of the Agave paired with the fine texture of the Purple Trailing Lantana accentuate their differences and your eye is drawn to that naturally.  When emphasizing the ways that they are different, you also appreciate their individual beauty even more.  If you place plants with similar texture next to each other, they can fade into the background.  

In general, coarse textured plants are placed in the background while the finer textured plants are in the front. 

Curing the Garden Blahs

A variety of textures are represented in this backyard garden, which draws your attention.

Now let us look closer at the concept of form as it relates to the garden.  This is somewhat easier to grasp as it has to do with the overall shape of plants.

Here are spiky plants, often called ‘accent’ plants….

Curing the Garden Blahs

 Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Bougainvillea

  Bougainvillea ‘Torch Glow’

Red Yucca

  Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Parry's Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

 Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Other plant shapes are more naturally more rounded…..

Curing the Garden Blahs

 Eremophila ‘Valentine’

Curing the Garden Blahs

 Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

Curing the Garden Blahs

Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Curing the Garden Blahs

  Green Cloud Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’)

Now you may notice that the naturally rounded shrubs are not unnaturally round and smooth…..these shrubs have texture which is a good thing.

Imagine if you will, a landscape of ‘green balls’.  Believe it or not, you don’t need your imagination to picture this because there are countless landscapes with this problem.

Curing the Garden Blahs
Curing the Garden Blahs

These plants have been robbed of their form.   Now they are little better then green balls.  There is nothing interesting about them.  *For those of you who have gotten to know me through my blog or in person, you know that I am passionately against the practice of ‘poodling’ landscape shrubs.  Especially those that flower.  If you feel like it, you can always read my earlier post, “Shrubs Aren’t Meant to be Cupcakes.”

Curing the Garden Blahs

 Besides being too crowded, the shrubs have all been overly pruned, removing much of their form and texture and creating a boring landscape.

Below is a formally pruned Texas Ebony tree….

Curing the Garden Blahs

Needless to say, they are not to be pruned into round balls.

Which do you like better….the one above or the one below?  Believe it or not, they are the same type of tree.

Curing the Garden Blahs

A beautiful landscape incorporates both color, form and texture…..

Curing the Garden Blahs

 The fine texture of the Foothill Palo Verde contrasts nicely with the coarse texture of the Agave in the foreground.  The ornamental grass in the background also add nice form and texture contrast.

Curing the Garden Blahs

  This ‘natural’ desert landscape has actually been recreated using the desert as the inspiration.  The different form and textures of the succulents contrast well with the trees, shrubs and groundcovers.

Curing the Garden Blahs

  Form and texture at play with only a few different plants.

Curing the Garden Blahs

 This is one of my personal favorites ๐Ÿ™‚

I do hope this post has been helpful in explaining the importance of both texture and form in the landscape.  I have only briefly touched upon it and there is much more information available online or at your local bookstore if you would like to get into more detail.

I am now off to help my husband finish building the fence of my new flower garden ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a great weekend!

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.

perfect plant

 Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) 1-gallon Approximately 1 ft. Wide and tall.

perfect plant

 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…

perfect plant

 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…

perfect plant

 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

 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.