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I spent last week visiting with a client who was worried that he had lost 80% of his plants to the hard freeze that we had experienced earlier this winter.

I must admit that there was more brown then green in his garden, like the majority of homeowners in our area.  Countless homeowners are anxiously waiting until it is time to start pruning back their frost-damaged shrubs and perennials (myself included).

Personally, I can’t wait to prune back my Bush Lantana, which is not only ugly, but acts like a magnet for trash on a windy day.

 
Drive through any neighborhood in the Phoenix metro area and you will see a lot of brown, crispy-looking plants.
Dwarf Oleander…….
 
Bougainvillea….
Natal Plum….
I think that I will stop here with showing photos of brown, crispy plants because it is getting a bit depressing.
Okay, so here is the big question that I am being asked a lot lately.
“When can I start pruning back this ugly brown stuff?”
The answer is that you can start once the last average date for frost has passed for your area.
Where I live, in the Phoenix metro area, this is usually the beginning of March.  
Soon you will see scores of homeowners digging out their loppers and hand pruners and joyfully start pruning off the ‘brown stuff’ off of their plants.
So, this leads to the next question,
“How can I tell if my plants are even alive?”
Well, this is usually quite easy to figure out.  Remember the client who thought that they had lost 80% of his plants to the hard freeze?  Well, after looking at all of his plants, I only discovered 3 young  lantana that probably did not make it.

This is what I do to tell if a plant is still alive:

Go towards the base of the plant and bend the stems/branches.  If they snap off easily, then that part of the plant is dead.  However, if the stem/branch is flexible and ‘bendy’ then there is live tissue inside.  Even if the branch/stem does break off, look to see if there is live growth inside.  

Below, is a photo of a frost-damaged Bush Lantana that I broke off a small stem off of to see if there was live tissue inside.


If you look carefully, you can see the light-green interior of the branch.  So, this Lantana will recover, but should have all frost-damaged growth removed.
Another clue to look for to be able to tell if your plants are still alive is to look underneath, towards the bottom.  Below, is a photo of a severely frost-damaged Dwarf Oleander that has green leaves underneath.  So, it will recover from the frost-damage.

Okay, now for our last question,

“How do I know how much to prune off of my frost-damaged plants?”

The simple answer is that you prune back to where you see new leaves emerging OR where the branches have live tissue inside.


This Bougainvillea branch (above) has suffered frost damage.  However, look closely.  Can you see the change in color in the branch, from the left side to the right side?

The brown-colored part of the branch on the left side is dead, while the green-color on the right side of the branch indicates that that part is alive.  So, prune where the live part of the branch begins at the closest leaf bud.

If you wait a few weeks and let your frost-damaged plants have a chance to leaf out, that is an even easier way to tell what parts of your plants are alive and what parts are not.

Want more information on how to prune back frost-damaged plants?  Check out “Spring Cleaning In The Garden”.

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Well, the day of my ‘big announcement’ is almost here!

Please come back to visit this Tuesday, March 1st.  
 I can’t hardly wait to share with you what I have been working on lately.

 I hope you all have a wonderful week!
 

Every year about this time, I get tired of seeing this in my garden……

Pretty ugly, isn’t it?
Just looking at my frozen Lantana, causes me to feel the pull of my pruners calling out to me.

Even though I know all the reasons that I should NOT prune them now, it would be so easy to prune them back early.

And so, to keep myself from venturing into the garage where my loppers and hand pruners are stored, I will keep repeating the following reasons to stay away……

1. If I prune early, I may prune off branches that are actually alive on the inside.
2.  I can cause irreparable damage by pruning early since that stimulates plants to produce new growth, which is especially susceptible to frost damage and may even kill my plants.

3.  The brown and crispy stuff actually protects the interior and sometimes the lower leaves of my plants from the cold.
I will go out prune to my hearts content once the danger of frost is over, which is about the first week of March in my zone 9a garden.
Okay, I feel much better now about leaving my brown shrubs alone…..for the next 22 days and counting down 😉
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I have some special news to share with you all in about a week.  
It is something that I have been working on for a while now and it is getting ready to debut soon.

More later 🙂

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 🙂

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.

Ouch!
 Purple Prickly Pear
In direct contrast are those plants with smooth surfaces…..

Agave desmettiana

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)
 Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens)
Threadleaf Cassia  (Senna nemophila)
 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)
 Geranium
 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…..
 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. 

  
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….

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

 Bougainvillea ‘Torch Glow’

 Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Other plant shapes are more naturally more rounded…..


Eremophila ‘Valentine’

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)  

  Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

 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.

 

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.”

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….

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.

 

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


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.

 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.

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

This is one of my personal favorites 🙂

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 🙂

 Have a great weekend! 

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!

I know that none of us wants to admit to procrastinating…..but in my case the evidence is getting more clear with each passing day.

The pathway to my front door, is getting narrower and narrower and soon, there will be no pathway visible and guests will have to wade through my Lantana.
Now, I may be guilty of procrastinating occasionally, but I am also a “glass half full” kind of girl as well.  And my procrastination does show how beautifully my Gold Lantana is growing 😉
To be completely honest, it is hard to make myself venture outside to do any type of gardening in the month of August with hot and sometimes humid temperatures.  And so, I patiently (impatiently) wait for September to arrive with cooler and drier weather before I start working in the garden again.
Now if your garden is anything like mine, you have lush green shrubs covered in blooms that are growing like crazy.  This makes early September a great time to prune them back a bit……NOT severely, just a bit (1/3 or less).  
By pruning your plants lightly, they will have time to grow back a little before the cooler temperatures of winter bring a stop to most growth.  That way you will not be stuck with overgrown shrubs all winter.
The reason NOT to prune severely this time of year is that your plants will produce lots of new, tender growth that will be extremely susceptible to frost damage and can cause their death during a hard freeze which we sometimes experience.  Do NOT wait until October to prune because it may be too late for some of the growth to come back and you may be stuck with some ugly plants until spring arrives.  **Do not prune winter flowering shrubs such as Valentine (Eremophila maculata) since you will have greatly reduced flowering.
And so, this procrastinator is ready to head out into her garden to lightly prune her Lantana, AZ Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans),  Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species) and Bougainvillea.
What will you be pruning this month?

Isn’t it interesting how the best laid plans go awry?  I had great plans for the beginning of this week.  I was getting ready to build my flower garden.  I have had visions of a garden filled with both annual and perennial flowers suitable for cutting for bouquets.  

My garden however, had other plans……

Yesterday evening, I noticed that one of my ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees was leaning against the fence that blocks off the side yard.  I call this area a ‘yard’ and not a ‘garden’ because it is where our dog run is located.  My husband and I rushed out to see what had happened and our tree had fallen part way over.  The night before, had brought a monsoon storm to our neighborhood and the high winds brought the tree down.  It was only held up by the fence.

I was honestly surprised that this tree had fallen.  I loved this tree…..it’s beautiful yellow flowers blooming throughout the spring, it’s bright green trunk and branches and the welcome shade it brought to my desert garden.

You can see the tree in the background.  I normally do not take pictures of our side yard because besides the two Palo Verde trees, there is not much to see besides the dogs….
 This is Seiko (pronounced ‘Psycho’) and he is telling me that he is hungry.
We did not name him…..he came with the name 😉
The chicken wire along the bottom of the fence is to keep our little dog, Tobey,  from coming in to play with Seiko.
I posted a picture of this tree earlier this year as the sun was setting.  I loved how the sun set off the beauty of the yellow blossoms.
 
Oftentimes, when a tree has fallen part way and the roots are still in the ground, I am often called to a client’s home to ascertain if their tree can be saved by pulling upright and re-staking it.  This can be a tricky to determine sometimes.  If the roots are girdled (growing around in circles) then I usually do recommend removing the tree because the roots aren’t growing outwards which help to anchor the tree.
If the tree went over because of not being pruned correctly or watered incorrectly, then it might be saved if these things are done properly.  I do remind people to keep in mind if they do stake their tree back up, that there is an excellent chance that it will fall again, which can be a hazard.  But, if they are very attached to their tree and want to give it another chance, then by all means I tell them to go for it.
Sadly, it turns out that our tree had girdled roots and had to come out.  It is difficult to diagnose girdled roots ahead of time because it usually occurs at the nursery.  Either by being planted incorrectly, or by being in it’s container for too long.  When I would purchase trees for the landscapes I managed, the nurseries would often contact me to let me know they were having a great sale on their container trees.  The usual reason was that their trees had been in the containers for quite a while and instead of transplanting them to larger containers, they put them on sale.  As a result, I made it a rule to never buy a tree on sale – I did not want to take a chance that they were in their container/box too long and the roots were beginning to grow around the root ball.
My initial plan for this morning had been to go to our local big box store and purchase the supplies for my new flower garden.  But, instead I spent my morning cutting down our tree with my husband and daughter, Rachele.  Why didn’t we hire someone to remove it for us you may ask?  Well, it is hard for me to spend around $400 to remove a tree when I was used to removing fallen trees with my crew years ago.  I just can’t see paying someone to do something that I had been trained to do myself.  But I think the more important motivation is that $400 is a lot of money to spend when we can do it ourselves.
You know what happens when you start pruning one tree in your garden?   You find more trees that need a little pruning here and there.  And so I also did some pruning on my remaining Palo Verde trees.  *I really like electric chainsaws….they are much lighter and quieter then the gas powered models.
I really enjoy pruning both trees and shrubs.  What I don’t like is having to clean up afterward.  My kids and I usually have a great system where I do the pruning and they help clean up the branches.  But today, three of my kids were in school, which left me and my husband to do the cleaning up 😉
It is usually at this point that I start questioning the wisdom of doing it ourselves instead of hiring someone else to do it instead 😉
As I walked through the cut branches, I noticed some of the few remaining yellow flowers beginning to wilt….
 
It made me rather sad…..

Each time I go on a landscape consult, it is an adventure.  I never know what to expect.   Will there be serious problems with any of the trees and plants?  Or will my help be needed to re-design the landscape, adjust the irrigation schedule or help people learn how to maintain their plants?  Well, life is full of surprises. 

Of course, every time I go on a consult, I always bring my camera.  I am always looking for examples of beautiful plants and problems to photograph.  I then share many of them with you.


Yesterday, was a gorgeous spring day.  The high was 78 degrees and I actually had two consults scheduled, within two miles of each other.  My first client had just bought a new home and wanted help identifying her plants and how to take care of them.  She also had inherited some sick citrus trees and needed help in how to help them.

First the good things that I saw….


I was greeted by the front entry by this spectacular white flower.  Argentine Giant (Trichocereus candicans), is a cactus that is highly desired.  It produces flowers a few times during spring and summer months.  This particular cactus was absolutely covered in these large blossoms.


Nearby the Argentine Giant, was the smaller Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) awash in bright orange blooms.


An unusually shaped flowering Twin Flower Agave (Agave geminiflora) caught my eye.  Normally, they produce a single flowering stalk like the one on the left.  However, the one on the right had seven smaller stalks.  I love seeing examples of plants that are doing something out of the ordinary 🙂

Now for the bad….


This is one of the four sickly citrus trees that I was asked to see.  The diagnosis was relatively easy.  Lack of water and nutrient deficiency.  Both problems will be solved by enlarging the basin underneath the tree so that it extends out to where the branches end.  As the tree grows, so must the basin since a trees roots extend outwards where the branches extend.  A new watering schedule and making sure that the water penetrates to 3 ft. in depth should do much to help these trees.

Nutrient deficiencies are corrected by fertilizing citrus trees three times a year – in Feb/Mar, May and September, using either a synthetic or organic fertilizer specially formulated for citrus which contains not only nitrogen, but also micronutrients that are often deficient in our soils.  
More information on citrus care, irrigation and fertilization can be found here.


As I walked the landscape with the homeowner, we started looking at the trees that she had inherited with her new home.  I quickly noticed something very bad.  The previous homeowners had never removed the stake and cables from their tree when it was young.  
The tree ended up growing around the wire and there is no way to remove it now without seriously damaging the tree.  Usually, when wires are left on the tree, they gradually cut off the nutrients to the tree as the “veins” of the tree are located directly underneath the bark.  This usually results in the death of the tree.  However, this Mesquite tree appears to have survived and regrown it’s vascular (veins) system around the wire.  The tree is 11 years old and is the exception in terms of surviving this type of treatment.  


**If your trees are staked, PLEASE make sure to check your wires/cables to make sure that this does not happen to you.  Trees are not to be staked forever, only the first 1 – 2 years after planting.


Now the next bad thing I observed was not immediately obvious, but as I began to focus my gaze upwards to evaluate the trees, I saw a few clumps of mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) growing in the tree.  Now, this is not the same kind of leafy mistletoe that is often seen at Christmas.  But it is a parasite that will, over time, cause a decline in the tree and stress the tree.  This makes the tree more susceptible to disease, insect infestations and other stresses. 

As an arborist, I have taken part in discussions regarding whether or not you should leave mistletoe in trees.  Mistletoe is part of the natural desert and can be seen growing in trees in the wild. Mistletoe itself will not kill a tree, but does stress the tree and leaves it vulnerable to disease, insects and environmental stresses that will kill the tree eventually.  
 In managed landscape areas I have always had mistletoe removed.  In my opinion, trees do not need any additional stress and the trees are part of a larger landscape design and aesthetics are important.  

I also recommend that homeowners also remove the mistletoe from their trees.  Not only will it help their tree, but will help keep the mistletoe from spreading to their neighbor’s trees.  Mistletoe is spread when birds eat the berries it produces and then they ‘poop’ them out on another tree’s branch and the seed germinates and starts to infect the branch it landed on.


Small clumps of mistletoe are not always obvious, but once you know what to look for, you will easily be able to spot it.  I recommend looking at your tree in the winter, when there are fewer leaves to hide the mistletoe.

There are two ways to remove mistletoe.  To completely get rid of it, you need to cut the branch that it occurs on at least 12″ below where the mistletoe begins.  In most cases, this will completely get rid of the mistletoe.  This works best with smaller branches.  However, if you have a very large branch that is infected, it may not be feasible to remove the branch.  In this case, you can prune the mistletoe off – just take your gloved hand and brush them off of the branch.  It is really that easy.  Doing this will not get rid of the mistletoe, but help to control it.  You will have to continue to do this periodically to keep the mistletoe from becoming larger and spreading.


Now on to my second client of the day.  Overall, is landscape was in good shape.  His citrus trees were healthy as were the rest of his plants.  But, the majority of his concerns were in regards to his irrigation system.  His mature Palo Brea tree (Parkinsonia praecox), pictured above, still had the irrigation emitters positioned by the trunk of the tree.  The same place that they had been place 8 years ago.  The problem is, the roots have now moved.

I explained to him that as a tree grows, so do the roots.  They grow outwards, toward the edge of where the branches extend.  And so as the tree grows, the emitters need to be moved and places around the tree where the branches end.  For this tree, three 2 (gph) emitters evenly spaced around the tree will work just fine.

Well, I had a very fulfilling day working with some very nice people.  I just love help people learn how to care for their trees and plants and spend time outdoors and admiring the beauty in people’s gardens.

As I was leaving, I saw something very ugly….
This homeowner had ‘topped’ his Mesquite tree.  Now, I am not sure why they had this done.  I could tell that from looking at the branches, that it was not the first time it had been ‘topped’.
Now any arborist will tell you that ‘topping’ is bad and there are a number of reasons why.  I will address it further in another post, but will leave you with these few reasons NOT to top your trees:

-It causes the tree to grow more quickly to replace the leaves lost, therefore increasing the amount of pruning needed.
-The new branches will not be firmly attached and will be more likely to break.
-Topping stresses the tree, making it susceptible to disease, insects and environmental stresses.
-If those reasons are not enough, then maybe this one will be….IT IS UGLY.
*For more information on the damage ‘topping’ trees does, you can visit The International Society of Arboriculture.
Thank you for hanging in there with me…I realize this was a long post, but there was so much to ‘talk’ about from my visits yesterday.  I hope you enjoyed the beauty of the flowers and that maybe I have helped people avoid some of the problems that I have highlighted.

I love color in the garden.  My garden is full of flowering shrubs and perennials.  I am blessed to live in an area where it is possible to have flowers in my garden 12 months of the year.  My favorite way to accomplish this is to include plants that flower most, if not all year long.

Today, I would like to share with you some of my favorites….

 
Angelita Daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
Flowers year-long with heaviest bloom occurring in spring and fall.
Red Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
This shrub has beautiful flowers 12 months of the year.  Blooming does slow down in winter, but flowers are still present.

 
Pink Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides)
Two of these vines grace the front entry to my house.  They produce flowers all year, but do slow during the hot summer months.
‘Blue Bells’ (Eremophila hygrophana)
Resembles Texas sage, yet stays compact at 3 feet tall and wide.  Purple flowers are produced all 12 months of the year.

Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
One of my absolute favorite shrubs.  Purple flowers are present all year, but blooming slows down in winter.

 
Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis)
Reliable bloomer throughout the year.  Hummingbirds flock to the beautiful orange flowers.  Winter temperatures slow down blooming.
Mexican Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana)
This versatile shrub can be trained as a small tree.  I have 4 in my landscape.  Yellow flowers are produced off and on all year.

 
Purple Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)
In a protected area (under an overhang or underneath a tree), this groundcover can bloom all year long.  The lantana pictured above, was located underneath an overhang which is why is still looked wonderful in January when I took this photo. 
I live and work in zone 9a and so the plants bloom times are affected by our highest and lowest temperatures.  As a result, many of the plants that do flower all year long will slow down in the winter and fewer blooms will be produced.  But, in my experience, there are still flowers even in January.  

Plants such as the lantana and cape honeysuckle will produce more blooms in the cold winter months if planted in protected area.  Examples of protected areas are up against a house, underneath the eaves or underneath a tree.  I have a bougainvillea that has stayed green all winter and still has flowers on it because it is located underneath a tree.

I hope you will try some of my favorite flowering plants.  For those of you who live in different climates, look for plants that will provide you with color for as long as possible.  If you cannot have blooming flowers year-long, then try incorporating plants with beautiful foliage and textures so that there is always something beautiful to see in your garden every single month of the year.

**For more suggestions for colorful plants for your arid garden, I recommend Arizona Gardener’s Guide, which lists hundreds of trees, shrubs and perennials that add beauty while thriving in our often challenging climate.



One of my favorite flowering shrubs is Arizona Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans).  The other day, I spent some time pruning it back with some little hands eager to help.  

Yellow Bells is susceptible to frost damage in the winter and with spring almost here, it was time to prune back the brown tips.

 
My son offered to help me with pruning off the frost damaged tips of our Yellow Bells shrub.  As you can see, the shrub is taller then is.

 
I was happy at how they fared this winter.  Only the tips suffered frost damage.
 

We pruned back the brown, dead growth back to growing buds.

 
I am always happy when any of my children want to help me in the garden, but I particularly enjoyed having my son help me on this day because it is more difficult for him because of his disability.

We adopted our son 5 years ago from China knowing that he had a disability.  He was born with a condition in which some of his joints have limited strength and motion.  In the case of our son, his hands and feet are affected.  
He has had multiple surgeries and it is amazing at what he can do now compared to how limited he was when we adopted him when he was 2 years old.  However, he still struggles with the residual effects of his condition.  He does not always utilize his right hand and quite frankly, favors it while we are repeatedly encouraging him to use it to build up muscle strength.
As a result, I was so happy to see him having to use both hands to prune back our shrub.  He was very committed to doing a good job.
 

How do you think we did?  My son was very proud of the job he did.  I finished up pruning some of the taller branches that he could not reach.
Soon our shrub will be reaching the top of the wall and producing beautiful yellow flowers.

Well, here is the post that I have been promising you all winter long.  Are you ready to begin spring pruning?  Okay, let’s get started…..


Those of you who have read my blog for any length of time have come to learn that I absolutely abhor formal pruning of flowering shrubs.  I have posted about it twice and you can read more – Shrubs Aren’t Meant To Be Cupcakes and Read The Label Or You Might End Up With Cupcakes if you like.


First, we will start with the Bad (and ugly) – I am warning you, the following photos are not pretty.  They show the results of formal pruning over time.

Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisiodes) Dead areas are a result of repeated shearing of the shrubs. 

  

Texas Sage, sheared repeatedly, resulting in more dead then live wood.

Texas Sage ‘Green Cloud’ (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) Over the years, this flowering shrub had been sheared resulting in dead growth.

The following photos are not necessarily ugly but are examples of formal pruning that leads to the problems pictured above over time as well as higher maintenance.

 White Texas Sage shrubs, pruned as cupcakes.

 

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum) formally pruned and rapidly outgrowing its space.

 

Dwarf Oleanders (Nerium oleander)

 
As I have mentioned before, I am not against formal pruning when it is done to plants that specially suited to it such as Dwarf Myrtle, Boxwood, and others.  However, formal pruning of flowering shrubs shouldn’t be done for many reasons, including:
 
– It removes the flower buds, severely curtailing the number of flowers that bloom.
 
– Causes the shrub to constantly work to replace the leaves that were removed, which causes stress to the shrub and ultimately shortens it’s life.
– Increases the maintenance required because of frequent pruning, which means more material is hauled off to the landfill as well as a higher landscape bill.
– Over time, repeated shearing causes branches to die off due to lack of sunlight reaching the interior of the shrub.
– The shrubs requires more water because it is constantly having to regrow what was removed.
– And lastly, creates a generic looking ‘blob’ in the landscape where a beautifully shaped and flowering shrub should be.
 
Okay, now some of you may have shrubs that look like some of these.  But, don’t worry…there is hope and the solution is really quite simple. What they need is to be severely pruned back.  This type of pruning is called “Severe Renewal Pruning.”
 
Now, I do need to warn you…many of us are familiar with the concept that beauty comes at a price.  Well, there is a price to be paid in order for shrubs to look their best and show off their stuff and it requires an Ugly stage. 

 

  WARNING…the following photos are not pretty.

Severely pruned Texas Sage in spring

 

Severely pruned Dwarf Oleander

Okay, I warned you….but this is what you want your shrubs to look like after you are done pruning.  I realize that all that is left are bare branches sticking up from the ground…BUT THIS IS GOOD!
 
Severe pruning like this removes old wood, which become unproductive over the years and does not produce as many leaves or flowers.  It also stimulates new growth in the form of new branches that will produce more leaves and flowers.  It also keeps the size of the shrub in check by reducing the size periodically and decreasing the amount of pruning needed later on.  
 
Now, this type of pruning does not need to be done each year…I actually recommend doing this every 3 years or so.  

Texas Sage 4 weeks after pruning

I won’t lie and say that the ugly stage disappears right away, but in 4 – 8 weeks, you will rewarded with new growth that will rapidly cover the bare branches.
 
**There is a chance that your shrubs will not recover from severe pruning.  However, that is usually an indicator that they would not have survived for long if you had done nothing.  So, you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain by pruning your plants this way every few years – you may easily add years on to the life of your shrub and dramatically increase their health and beauty.
 
Okay, I have covered the bad and ugly.  Now for the good and beautiful…

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

 

 

Desert Senna (Senna artemisiodes sturtii)

 

‘Rio Bravo’ Sage flower

‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage Flower

 These beautiful photos should be reason enough to stop formally pruning your flowering shrubs.  So, put down your hedge pruners.  All you will need in the future are hand-pruners and loppers.
 
You may be wondering when should I prune my flowering shrubs?  Well, Texas Sage and all Leucophyllum species can be severely pruned back in March as well as Oleanders.  I do not recommend pruning them back severely in the summer months as they may not be able to grow back while dealing with the stress of the heat.  Alternatively, do not prune in the fall or winter as you will have naked branches for a long, long time and new growth that does appear will be very susceptible to frost.
 
Cassia species should be pruned back once they have finished flowering, which is usually in late spring. 

When it comes to pruning, a good rule of thumb is to prune less frequently, but when you do, prune back more severely.