Pruning Into Spring

For a needed break each month, I became a volunteer at the UTEP Chihuahuan Desert Gardens – blocks from home. Plus, it gave me a discount on attending a public gardens conference in a few weeks :-)

Photos from yesterday’s 40F and biting east winds, 2/27/2014 –

Mexican Plum / Prunus mexicana announces *early* spring

It includes 600+ plant species native to our Chihuahuan Desert and adjacent ecoregions, so there’s much variety to do here, short of starting over! After a 15 minute walking survey, the dwarf trees were my target.

Not even my plan, until I looked closely.

Chisos Rosewood / Vauquelinia corymbosa ssp. angustifolia – before pruning
Chisos Rosewood – after pruning

Subtle, eh? I was only 3/4 finished, but my work filled that trash can.

Pruning is about health, then aesthetics. About 1 year after planting (or establishment), with basic care, pruning a smaller tree is simple:
1) remove dead stems and branches
2) remove crossing live stems and branches
Only additional, minor pruning for form may be needed now – most of that was addressed in the first 2 steps. Limit pruning to under 30% of live growth each year, and what’s appropriate for the plant and climate.

That’s it, until the plant becomes larger than one’s skills and equipment – time for an arborist, qualifed in deed and mindset – not just by testing.

Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany / Cercocarpus montanus var. argenteus (?) – before some handiwork (or el jefe & co. misguidedly cringe)
Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany – after

Notice the Mountain Mahogany now, with the grasses and wall? Health and form. Lateral growth to grow into the walkway? Gone – function.


Are you daunted by pruning a dwarf tree or other plant? Don’t be.

Many hear someone appreciative of the natural world, yet unknowing of a need for healthy plants, in a time frame in line with typical property ownership – gardens aren’t for geologic time.

Health and beauty, wildness and order, function and form – all together, now.


6 Replies to “Pruning Into Spring”

  1. Volunteer pruning, sharing your knowledge and skills…nice! I was out doing a little pruning myself yesterday, I find I rather enjoy it, but had to leave a few tasks for the considerably taller husband. Ladder work is not my forte! (btw I see you’ve already updated the link to my blog in your sidebar, thank you!)

    Pruning and weeding are so therapeutic, and since my container garden isn’t yet planted, nothing to do at home. I bet the husband comes in handy…even at 6′ tall, I can’t reach a few things! Yes, I caught your link and another this morning, deciding to use my blog roll instead of my so-so reader. I wonder what else I need to fix…


  2. All together now, “no more Crepe murder!”…

    We tend to over prune some plants and ignore others – not sure what qualifies a species for too much attention vs neglect. Placement, maybe? I trim more for aesthetics while The Hub likes clear walkways. And I’ll try to trim almost anything up into a tree form – I really like clearing spaces to provide understory interest.

    I do believe when I’ve done things correctly, it ought not be obvious that a plant has been worked over, it should just look happier and more appropriate in the ways it has filled its air space.

    Ha ha, crepe murder is one thing all the ex-Austinites in El Paso – who try to transplant so much ATX from where they should have stayed – don’t seem to do yet! (EP locals already turn live oaks into lollipops and leucophyllums into balls, no competition needed :-) It sounds like you both are hitting the balance I closed with. Though fast growing plants that missed pruning can look worked over after pruning, but with age, that usually is no longer the case…my former mesquites prof of that.


  3. You are a rare bird, indeed. Every LA should be out getting their hands dirty from time to time. Well done, whatever your motivation is. This arborist salutes you.

    Thanks, Mr. Arborist…true. On a garden tour at a famous LA’s home garden, she was holding a rake like she actually used it. In shock, I forgot to capture the moment!


  4. Subtle yet important difference. The trees look natural and right in the setting. The stone, brick and silvery plant is a striking combination.

    I have generally been fearless when it comes to pruning. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot but most plants look better after a bit of attention.

    Thanks, the plant shadows and masonry lines seem to compete, but not when I stop and just look at the transformed plant. Fearless is good, except perhaps when it’s a Mediterranean Fan Palm or within the depths of the Danger Garden…


  5. I’m ALWAYS totally nervous of pruning dwarf trees…

    I want to start training a few young mountain laurels…so I just follow the above, I guess, eh? But what about raising up to small tree from bushy’ness?

    Ha…don’t be! And haha (jaja en Español) to the mtn laurels…I post on that and a bushy small oak next, or soon. I remember your own TX Mtn Laurel being awesome…


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