Surprise, Surprise! Extreme Shrub Shaping

I’ve seen these Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. for several years, and since I’ve lived blocks away for over 2 years, they’ve done this all three monsoon seasons.

Intense flowering in spite of all the things that normally cause problems. A happy exception in the tightest, most undersized-for-a-large-plant space one can imagine – things other informed horticulturists and I educate against, because we see countless examples as proof.

blows my mind every summer

Exceptions aren’t rules.

Regardless of bodacious blooms, larger shrubs can only be kept smaller so long. Plus, if they’re going to prune something tight or shape it, at least it should be done right: learn first.

Hint: lifting up bottoms of shrubs usually fails.

Failure includes an entire plant’s lower parts dying, then premature death for the plant…and no more flowering! You can read more online, or just watch it happen somewhere near you.


This is a higher road for that Texas Ranger, though.

ahhh…thoughtful placement (room), letting the shrubs do their thing


By the way, a benchmark of dos and don’ts for desert southwest shrub pruning is found – here


9 Replies to “Surprise, Surprise! Extreme Shrub Shaping”

  1. Like Diana, I see echoes of AZ Plant Lady’s rantings about not “cupcaking” Texas ranger here. That said, I visited talented plantsman James David this spring, and he experiments with topiary on EVERY kind of plant, even native oaks. He told me any plant can be topiaried. One of my faves is a spherical pomegranate in his front garden: . I’d love to hear his perspective on hedging Texas ranger and other native plants, especially as I’m currently writing an article about using native plants in formal gardens.

    I think the talent and art, plus the right place / treatment, are key. I agree most plants can take it, but naturalistic groupings are usually not the place! Seeing live oaks here that were used to meet code for required shade trees, turned into 10′ lolipops w/ little or no shade, isn’t the place. Yet the Hispanic maintenance person at my college building entry did just that to the nice yaupons under the taller pistache trees…it’s almost OK to me. Can’t wait to see your article!


  2. ooo. That always looks bad here in Austin. A bit of natural shaping helps them be more florid. However, this boxy chop ends up hurting the plant in the end. It can’t take that much interior shade on the leaves. Total leaf drop. (Get a ligustrum or red tipped photinia if you love trimming bushes!)

    Thanks for visiting! I have seen some of that in Austin, including now the Wildflower Center…yep. You’re right, as ultimately it’s far too large a shrub to do that with that closely.

    I’m working on a post listing plants that get the treatment or don’t in El Paso…they love torturing photinias, grasses, boxwood and…gasp…live oaks.


  3. SIgh. Ok. Hello. My name is TexasDeb and I am an Over-Pruner. (hangs head)

    I absolutely visited havoc on a Texas sage right here in my own back yard, about a decade ago. The poor thing has never recovered and is actually probably about three seasons away from dying outright.

    I wanted to see what could happen with things in more treelike form, open up an under canopy of sorts, and so I trimmed it up from the bottom. (cue crowd, booing and hissing).

    We’re glad you’re here today…admitting is the first step :-)

    But seriously, many of us (including moi) have ignored mature sizes, and worse yet, some of us have been given terrible information, even repeatedly. Your treatment is on trees and shrubs on a section of freeway here, and most every streetscape. WIll be interesting to see how you take the poor plant out and what it’s replaced with…or not?

    More on this topic again…think ocotillos and other shrubs and accents done wrong, and some surprising plants done well…none natural, some out of need after a bad design…..


  4. I personally see the usefulness of pruning yew and boxwood into hedges and balls as a contrast to the fluff mixed borders but it is clear that Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. isn’t the right plant for that purpose. Here in NH, forsythia is the plant the is most commonly tortured in this way. Maybe the motto should be right plant, right treatment. The last slide is really beautiful.

    Agreed on all counts…right plant-right place-right treatment would say it all. I actually found a nearby planting of Texas Sage / Ranger where the bottoms are not so pruned out or at all, but they are shaped and rounded – they also flowered, so will watch them the next wet spell. Your yew and boxwoods do really look great, balls and so on!


  5. That’s an unusually nice bloom on those sheared sages. Might be Lowrey’s Legacy or one of the varieties that blooms more densely. I recently trimmed ours just a bit, leaving them natural and then we had rain. The blooms were oddly random but by the next rain they’ll be filled back in.

    That it is, and you’re probably right on that variety. The rain really works wonders on many accounts…there are 1-2 other plantings in that area that really seem to do well, in spite of close pruning (just not as rough as these ones)…and many just 12″ from curbs, already declining after a year past planting.


  6. As I’ve come to understand this biology, or just pains me to drive around and see the butchery going on. Luckily I’ve been able to convince my local HOA to stop doing this in our little neighborhood!

    Congrats on quite a victory, as I’m convinced HOA’s are one of the largest reasons we have that butchery…they mandate their hired crews to do such deeds. Not so much a language barrier, just following orders. Other causes are facilities managers, like at a hospital design of mine. Another I’m seeing are some public landscapes in Mexico, or the motherland of Italy-Spain.

    By the way, I just found your blog today…another Desert SW garden blog!


    1. Thank you! Your blog inspired me to start blogging! Keep up the fantastic work. And if you’re ever over in the north west side of the Phoenix valley, let me know.

      Will do – my oldest brother lives near 51st Av / Bell Rd…I plan to visit this year.


  7. I see the AZ Plantlady’s cupcakes.
    I’m guilty of planting too much and too many, but will have to try and prune gently along so we can all live together in a small garden.

    A colleague of mine over-plants on commercial projects, and when the maintenance falls apart, 1/2 is left and it looks great! Cupcakes are for eating…


  8. Someone needs to form a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants.

    Really! Trade magazines shy from this (some advertisers selling machinery to “give the treatment”?), and just as silent are old-guard LA’s and some public employees who don’t want to work too hard or “rock the boat”.

    There’s a plant amnesty website from the Pacific NW, a blog in Arizona for Tree Fails now in my blog roll, and a link at the end of my post to a horticulturist’s blog.


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