Shrub Shaping 

A recent drive to my trailhead, and Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. in bloom.

roundabout #1 – balls, mushrooms but still flowering

Of course, the public street’s roundabout planting areas are too small for a 6’+ shrub, or such a plant given the need for safety and visibility. (3′-8′ high is the zone many towns require to be clear at intersections)

And the shrubs are under 3′ – by force.

But the usual suspects do it anyway, over and over. Even the city, violating their own rules. Crazy! (at least I try to design appropiately and explain / educate)

roundabout #2 – a different form, only the trees safe

Now, here’s a private planting of the same shrub on the same street, but left in its natural form, with space to mature.

a 10′ wide parkway strip

Which form of shrub pruning benefits drivers and pedestrians more? Or the plants?


9 Replies to “Shrub Shaping ”

  1. The unshorn sage in your last pic declares in its display of its natural beauty that it’s alive, that it’s fully expressing itself, and it just has to *be* there to do that! The poor shrubs in the roundabout look tortured and enslaved, and like they’re being starved of life, really having it clipped out and cut away. I notice people who look like one or the other too, and feel sadness for the deprived ones.
    It’s like happy-looking opuntias, like the cow’s tongue in your recent post, the pads seem to almost wish to jump out of their planting area, and the overall form of the plants is usually so graceful, some of the qualities of prickly pears I like so much:-) I’d love to see Louisa’s after she transplants them.


  2. Ahhh, that last photo… beautiful. And oy, those others :~(

    My house (I’m a renter) has several big shrubs in front that the gardeners used to shear into off-kilter, vaguely geometrical shapes. Even the poor lemon tree in the back yard got that treatment. Space limitations mean that things must be pruned, though, and I have an arborist & crew coming over in a week to check things out. I’m looking forward to this and am also a bit anxious, now that the trees and shrubs here are (by choice, I’m happy to say) my responsibility. Wish me well…

    Thanks, I saw some other au-natural Texas Ranger shrubs walking a few blocks with a prospective client today, almost fell over they looked so good. Then came the monster ocotillo!

    Space limitations, I hear you. I’m lucky to do designs, so I can move walls, paving on the plan to accomodate the trees or plants that need to be in a space before it’s all built. Arborist – a great idea. I am trying to enlist one or two of them on a couple projects; great to have around.


    1. David, just wanted to thank you again for the additional information on the Cow’s Tongue opuntia and for encouraging me to go after it in the first place! I’ll be potting up the paddles this weekend. And researching Texas Ranger varieties…


  3. Fabulous post, David! It’s sad that Arizona isn’t the only place to see examples of beautiful, flowering shrubs being pruned into geometric shapes…

    Nope, we’re working hard to lower the bar on shrub pruning! Wait ’till you see our ocotillos and live oaks :-)


  4. blah. I wonder if they could get tall enough to train them into a tree shape. Of course it would be better just to remove them and plant something appropriate. Clipped shrubs look so nice in a Japanese garden but really they look just wrong everywhere else.

    I see that tree-shaped pruning here with some things; after our big freeze, people were doing that, fortunately it all grew back to normal! True – in a specialty garden, but not just everywhere. The extra blooms are proof on the parkway plant.


  5. Definitely they should have gone with the right plant for the right space to begin with. It is hugely irritating to my eye to see any plant clipped unnaturally unless it is in a formal garden. We were in a planned community once and they boxed all the Blueberry flax lily, dianella. I should haven taken a picture. There were in ever median in the whole community.

    Exactly – there seems to be no thought on what kind of garden it is when pruning, or mature size when designing. Just get it in fast! And I bet your example was large enough in area with no need for those plants to get the treatment, but someone perceived “differently”!


  6. First, I would start with doing away with those darn roundabouts. We have so many in Wisconsin and there are no plantings in the middle.

    You have a point, and a planner with the EP Fire Dept told me the way such things get jammed through without his review… They do slow down some traffic, but are a safety hazard when they don’t use the right turning radii, or with large plants that block views. With all the big trucks in the SW, some people just mow over the curbs…


  7. The gardener in me wants to shriek, seeing those tightly clipped sages, but the driver in me understands how tricky it can be to safely negotiate corners and walkways when shrubs block the view.

    The answer of course is not to plant those bushes anywhere proximal to the necessary sight lines, but that ship sailed…multiple times.

    Which would you prefer, given that these plants are already in place? Taking them all out or continuously clipping them down? I’d almost be in favor of their outright removal because seeing them this way just encourages people to mimic the error, thinking it is “proper” and “professional”. If anybody ever develops a compact version of these they’ll retire wealthy…

    I’m with you, on proactively not doing it wrong in the first place, and with after0the-fact, ripping out plants that get too large in the “clear sight / site visibility zone” and using what does not. And educating new urbanist city staff and reps that arid-region horticulture needs to rule over whims, climate and supplier availability always considered.

    Because your last statements are 110% true…bad begets bad (complacency begets —) The compact version…yes. The near-native L. minus is, but it hates overwatering even more…only know of 2-3 in Abq and here.

    Or – tell the powers that be, “Austin doesn’t have such bad plantsmanship and they aren’t complacent, …”. That might get ’em!


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