Friday, March 16, 2012

Rejuvenating the Tired

Our next door neighbor. Most people are not bold enough with pruning, just like most are not bold enough with design. But there's a fine line between plant abuse and pruning; just know how each type grows.

Last summer above - Russian Sage w/ purple blooms, local Chihuahuan Desert native Mariola w/ creamy flowers, and a Smooth Prickly Pear / Opuntia subarmata between. He tried lifting up the sage...an oops.

I missed a better view of the cactus, 10 years old, 7' across, and some nasty freeze damage from the last 4-5 winters...ignored.

No drip irrigation, just rare hand watering / between 4"-18" of rain / year since 1999. (2/3 of that July-Sept) Not overgrown or leggy from overwatering; it would be much worse if overwatered.

And more well-intentioned savagry closer-up, but no cactus.


His entire front area, all the plant abuse. In this case, savagry actually took more time than what needed to be done.
I caught him this toasty Thursday morning. And guess what we did...he actually listened. (most don't)

Be bold,and mighty things will happen to you (and your plants). That's 4 cubic yards of Russian Sage and Mariola branches. Plus 1 cubic yard (100+ pounds) of Prickly Pear; I took some of the live pads that were removed. I have this large pot out front...

Sorry, I again forgot to photograph how ugly the cactus or woody shrubs were before!

Vigorous woody shrubs and large perennials (Mariola, Russian Sage):
+ Cut all the way to the ground every few years, if leggy
+ Do that in late winter, no later than easrly spring
+ He will finish by raking out cut branches and twigs
Winter-damaged or leggy Prickly Pear Cactus (also vigorous): 
+ Remove all dead or damaged pads (stems, actually)
+ Remove all crossing or severely drooping pads
+ Balance plant from growth and important view angles
+ Carefully remove more horizontal growth and sprawl than vertical, to encourage a fuller, taller plant
+ Leave some volunteer plants to soften 

(here, soft was some Mexican Feathergrass; the remains of a Thompson Yucca, that decided to grow back from the roots after it suddenly died back years ago are not so soft, and will soon dominate the area with tall, spreading spiky sculpture, probably better than the original plant) 

Notice how the first 4 points sound like how to properly prune trees - by the time one removes dead branches or stems and crossing branches, the rest of the pruning process is often minimal and simple.

Compare an unpruned Russian Sage to his former lifted ones. Best to leave alone, if not bold enough to do what's needed.

Cactus reduced to the strongest growth, to produce nicer pads, more flowers and fruit (tunas). Woody plants cut back to grow and flower more vigorously from the roots. All new, again! Stay tuned in May and June.

14 comments:

  1. Bad pruning is mostly ice-cream cone shaped here, alas, there too.

    XO T

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    1. I guess people don't want to lose the height their plants gained. Good thing that some plants can take this and quickly recover.

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  2. Man...by that title, I thought you were going to give tips on what to do after spreading two yards of mulch.
    But, these were good tips, too. I'm one who has a hard time cutting things to the ground. But, I know it's for the plant's own good.

    Have a great weekend.

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    1. You also have a great weekend! Ha - I on "rejuvenation", I thought of taking a picture of me sitting on a beach, drinking something with a funny umbrella in it, but no beach. Yes, hard pruning is the best action for such plants.

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  3. The proper pruning will make such a positive difference and it should bloom nicely this fall.

    A lot of gardeners won't prune, I know one who can't even bring herself to pinch back a begonia. Hard pruning always seemed better to me than watching a scraggly plant struggle.

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    1. Exactly - and with all the winter rain / snow, maybe in a month or two?!?

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  4. That "lifted" sage in the first pic isn't great but even worse are the ones pruned into a box or ball shape! An all too common site.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, some funky plant "shaping" out there...a fine line between topiary and savegry.

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  5. At least he listened! I think a lot of people want to do what's right, they just don't know, or are scared. I, too, find myself being timid with the pruners at times. One of the hardest lesson for a gardener to learn!

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    1. Yes, one of the few who listen. (best especially to avoid friends, family or neighbors, but this one was the exception) The key is knowing the plants and how one can be more aggressive vs. more judicious.

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  6. If only more people would prune properly rather than butchering plants! The landscape teams so often seem to take hedgetrimmers to anything as soon as it grows regardless of whether there is any need. I've many times seen them trimming the flowers off the bougainvilleas - so pointless!

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    1. Exactly - it seems as a layperson but designer, there are a few basic plant forms with unique growth habits to work with.

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  7. I never knew you should prune cactus! learn something new every day :-)

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    1. Yes, when prickly pear cactus plants lose some pads to cold, overwatering or drought, or even are not growing into their optimum form, it helps to redirect growth where it needs to be.

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