Gardening: Pruning

Your lab this week, if you choose to undertake it, is to prune two to three shrubs

I will describe three basic types of pruning, and we will go from there
you can take your pick:
(1) Hedging and topiary, (2) light ornamental prune, (3) heavy ornamental prune.

The equipment you will need are pruners, shears, and loppers
also, for safety – gloves, close toe shoes or boots, eye protection, sun protection if sunny
and, for cleanup – a burlap tarp or the yard waste paper bags, compost bin, rake, broom, scoop shovel

(1) Hedging and topiary
This the neat geometric look
rectangles squares and balls of green



Plants will react differently to being cut

Common shrub plants we use as hedges around here include: Escallonia rubra, Juniperus communis, Ligustrum species, English and Japanese boxwood Buxus sempervirens and Buxus microphylla, Rhaphiolepis indica.

Some less common shrubby plants we use around here for a line of vegetation that forms a clumpy mass are: Coleonema pulchra, Hebe species, Bouganvillea spectabilis, Camellia japonica, Leptospermum scoparium.

Alternative plants we could use more of around here for hedges include Myrsine africana, Myrtus communis, Myrica californica, Pleioblastus chino ‘Vaginatus variegatus’ (keep this bamboo in bounds with concrete gravel and asphalt, or block it with a body of water) (vaginatus means sheathed and entry by the way. Not sure why the chino is in there).


(2) Light ornamental prune:
If the shrub has gotten a little too big
and is starting to block the sidewalk, or overtake its plant neighbors
then you ought to take a sharp metal blade to it
just a little bit, keep it in line
imagine that you are an herbivore
a nibbling deer a munching cow an indiscriminate goat
crunching it here and there
nudging it into shape


If you cut the shrub when you see the tiny little flower buds forming
you will set it back, and it may not flower for you this year
back in the day working for the parks
there was long rows of Trachelospermum jasminoides star jasmine in granite container beds
okay Trachelospermum is not really a squat woody shrub, more of a viney leggy bundle of curls
the architect said “I want it to be one foot tall, one foot wide, hedged every three weeks, it must not overstep its boundary”
I said, “You will be pruning away the best part of this plant, which is the tiny fragrant white pin wheel flowers. People will fall in love and remember this plaza because of this smell. They will forever correlate shopping with heavenly scents. Would you consider letting it billow over the edge a bit? Its not healthy to be constantly pruning a plant. Plus this plant is going to be dripping that white apocynaceous poisonous sap when cut.”
architect, “No. Green. Orderly. Straight edges neat and crisp. That is what I see for this garden.”
Me – “Okay” (thinking, guess you are not a gardener or flower lover)


If you cut the shrub when it is dormant
it may not do anything for a while, even if there is abundant moisture and water
it will wait for when it is warm, wait for when there is more light – to grow again
if you cut out the interior of the shrub to show off its branching pattern and ‘form’
it will likely want to fill up those spaces again, when it can
because all that is lost real estate, real estate that could be producing energy and food
if you accidentally make a huge cut on the shrub, and split open its innards up to disease and pests
it might die on you
or it could heal up easy, and keep going like nothing happened at all
depends on the plant and where it is planted


(3) Heavy ornamental prune
Some plants get really really huge
relatively quickly
could have been your fault for thinking oh its so small and so cute, lets put it in the ground
could have been some designer’s fault, for packing it in super tight
cause they wanted it to look good ‘right away’
could be the gardener’s fault, for being absent in their duties, yup probably the gardener’s fault
oh well, you are going to take care of it
you are going to cut it all down, all the leaves, all the stems and trunks
till its just a bare thing on the ground

Imagine that
you are the fire that burns through the outback
you are the fire that scorches the chaparral
you are the fire that cuts everything down to the ground
this way, the plant is actually renewed
its used to this treatment, it has evolved with this cycle, it is adapted
it has dormant buds on its trunk and stems
it has thousands of seeds in the ground waiting
waiting for just such an event
when a shady, dark overgrown world
becomes open and full of light,
with the ground full of nutrient rich fertilizer
so a heavy ornamental prune is okay for some plants


Check out this Salvia.  Sometimes you can see where it has died back itself then resprouted already.  This is nature in action!  So get out your pruners and just prune last year’s growth down.  Open it up.  Take away the dead stuff.  Then the plant looks fresh and rejuvenated and you do too.

In some cases, the plant does not come back and resprout
sometimes it is the timing, sometimes it is the location
say you are already stressed out
water stressed cause its been dry
or sun stressed because you got planted in the shade and not in the sun like you like
soil stressed cause whoever planted you didn’t break up that puffy airy peaty potting soil and just threw you in the ground with girdling going-in-circle roots
stressed out living

then a person comes along and cuts you down, hard
the person is like haha I know you, you can take it
you are one of those fire adapted mediterranean climate plants my instructor said its okay to cut all the way down really really hard
then you, the plant, just says bye bye thats it
but if the plant is healthy and not stressed
it will come right back, sometimes within a month or two
because it has reserves in its roots, is super vigorous, and loves to live


Common plants that we prune heavily on a yearly or two times a year or once every two year basis include various species of Salvia: Salvia leucantha, S. karwinskii, S. iodantha, S. corrugata, and so on. All to the ground. Other Salvias you can cut em, and they will resprout. But their growth structure is somewhat wonky and they don’t repeat the dense mass. Instead they are arching over here, arching over there, sprouting here but not there. Salvia mellifera, S. apiana, S. spathacea are in this group.

Buddlejas can take a heavy hit as well. Most common around here are Buddleja davidii, but we have also planted B. salviifolia and B. forrestii.  Usually we don’t take em all the way to the ground, just leave them at about four five feet tall of bare wood. Kinda of a ‘standard’ looking shape. If you do not hack em hard it can get big. Old reference books used to say it stops at 15’ or 20’. But there was one tree in the park nursery that grew to like four stories tall like 60 feet tall. It was at a low spot in the nursery, growing in sand with easy unimpeded root growth. It was drinking the irrigation that ran off the potted plants with a teeny bit of that fertilizer in it. So just grow and grow – its woody trunk was a good 2-3 feet in diameter.

Another plant tolerant of being chopped to bare wood is Euryops pectinatus, the yellow daisy bush flower from South Africa. Once in a while in a shadier spot I cut it down. It takes a little while longer than in a sunny spot. It waits for an extra month or two. I almost start to get worried like ‘are you gonna come back? are you okay?’. But then sure enough, here come the young green leaves bursting out of its skins.


Okay thats all.  If you choose to undertake this lab, work safely and at a good pace.  Stand back time to time to take a look.  Then stay focussed on your work.  Take it easy,  it is ‘together time’ with a plant.