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rejuvenating sheared shrubs
Rejuvenating Sheared Shrubs
December, 2012, Page 105
DESERT GARDENING 101
Many shrubs in the Valley of the Sun undergo regularly scheduled appointments with hedge trimmers that shear them into balls, barrels, cubes or kegs. This practice produces unhealthy, short-lived plants, and a host of other problems:
• Frequent shearing eliminates flower buds, so plants seldom, if ever, bloom.
• Sheared plants respond by producing a short burst of stubby broom-shaped foliage. Continued shearing creates more of the same. Soon, foliage covers only the exterior of the shrub, while the hollow interior displays stark, woody stems.
• Sheared plants use more water because they must produce fresh foliage to replace what is regularly removed, or they won’t be able to photosynthesize.
• Sheared plants provide no nectar, seeds or shelter for native birds, or nectar for butterflies.
• Frequent shearing is required to maintain unnatural shapes, increasing maintenance time and costs.
• Excessive pruning creates green waste sent to landfills.
Master Gardener and Certified Arborist John Eisenhower, owner of Integrity Tree Service in Scottsdale, explains two methods for rejuvenating sheared shrubs to a more natural look.
• First, remove dead, damaged, weak or crossing stems within the plant’s interior.
• Next, selectively remove up to one-third of the oldest stems, pruning them back near the ground or where they attach to other branches. Leave remaining foliage evenly spaced throughout the shrub. Sunlight can now reach the interior, encouraging fresh growth to emerge from the base of the plant and along the lower stems. This new foliage will gradually replace the older branches that you removed.
• Each of the next two years, remove one-third of the oldest stems.
After three years, the shrub will be completely renewed. Use only bypass hand pruners, loppers or a small handsaw, never hedge trimmers.
Another method of restoring shrubs is to cut them almost to the ground at the start of the growing season. This radical pruning is only appropriate for certain hardier shrubs, especially multi-stemmed varieties.
After this “hard” pruning, these shrubs will respond with a vigorous, disorganized but normal flush of new growth. When the new foliage is established, use selective thinning cuts (as described above) to decrease the density of the branch clusters. This will create a more open form that is natural in appearance and healthier, with increased air circulation and distribution of sunlight to the entire plant.
For a list of plants that respond to these two methods and their best pruning seasons, see Salvaging Sheared Plants at
With proper pruning, shrubs that have been heavily sheared (above left) can begin to recover and re-emerge as healthier, more vibrant plants, such as the Texas sage (above right).
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