Flowering Shrubs Aren’t Meant to be Cupcakes, Poodles or Frisbees…

Aren’t these shrubs beautiful?

Leucophyllum frutescens 'Green Cloud'

Naturally Pruned 'Green Cloud' Texas Sage

Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Rio Bravo'

Flowering 'Rio Bravo' Sage

Many different types of flowering, desert shrubs have beautiful, natural shapes that add interest and texture to your garden.  Especially when in flower, their beauty is truly breathtaking.

Sadly, there is an epidemic that is sweeping surburbia……

No, it is not a plant disease, it is actually an epidemic of overly pruned, flowering shrubs.

Drive through almost any neighborhood, and you will see a multitude of flowering shrubs that have been pruned into many different shapes.  Cupcakes, poodle-like balls, pill-box and even frisbee-shaped shrubs can be seen.  In the plant industry, we sometimes refer to this practice as ‘poodle pruning’.

Last spring, I took a drive through the neighborhoods surrounding my house and saw the following examples of ‘creative’ pruning after just 5 minutes of driving.

Badly pruned Texas Sage

Badly Pruned Texas Sage

You know what?  I think that many landscapers and even homeowners maybe see themselves as ‘sculptors’ when they approach their shrubs with hedge trimmers.

Leucophyllum frutescens pruned into pillboxes

Texas Sage pruned into cupcake shapes

Besides removing flower buds, repeated shearing blocks sunlight from reaching the middle of shrubs, which can cause the interior branches to die.  Look closely at the top of the cupcake-shaped shrubs (below).  Can you see the dead area in the middle?  That is a classic example of the damage repeated shearing creates.

'White Cloud' Texas Sage pruned into a cupcake shape.

Now, there is nothing wrong with formally pruning shrubs, as long as they are not flowering shrubs.  If you like formally pruned shrubs, try adding Japanese Boxwood or Dwarf Myrtle to your garden and haul out your hedge trimmers and indulge your ‘inner sculptor’ and create all the shapes you like.

But, if you have flowering shrubs, keep your hedge trimmers away – better yet, get rid of them.  You should only use loppers and hand pruners.

So, do any of your shrubs resemble any of these pruning disasters?  If so, don’t panic! I will cover the correct way to prune flowering shrubs in a future post and you will soon be the envy of your neighborhood as your flowering shrubs are transformed from green ‘cupcakes’ into flowering beauties.


Have you seen any examples of creative pruning in your neighborhood?

I would love to hear about them!

  1. says

    Hilarious! I’ve always marveled at the time and patience it must take to trim shrubs in this manner, when it it so much easier to simply plant a shrub that will naturally grow into a lovely shape on its own.

  2. Grace says

    This is so funny! I live in the southwest and have seen this epidemic hitting my town hard. Cupcakes and frisbees abound out here!

  3. Tracie Stamm says

    Great reminder to let Mother Nature do her thing! Great article, Noelle! I’ve already subscribed to the RSS feed and can’t wait to read more.

  4. says

    Noelle, I am laughing out loud! A few years ago up north of us in Seattle there was a group formed called “Plant Amnesty” They went around trying to educate people on proper pruning and actually posted a wall of shame with pictures submitted by members of trees and shrubs that were pruned within an inch of their lives. The worst one I ever saw was a Pink Flowering Dogwood that had been shaped into a square, making it look like a lollipop…it was so wrong! My only regret is that I never made it back in time to get a photo of it. It was a classic!

    • Noelle says

      Hi Patty,

      Okay, I just love the group name of “Plant Amnesty”. I may have to form a local chapter here in the Southwest. I try to have my camera ready at all times, because I never know when I will see a horribly pruned shrub 😉

  5. says

    I would never have the patience to trim shrubs into such shapes. I marvel at the sculptured box woods that are trimmed and so neat looking in formal gardens. Some are so marvelous. But I cannot see why anyone would scalp flowering bushes into such shapes as you described and destroy the beauty of their blooms. From your postings I have saw such gorgeous flowering shrubs and trees and cringe to think of them not being able to show their beauty.
    Great posting and congrats!

    • Noelle says

      Thank you so much Lona. It is so sad to see pruning like this. I love taking pictures of flowering shrubs that have been pruned the right way to show people how much uglier the formally pruned ones look in comparison. I hope your area is relatively free from this type of pruning :-)

    • Noelle says

      Hi Carole,

      Oh, I like that term ‘meatball’. I may have to start using that one to describe the abundance of perfectly round shrubs 😉

  6. says

    THANK you for writing this!! Ever since I read it, I grimace when we drive by the “poodles”. Proud to say we will NOT be hedging our shrubs this year!! 😀

    • Noelle says

      Hi Kristine,
      I am so glad you enjoyed this post. I must admit that I do get up on my ‘soap box’ from time to time about poodle pruning 😉

  7. Nicole says

    Well, I’m embarrassed to say my hubby has done this to our shrubs. We didn’t know any better and this year I want to do it right!! Looking forward to that tutorial.

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