Horticulture in the Desert

a place to share and learn about plants in the Sonoran Desert

Leucophyllums, why do we never see your blooms…..

Posted by VT Jenny on October 6, 2009

Here are several examples of “pruning” of the leucophyllum or Sage bush in Phoenix. If you pay attention as you drive around it is amazing how many different shapes and sizes these things are formed into. It’s like a completely abstract acid trip version of those clipped hedges you see in England or at Disneyland.  The sad thing is that Sage bush has an amazing profusion of wonderful flowers that many people don’t ever see due to the blooms constantly being sheared off.

My 3 suggestions for growing and enjoying all these wonderful plants have to offer:

1. Choose the right variety for the space available. If you plant a Leucophyllum that wants to grow to be 8′ tall and 8′ wide but your space only allows a 3′ shrub you will be in a loosing a battle of wills. Choose one of the varieties that stays smaller such as: the ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage or Chihuahuan Sage.

2. Water Less. These are drought tolerant plants treat them that way. While, they can tolerate more water, even look fantastic and grow like crazy, but then you have to prune them more often. Think about it, more water = more growth which means you are spending more money on water and then spending more time pruning and more money hauling away the debris.

3. Selectively Prune instead of shearing. This means taking you hand clippers and cutting shoots back to a lateral bud. This will take more time per pruning session but it will reduce the sessions necessary to keep a good looking shrub. Overtime shearing will create a dense outer shell on the plant and requires weekly or bi-weekly shearing of the new shoots growing from that outer shell. This is a living growing thing and as hard as people try it cannot be kept at the exact same size all the time it.  Selectively pruning shoots back into the plant to a lateral bud does not encourage as many soots to grow and it gives a softer look that can hide imperfections and allow longer time between pruning. It is also healthier by not creating a dense outer shell that shades the interior of the plant. Selective pruning also allows the plant to grow more naturally and produce flowers to be enjoyed.

The next 3 pictures are of a selectively pruned Sage in flower. (it’s not in a great shape but it’s hard to find a good example of pruned sages in PHX)

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The next two are the same type of Sage but irregularly sheared. In the first one they started to let it grow long shoots on top but kept the sides tight until they realized it would block he window and the flat topped it. You can clearly see the different growth patterns.  Be consistent on your pruning.

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Lastly, a very confused group of sages.  From left to right we have the marshmallow, natural, angled and the flat-top w/ skinny legs.
Logically these were all pruned by the same person, so why are they all different??

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