Yesterday a landscaper knocked on my door and asked if I wanted my bushes pruned. Sorry, but I’m too picky about how they look.
Most landscaping companies prune bushes into little balls and cylinders that don’t look natural at all. They prune palo verdes into single stemmed, tortuously twisted trees that look terrible.
In my opinion, a native landscape should look somewhat native. So what pruning do I do?
I prune my trees when young to usually have a single trunk at the base and then branch into multiple trunks within the first 3 feet. Then I prune the branches to raise the canopy to whatever height I need for the space and allow me to see the branching trunks. Once the tree approaches the size I want for the main branches, I may let it grow or just prune the branches that fill in or grow downward. I don’t worry about my desert trees getting top heavy and blowing over in wind storms because I water them deeply and infrequently to encourage root growth. The limited water also limits the canopy growth and keeps the wood dense and strong.
Some bushes don’t need to be trimmed. If they have a nice shape and are in a spot where they can grow to their mature size without crowding, then I let them go. Creosote and jojoba don’t need pruning. I do have texas sage which I prune twice per year in summer and fall. When some of them get large the branches fall over leaving a gap on top. Native wildflowers like brittlebrush and marigold can get chopped off when they go dormant or leave them for a natural (if brown) look.
If you have a native landscape and your plants are mature, you can adjust the water so they grow slowly never need pruning. Prickly pear are a great example of this: with lots of water they will grow lots of pads, and you may have to cut some off to maintain the shape or size you need. With less water, they will grow fewer pads and stay smaller.
Cactus don’t need pruning. I do cut pads off prickly pear. I will cut out extra canes of ocotillo if I don’t like where they branch. I never prune desert spoon, agaves, or yuccas. (Large pruned agaves look like pineapples.)
The plants that need the most pruning for maintenance are the non-natives: rose bushes, fruit trees, etc. Native landscaping requires much less pruning.