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Texas Sage

Leucophyllum frutescens

Handsome and hardy, Texas sage is an outstanding South Florida landscape choice with its silvery foliage, purple flowers and drought-tolerant nature.

The lavender to purple blossoms appear on and off all year amidst small, soft, silver or gray-green leaves.
Though not a true sage, this shrub is easy care and doesn’t like to be fussed over.

In fact, this is one plant where too much care – water, fertilizer, trimming – can actually be detrimental to its health.
A native of Texas and the arid southwest, Texas sage is called the Barometer Plant there, because as soon as the humidity begins to rise after very dry weather, this shrub bursts into bloom.
This is an excellent plant for those areas so dusty and dry nothing wants to grow there. The silver foliage – not to mention the pretty flowers – makes it stand out in a landscape of green-green-green.

Plant specs

This is a slow-growing shrub that prefers full sun, You can keep it 3 to 5 feet tall.

These plants are cold hardy, doing well in Zone 9B and southward.

They’re evergreen, moderately salt-tolerant, and drought-tolerant once established.

Plant care

Choose a well-drained area or this plant won’t survive. Plant it a little on the high side, mounding dirt up to it, to make sure there’s good drainage even during our rainy season.

No soil amendments are necessary.

Because it’s a slow grower, trimming occasionally (do it after a bloom cycle has finished) should be all that’s needed to keep this shrub the size and shape you want.

Shearing using hedge trimmers can eventually cause Texas sage to thin out from within…better to leave its natural shape pretty much alone.

Once the plant matures, however, it can grow a bit scraggly. Do a hard pruning in spring (late March or early April), cutting the branches at alternate lengths rather than chopping the whole thing back. (See Nandina for varying height pruning instructions.)

It will flush out nicely once it grows out of the pruning…which will take a while because of the slow rate of growth.

Give it regular irrigation to get it established, making sure there’s enough time between waterings for the plant to dry out. Once it’s established, water during dry spells.

This plant doesn’t like a lot of fertilizer. At the most, fertilize only 1 or 2 times a year, applying a good granular fertilizer in spring and/or fall.

Plant spacing

Place these shrubs about 3 feet apart. Come out from the house 3 feet.

If you’re planting along a drive or walk, come in 3 or 4 feet.

This shrub does fine in a large container.

Landscape uses for Texas sage

  • hedge
  • accent
  • privacy screen
  • single yard specimen
  • shrub for the corner of the house
  • backdrop for smaller plants
  • lining a walkway or drive
  • around a deck, porch or patio
  • along a fence
  • surrounding tall palms

A.K.A. (also known as): Silverleaf, Texas Ranger
GOOD SNOWBIRD PLANT? YES
COMPANION PLANT SUGGESTIONS: Mix with other sun-loving plants that like it on the dry side, such as ice plant, crown of thorns, jatropha, Muhly grass, clusia, carissa, cycads, Knock Out rose, and frangipani.

Other plants you might like: Ligustrum Sinensis, Yesterday Today & Tomorrow

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Radical Regenerative Pruning on Texas Sage in Las Vegas

Green Cloud Texas Sage Flowers

We’ve all seen them, those little purple boxes and balls that line the streets and sidewalks of our valley. You may know them as Texas sage or Texas Rangers and a surprising number of folks seem to be operating under the assumption that they actually grow that way naturally. They do not grow that way and now that we’ve got that firmly established, I’d like to get into why pruning them that way is a bad plan for the long run.

Texas sage are Leucophyllums and there are a variety of hybrids available these days. The most commonly planted are the Green Cloud and Gray Cloud, both of which grow to about 6’H x 5-6’W. It’s no wonder people are inclined to try to keep them cut back, but it makes more sense to me to just go ahead and plant one of the smaller hybrids instead. Lynn’s Legacy blooms more than any of the others and the cupleaf variety has a gorgeous silvery leaf. These two only get 3′-4’H x 4’W, reducing the need for pruning altogether.

Cupleaf Texas Sage (Leucophyllum zygophyllum)Lynn’s Legacy Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’)

Grey Cloud Texas sage in dire need of RRP

Of course, even the smaller varieties require some shaping if you want them to look healthy and lush, but the use of hedgetrimmers is completely counter to that goal. Every time they cut their perfectly straight line, the plant forces out leaves and flowers on the tips of any live growth, which creates a dense outer layer of foliage that doesn’t allow light to penetrate through to the lower branches. This leads to that ugly bare wood on the lower branches.

Good news though, if you have a healthy Texas sage with a leafless, woody interior due to this type of pruning, it’s pretty likely you can make it gorgeous again without a lot of trouble.

Radical regenerative pruning

I know, it sounds like plastic surgery for plants to me too, and I guess in a way it is just that. Radical regenerative pruning (RRP) can be performed on healthy Texas sage in the early spring here in Vegas. Put simply, the process involves cutting the plant back drastically, usually to about 1′ from the ground, while making an effort to leave low-growing foliage wherever possible.

Leucophyllums are so durable and fast-growing, you’ll normally see it start to bounce back within a few weeks. I’ve seen them put on a full foot of growth or more in the first season after RRP. A lot of a plant’s recovery will be determined by the amount of sunlight available and watering patterns. Remember, the Texas sage are very drought-tolerant and don’t like to stay wet all the time, especially if they’re planted in a fair amount of shade.

Now, once your sage starts to grow back all nice and full and lush, how do you keep it looking it’s best without hedgeclippers? Handpruners are the way to go for this job and it doesn’t generally need to be tackled as often as you might think. Heading out to do it about once a month during the growing season is plenty, even less often if you favor a more natural look.

Green Cloud Texas sage on the side of the road with what appears to be no regular pruning

Cut stray stems back a few inches pretty much anytime of year, though the hottest/coldest days of the year are probably not advisable, for your own comfort if nothing else. If you need to take out a large branch to allow light into the middle of the shrub, that’s best tackled in the spring or early fall. Radical regenerative pruning should really only occur in the spring, so make a plan for late February or early March if you’re planning to do it.

What’s great about this is that rather than blooming just on the tips like they do with hedgetrimmers, Texas sage that is hand-pruned tend to bloom along the entire branch, as far down as light penetrates and it is beautiful, waaay sexier that a dinky little purple box and you can tell everyone I said so.

Please start pruning right. I can’t sleep otherwise. Thank you much!

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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Q: Several years ago, I planted a Texas sage, kind of tucked into the sunny front entryway, which was originally about 3 feet tall.

It seemed to be sitting stagnant, growing at most only a couple of inches each year, but I kept it because I really liked the gray color of the leaves.

This year, it has taken off and has put on at least a foot and a half of new growth, and has covered the address numbers on my wall! I need to prune it so my address shows again but I don’t want to harm the plant since it took so long to settle in. Can I prune it this time of year and not harm it? – WSHO, Ladera Heights

A: There is a rhyme that I’ve relied on for years that sort of applies here. “Prune after the bloom.” And if your Texas sage – Leucophyllum texanum, which isn’t a sage at all – is like mine, it’s finished, or just about finished, this year’s bloom cycle. So, yes, you can prune now but know that it’ll sit with that just-pruned look until next spring.

For now, only cut back enough of the Texas to expose your address, leaving the balance of the pruning for the next pruning time, mid-March just as things start to wake back up. Know, too, that you want to prune down to a spot where there are still leaves on the branches and stems.

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If you take a branch down to bare wood, that branch will look naked for a very long time. It might not ever push out leaves again on that branch. If there are lots of stems (branches) that are mostly bare with leaves on just the top third, it might be best to cut several of them out completely. That’ll encourage new growth.

So go ahead and remove just enough of the shrub to re-expose your address, but leave the balance of the pruning until next year so the Texas looks more natural going into this coming dormant season.

Q: My potted tropical hibiscus is growing really well! The trouble is, it’s not blooming worth squat! What am I doing wrong? – KP, Downtown

A: The first thing I think is “sun” when it comes to the hibiscus. Is yours getting six to eight hours of sunshine a day this time of year? If not, see if moving the pot to a sunnier locale improves the blooming.

Second, are you spoiling the plant by keeping it well watered, even though we’ve been getting some monsoon rain? If you are being faithful with the watering, back up just a bit. Be sure the pot isn’t sitting in a puddle constantly with collected water in its saucer either.

Now, I’m not saying you need to ignore the pot, especially if we go back into a sunny hot period, just don’t keep the pot overwatered. Your hibiscus has gotten lazy, so you need to exercise it a bit. You could give it a dose of blooming-style plant food, but that’ll be the last time you do that this year.

I’d rather you see if it’s a lack of sun and maybe overwatering causing the lack of bloom before you go fertilizing, especially if the plant was given fresh soil when you first potted it. You still have weeks for your hibiscus to pop out lots of color, just shake up its world to give it a kick in the pants! Happy Digging In.

Readers: If you are contemplating attending the 2015 Albuquerque Area Master Gardener Class, remember the application will download at abqmastergardeners.org starting Monday. The class fills rapidly so, on your mark, get ready, and learn!

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.

Grow Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) in your yard for lots of easy-care beauty. This North American native shrub (it hails from areas in Texas and Mexico) features gorgeous silvery foliage and attractive lavender-purple flowers on and off from spring, through the summer, and into autumn. The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other polliantors. It grows well in containers, as well as garden beds and borders, so there are a number of ways to use Texas sage (also called Texas ranger) to add beauty to your outdoor spaces. You can often find this plant sold as a bushy shrub or pruned in standard form to look like a miniature tree. It typically grows about 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide as a landscape shrub where it’s hardy.
Try Texas sage in container gardens on a hot, sunny deck or patio. The silvery foliage makes an elegant backdrop for just about any plant, including other heat-loving blooming tropicals, such as bougainvillea or mandevilla. In Zones 8-10 where it’s hardy, plant it as an attractive shrub. Its fine-textured foliage makes Texas sage a good hedge, accent plant, or foundation planting. It takes pruning well, if you wish, so you can also grow it in shrub borders or even with perennials and annuals. Because of its drought tolerance, Texas sage is often used in xeriscaping.
Texas Sage Questions?
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SPERRY’S GARDENS: Texas sage bushes should be pruned at end of winter

By Neil Sperry

Dear Neil: We recently moved to Texas. We have two large Texas sage bushes, and we’d like to prune them and reshape them. They’re 8 feet tall. When and how can we do it?

Answer:Trim them toward the end of the winter. Remove all weak and dead branches, and prune the tops back by 15 to 18 inches (any more would risk doing damage to the plant). In the meantime, if you have a few miscellaneous branches that are destroying the natural shapes of the plants, you can remove or shorten them as needed.

Dear Neil: Why would my volunteer pecans grow well until they get about 18 inches tall, then turn brown from the tips of their leaves back? They look burned. Did they need more shade, like they would have gotten in a forest?

A: They had to have gotten too dry sometime during the summer. They’re certainly capable of growing in full sun, although sunlight does dry the soil out quickly at 100 degrees. It is very unlikely to have been caused by insects or diseases.

Dear Neil: I have a volunteer pecan tree that is 8 to10 years old. Two years ago, it produced a great crop of pecans. Last year, nothing. This year I expected a bumper crop, but again nothing. What can I do to help it produce?

A: Texas A&M recommends an all-nitrogen fertilizer be applied March 1, April 1 and May 1 — 1 pound per inch of trunk diameter. Keep it watered deeply all season long to maintain its vigor.

Dear Neil: Why would a new Celeste fig tree not be producing figs? It was 30 inches tall last year when I planted it, and it had four or five fruit that the squirrels enjoyed. This year, no fruit, but it’s grown well.

A: Figs have to become established in their new homes before they will bear fruit reliably. That good new growth that you’ve seen this year has come at the expense of its bearing fruit. It may not bear next year, either. Usually, by the third full season, they will start to produce. Be patient. This happens with almost all fruit crops.

Dear Neil: I have some boxwood plants that haven’t been trimmed in several years. I have the shears, but I don’t know what to do. Please advise.

A: There are no set rules on how you should prune boxwoods unless you’re trying to maintain them at a particular height, width and shape. The best time to do any major shaping or size reduction is in January, before the new buds start to develop for spring. You can probably remove 20 to 25 percent of the top growth at that point, but don’t cut them back so much that you get into browned stem stubble. You can do modest shaping now if you have to.

Dear Neil: I have new grass that is doing fairly well, although there are thin patches that I think have rock beneath them. Can I put more soil on top of the lawn to help in those areas?

A: No, for two reasons. It would probably mess with the grade of your lawn, leaving you with humps and bumps over which you’d have to mow. It also would suffocate the grass that is doing well. Assuming that you at least have a couple of inches of topsoil, water and feed more often, applying less at a time, to sustain those areas’ vigor.

Large, overgrown Texas sage shrub (Leucophyllum species)

Do you have large shrubs in your landscape that have outgrown their space? Or maybe bushes filled with old, woody growth that have seen better days? If so, the photo above may look familiar to you. Thankfully, in many cases, severe pruning can bring new life to overgrown shrubs.

As the branches of flowering shrubs begin to age, they become woodier and might start to produce less foliage and fewer flowers. With many types of shrubs such as bougainvillea, dwarf oleander, lantana, orange bells, and Texas sage — severe pruning often is the best solution.

Why? Because pruning gets rid of woody, unproductive branches and stimulates new growth that will produce attractive foliage and increased blooms.

Spring is the best time to do this type of pruning, for the shrubs mentioned earlier, shortly after the threat of freezing temperatures is over. Using the overgrown Texas sage pictured above as an example, here is how to do it:

Severely pruned shrubs

Using loppers or a pruning saw, severely prune back shrubs to 1 to 2 feet tall and wide.

This type of pruning looks severe, but this is what you want to see; all the unproductive growth is gone, and new growth should soon follow. I like to think of it as “spring cleaning” in the garden.

Here are the same shrubs 8 weeks later

Within two months, lush new growth appears.

Here is an excellent example of how severe pruning can “rejuvenate” summer-blooming plants when done in spring. It’s essential to avoid severe pruning earlier in the year, which can delay regrowth or put the plant in danger of significant damage from frost.

Four months after pruning

Attractive new foliage and increased flowering is the result of severe renewal pruning.

Just a few months later, the results of this type of pruning are quite dramatic and show how pruning has transformed these Texas sage shrubs from plants filled with old, woody branches into shrubs filled with lush new growth.

It’s important to note that not all flowering shrubs respond well to severe pruning. If in doubt, reach out to your local cooperative extension service for guidance. In some cases, shrubs don’t recover from severe pruning. When this happens, it often is due to factors such as age or poor condition of the bush. Rest assured that even if you hadn’t pruned it severely, the shrub wouldn’t have survived for long if left alone. If you don’t see regrowth within eight weeks, then you can replace the shrub with a new one.

Here is another example:

Trailing purple and white trailing lantana

Both trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) and bush lantana (Lantana camara) respond well to severe pruning every couple of years, which prevents a build-up of unproductive woody growth that lantanas tend to accumulate over time. In this photo, trailing lantana has been pruned back to 6 inches tall in early spring.

Purple and white trailing lantana several months after severe pruning

As you can see, the response of fast-growing, summer-blooming plants is significant.

This type of pruning can be done every few years as needed to keep shrubs healthy and vibrant. Another use for major pruning is to rehabilitate flowering shrubs that are excessively pruned into formal shapes resembling “balls,” “cupcakes” and “squares.” Afterward, they can be allowed to grow into their natural form.

So, do you have any overgrown shrubs that need to be rejuvenated?

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