Pruning is the removal of plant parts, including shoots, branches, fronds, and flowers to improve a plant’s health, control its growth, or influence its blooming cycle. Pruning should be a routine part of landscape maintenance practices. Proper plant selection and knowledge of plant varieties and their size at maturity will help eliminate the need for major pruning. If a tree needs to be pruned several times each year to control its size, it may be the wrong species for a particular location.
Plants are pruned for a number of reasons, so determine why you are pruning a plant before making that first cut. The main reasons for pruning include safety and the tree’s health and aesthetics. Pruning is also used to stimulate fruit production. When pruning for safety reasons, remove branches that could fall and cause property damage or interfere with lines of sight on streets or driveways. Remove branches growing near utility lines. However, always consult your local utility company or call a certified arborist for help. Never prune trees that are touching utility lines. For safety purposes, prune trees that obscure the entry to your home.
When plants are pruned for health, it might involve removal of diseased or insect infested parts. This is an effective way to limit the spread of decay, disease, and insects to portions of the plant or to neighboring plants. Branches may need to be removed that are crossing over other branches or crowding out the crown of the tree. If branches are broken due to storm damage, it is a good idea to prune them.
When pruning trees for aesthetics, the goal is to enhance character and shape or to stimulate flower production. Pruning should only be done when there is a good reason to prune. For example, the limbs of a tree might interfere with the roof or side of a house, or it might need to be shaped because the top or sides are growing too big for a planting space. Selective pruning thins a thick canopy and allows light to penetrate through the tree, and can give the tree a more balanced appearance.
Pruning and maintaining a solid plant structure should begin when trees are young. This helps produce strong branches and influences long-term health. A tree’s branch spacing and structural safety are controlled by selectively removing or shortening branches. Always encourage one central trunk to develop by removing or reducing the length of competing upright trunks or branches. When determining what branches should be removed, follow this guideline: If the cut is less than two inches in diameter, go ahead and prune. If the cut is between two and four inches, think twice before pruning. It the cut is greater than four inches, have a good reason to prune the tree. If in question, do not prune. Careful, selective pruning results in a beautiful, healthy tree that enhances your landscape for many years.
- Pruning Large Established Trees
- Proper Pruning Methods
- Pruning Dead Branches
- Topping of Trees
- Pruning Shrubs
- Hedge Pruning
- Stump Grinding
- Pruning Tools
- Mistletoe Removal from Trees by Pruning Methods
- Texas Sage Info: How To Grow Texas Sage Plants
- Texas Sage Info
- How to Grow Texas Sage
- Texas Sage Care
- Texas Ranger, Leucophyllum frutescens
- When It Rains, It Blooms — Texas Ranger
Pruning Large Established Trees
Contact a qualified tree care professional who has the right training, equipment, and knowledge to prune large, established trees in your landscape. Large-tree pruning requires climbing, heavy chainsaws, and even bucket lift trucks. Never compromise personal safety when pruning a tree.
The three most common types of tree pruning on established landscape trees are crown thinning, crown raising, and crown reduction. Below is a description of each.
Crown thinning: Crown thinning is the process of selectively removing branches on young trees throughout the crown or in the top of the tree to help develop a tree’s structure and shape. This procedure increases light penetration and air movement into the tree. No more than one-quarter of the living crown should be removed at any time. This technique involves removal of any branches that rub or cross another branch.
Crown thinning on a tree
Crown raising: Crown raising is a pruning method that removes lower branches from the bottom of developing or mature trees. This may be done to provide clearance for pedestrians, vehicles, and buildings, or a line of sight. Always maintain live branches on at least two-thirds of the tree’s total height. Removal of too many lower branches hinders development of a strong stem.
Crown raising on a tree
Crown reduction: Crown reduction is a method used when a tree has grown too large for its permitted space. Removal of larger branches at the top of the tree is done to reduce its height. When pruned properly, this method is different from topping because it results in a more natural appearance and minimizes stress to the tree. Crown reduction is a method of last resort and the least desirable pruning practice. A better long-term solution would be to remove the tree and replace it with a smaller plant specimen.
Crown reduction on trees
Proper Pruning Methods
When pruning larger branches, three separate cuts may be necessary to avoid tearing the bark. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch, at the branch collar, which is a shoulder or bulge formed at the base of a branch by the annual production of overlapping layers of branch and stem tissue. On the upper surface, there is a branch bark ridge that runs along the stem of the tree. The ridge is formed by the stem and branch tissue as they grow against one another. A proper pruning cut does not damage either the branch bark ridge or the branch collar. Make pruning cuts just outside the branch collar. The branch collar contains trunk or parent branch tissues. The tree may be damaged if you cut into the collar. If the cut is too large, the tree may suffer permanent internal decay from an improper pruning cut. Make the second pruning cut just higher on the branch than the first cut. The third cut may be made by cutting down through the branch, severing it. Do not ever leave a stub.
Proper pruning techniques
You would be wise to begin pruning trees when they are young to correct structural problems, because waiting to prune a tree until it is mature will create the need for large cuts that can cause problems for the tree. Poor pruning practices can damage a tree, so learn where and how to make the cuts before pruning. Trees do not heal when cut improperly. Small cuts do less damage than large cuts. If you cannot avoid large cuts, follow the instructions in this chapter, and generally avoid wound dressings and pruning paint. They are not necessary, and research has proven wrong the old belief that they speed wound closures and protect against insects, diseases, and decay. If a dressing must be used for cosmetic purposes, use a thin coat of material that is not toxic to the plant.
Pruning of deciduous trees should be done during their period of dormancy when all of their foliage has dropped, usually between mid December and the middle of January, well before their spring buds begin to swell. Also, pruning in winter makes it easier to see crossing limbs, excessive crowding, and branches that might be in need of pruning.
Pruning Dead Branches
Pruning dead branches is similar to pruning live ones. The cut is usually easy because the branch collar and branch bark ridge are more easily observed in dead wood. Still, be careful to make the pruning cut just outside the branch collar. Large, dead branches should be supported with one hand or cut in the three-step method, just as live branches are pruned. If a limb is large and heavy, its weight should be reduced before attempting to prune. Use the three-cut method by making the first cut under the branch about twelve to eighteen inches from the limb’s point of attachment. Make the second cut from the top, a few inches farther out on the limb. This removes the heavy limb without tearing or ripping the bark from the tree. You will be left with a stub that can be pruned back to the branch collar.
Topping of Trees
Topping of trees is not recommended. It is a misguided practice that shortens a tree’s lifespan. After a deciduous tree is topped, its growth rate increases dramatically in an attempt to replace its missing leaves and foliage, which are a source of nutrients. Many long, skinny shoots called water sprouts or suckers form. Theses are weak and unsightly and they must be cut and re-cut every year. This creates a major maintenance problem in the yard. The tree needs to be repeatedly pruned and eventually removed when it dies or when the owner gives up this expensive, vicious pruning cycle. A properly pruned tree requires less maintenance than an unsightly topped tree.
The practice of topping is evident on many older mulberry and chinaberry trees growing in the Southwest desert. These trees have responded by growing back to a normal height, but they lack their original, beautiful silhouettes and structural integrity. Instead, they sport unsightly suckers and shoots making then susceptible to wind damage. This improper pruning has also caused injury, and has depleted these trees of stored food reserves. As a result, many end up diseased or dead.
If a large tree outgrows its space, it should be pruned using the crown reduction method, which allows for a natural appearance while correctly reducing the height of the tree, stimulating new growth throughout the tree and minimizing stress.
Pruning is an important practice for maintaining shrubs. Doing it successfully requires an understanding of the individual growth habit of each plant and when they flower. Shrubs come in many shapes and sizes. A properly pruned shrub is a work of art and beauty, because when trained into a particular shape or form, its natural characteristics, colorful flowers, or abundant berries are allowed to emerge in full.
When pruning, cuts should be hidden inside the plant where they are covered over by remaining leaves. The first step in pruning is to remove all dead and diseased or broken branches. Remove branches that might cross over other branches, or which look out of place. If the shrub is too large, remove some of the older branches first. When shrubs are sheared back routinely, lots of dense, new growth may be produced near the outer parts of the canopy. Light cannot reach the interior of the plant and it becomes top-heavy; little or no growth happens near the bottom. If you notice this pattern in your landscape plants, selectively cut the excess vegetation to a side branch or main trunk and let the plant grow back.
Control height by making cuts inside the shrub—always make pruning cuts so they remain hidden. This method reduces the height without sacrificing the shape of the plant. When older shrubs grow out of proportion to the landscape, they may need pruning in order to rejuvenate. Also make sure that you are pruning at the right time. Frost-tender vegetation should be pruned back to live wood in early March after the chance of a last frost has passed.
Improper pruning of Texas Ranger shrubs
Select an appropriate pruning method for your plant species. Consider how pruning a particular plant might affect the landscape. How quickly can the plant recover from drastic pruning? Give extra care to heavily pruned shrubs. Fertilization, water, and possible pest control are critical factors when considering rejuvenation pruning techniques.
Common landscape plants such as crape myrtle, nandina, gardenia, salvia, camellia, floribunda roses, and other flowering shrubs should be pruned in late winter or early spring before growth begins. They produce flowers on the current season’s growth. Old, dead flowers should be taken off at this time, too. Tender plants like bougainvillea, lantana, bird of paradise, plumbago, yellow bells, dwarf oleander, ruella, and shrubs that freeze back every year need to be pruned back to live wood in late winter or early spring. Don’t prune back frozen vegetation too early after a freeze. The frozen vegetation acts as a coat to protect the live wood from further damage. It is wise waiting to cut back this growth, even if plants look unsightly. The last frost in the Southwest desert generally occurs in mid March, depending on where you live.
A word of caution: When pruning the desert spoon, do not take too much of the lower growth off. If these species are over-pruned they tend to look like a pineapple. The same techniques apply to the Sago palm and Mediterranean fan palm. Removing minor growth touching the ground, or just enough to cosmetically shape the plant, is adequate. It is better to prune a little than to over-prune. When pruning agave species it is a good practice to remove the bottom dead or dried-out leaves. Aloe ferrox and other tree aloes can show signs of frost damage in extremely cold winters. When frozen, the tips of the plants dry out and turn a crusty brown. Take hand clippers and prune off the dry, crusty ends of the plant. The cuts eventually callus over. Since aloes grow back from their core, the plant will eventually recover. Carefully prune back dead, diseased or frozen pieces of succulents and cactus when needed. It helps to wear protective gloves when pruning these plants to protect your arms and hands from serrated thorns. Also, use a small saw to remove dead growth. Plants like rosemary, pyracantha, and acacia develop dead wood in mature plants. Sometimes, the dead sections of these plants need to be drastically pruned in order to remove unsightly stumps and stimulate new growth.
Hedges are shrubs planted close together in a row to form a windbreak or high screen. They should be allowed to maintain their natural form and characteristics. Pruning of hedges is needed to keep them looking dense or to remove dead, diseased, or broken branches. Keep hedges pruned so that they are wider at the base than at the top. Hedges that grow all season long need to be periodically trimmed throughout the spring and summer. A hedge will be thicker and better looking when cutting small amounts more frequently.
Prune when newly planted hedges begin to show signs of new growth. Don’t wait until a hedge gets too high to start training. Light, frequent trimmings help the plant to grow gradually and eventually become an attractive, thick hedge that is evenly horizontal at the top. The best guideline for pruning hedges is to simply prune them whenever they look like they need it. To rejuvenate an old neglected hedge, cut back in the spring to a few feet above the ground. Then prune lightly as needed.
A tree stump is what remains of a living plant that has been cut down. It is often unsightly and hazardous, and encroaches on garden space. The stump should be removed. Of the few ways to do this, the easiest is to hire a certified arborist to remove the stump with a stump grinder.
A stump grinder is a power tool that removes the stump with a rotating, cutting disk that chips away at the wood. It comes in a variety of sizes with a high-speed disk with specially designed teeth that grind down the stump to about 12 inches below the ground level, as well as underground roots. What remains are small wood chips. Once the tree stump is removed you can install turf, landscape plants, or another tree.
It takes a stump many years to decay if left untouched. However, some products are available on the market that can be applied to a stump to speed decay. You will need to drill many holes into the stump and pour the liquid into the holes. After three to four months, the chemical begins to break down the wood fibers of the stump, leaving them porous and able to absorb kerosene. At this point, ignite the stump, keeping a watchful eye on containment. Allow the stump to burn to the ground.
Small stump grinding machines may be rented if the operator is properly trained. Eye protection is required along with other safety gear. If unsure, it is always best to hire a professional.
Pruning tools are available in a wide range of styles, prices, and brands. When purchasing tools, shop for the best quality and durability that you can afford. Always keep pruning tools sharp to produce a cleaner cut that helps the plant heal faster and places less stress on your hand and wrist. Also, clean tools after you use them. A pruning cut on a diseased branch can spread infection throughout your landscape.
Most pruning tasks are accomplished by using hand clippers, loppers, pole pruners, hedge shears pruning saws, and for larger cuts, chainsaws are needed. Hand pruners are the most important of all the pruning tools. They are versatile for small pruning jobs and for cutting twigs and branches up to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. They come in handy when pruning frozen growth on most groundcovers and smaller plants, or to remove dead palm fronds or leaves.
When pruning larger branches more than one to two inches, loppers are the best choice. They are like scissor-action hand pruners; except they have longer blades and a long handle that increase leverage. When using loppers, it is best to cut in one smooth stroke to avoid injuring the plant. Loppers need to be used with both hands. Good quality loppers can slice though branches of two inches or more, depending on the plant species and condition of the wood. Loppers are excellent when pruning smaller branches on trees, because their long handles not only increase your leverage but also help to get inside the tree. When pruning back dead sections of plants a lopper will cut deeply into the branch to quickly prune dead or frozen wood.
Pruning saws work best on pruning cuts larger than two inches in diameter. They have narrow blades for easier maneuvering and coarser teeth than common carpenter saws. There are many types of pruning saws available. Special tri-cut or razor-tooth pruning saws cut through larger branches with ease. Avoid folding saws—they have a special wing nut that can scar the trunk when a limb is cut, and if the saw suddenly folds while in use, it could injure you. A fixed blade saw is much safer. Blades can be straight or curved. A double-edged saw has fine teeth on one side and is coarse on the other side, but can be hard to use in densely branched plants. Bow saws are useful only when there is no obstruction above the area where you are cutting.
Pole pruners remove branches from trees that cannot be reached from the ground. Most pole pruners have a cutting blade and a saw. The cutting blade can be operated from the ground by using a long rope that is pulled downward. Sometimes, pole pruners have poles that fit together in sections to extend them for special jobs. When selecting one to buy, consider that the wooden pole pruners are heavy, while white aluminum poles are lighter and easier to use. And in general, avoid using pole pruners near power lines. Material cut overhead can fall on you, so always use caution and wear head and eye protection.
Gas powered pole pruners
Use hedge shears to shear or clip hedges or other plants for a neat, trimmed appearance. Never try to cut large branches with hedge shears. Hedge shears can be manual, handheld, gaspowered, or electric. Manual shears have long, flat blades and short handles, one for each hand. Heavy duty gas-powered or electric shears are best for difficult jobs.
Chainsaws should be used when pruning large branches over two inches in diameter. They come in a variety of sizes, in both gas and electric models. Before beginning your job, make sure the chainsaw is sharp, and also check the chain tension and lubrication for proper function; this ensures long chain life and safer cutting. You should always wear leather work gloves, eyewear, steel-toed work boots, and close fitting clothing. Proper clothing and equipment can reduce injury, but always use chainsaws with extreme caution.
Before cutting, always look up into the tree. Overhead hazards can include dangerous wires, other trees, or dead and loose branches. When making pruning cuts, always stand to one side of a limb—never straddle it. Consider where the chain might go if it snaps. Never position yourself or other people in line with the chain. Keep the chain out of dirt, as debris will fly, the teeth of the chain may become dulled, and the chain life will be shortened considerably. When pruning, always keep the tree limb or a similar barrier between yourself and the saw blade. Larger limbs may require more than one cut to be removed safely. Before cutting any tree, check the diameter of the branch. If it is more than four inches or may require special cutting techniques, then it is a good idea to call a professional.
Keep all pruning tools in good shape. Sharpen and oil blades at the end of each use, or at least at the end of the pruning season. Sharpen only the outside surfaces of the blades so the insides surfaces remain flat and slide smoothly against one another. It is a good idea to have pruning saws and chainsaws sharpened by a professional. Treat wooden handles with linseed oil. Wipe off blades with a cloth and oil them with common household oil. Store all tools in a dry, safe location.
If any pruning job is too big or unsafe for you to handle, or trees are growing into electrical lines, please call in a landscape professional or certified arborist. These highly trained individuals are equipped and certified to handle all tree issues and problems. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is an organization of people who have achieved a level of knowledge and competence in the art and science of proper tree care. Their acute knowledge and maintenance of trees is an investment that can enhance the longevity of a tree. To become a certified arborist, you need to pass a comprehensive examination developed by some of the nation’s leading experts on tree care. Arborists must continue their education to maintain these certifications. This keeps them well informed on the latest techniques in arboriculture.
The International Society of Arboriculture logo
Well-cared-for trees that are properly maintained and attractive add considerable value to your property. If trees are poorly maintained, they become a liability. Trees that need major pruning or removal can also be dangerous. An arborist helps determine the type of pruning that is needed to preserve the health, appearance, and safety of trees. In a severe storm that may cause a tree to uproot or limbs to fall, an arborist can assist in the safe removal of the tree without further risk to property. Additionally, an arborist recommends types of trees to install, helps with cabling or bracing of tree branches, and treats diseases and insects. When looking for an arborist, check with the International Society of Arboriculture; search the Internet or the phone directory.
Mistletoe Removal from Trees by Pruning Methods
Mistletoe is a flowering evergreen that grows as a parasite on a number of landscape plants in the Southwest desert. It has thick, green leaves that are oval in shape, and it grows up to two or more feet in diameter, producing small, sticky, whitish berries from October to Fried / Southwest Landscaping / 160 December. Evergreen clumps of this parasite are easily seen on deciduous trees in winter when all of the leaves have fallen.
Mistletoe in a dormant mesquite tree
Mistletoe plants are either female or male, respectively producing either berries or pollen. Both male and female plants must exist in close proximity for pollination and fruit development. Birds feed off of the berries, digest the pulp, and excrete the seeds, which can then stick to the branches of living trees. When the seed germinates, it grows into tree tissues. It may take up to two years for the plant to bloom and produce viable seed. Seeds may also fall from mistletoe in the upper parts of the trees creating new infestations on lower branches. The parasitic plant depends on its host plant for water and nutrients, eventually causing decline over a period of years. Severe infestations cause the host tree to lose limbs and eventually die. At different elevations in Arizona and other states, mistletoe infects many trees and shrub species, including palo verde, mesquite, cottonwood, ash, sycamore, ironwood and acacia.
The most effective way to control this parasite is to prune out infected branches as soon as they appear. Cut the mistletoe from the host tree before its roots become deeply embedded in the tree limbs. Infected branches should be pruned at least one foot below the point of plant attachment. Heavy infestations may require you to remove the entire tree. At a minimum, prune the mistletoe from infected trees every six months to keep this parasite in check.
Mesquites infested with mistletoe parasite
Pruning shrubs is an ongoing task. It is not a yearly pilgrimage to the yard to do major surgery. If you prune right, hand nippers will be the only tool you’ll need. It takes care of most problems. I’m sure you’ve noticed professionals always have nippers hanging on their waist every time they enter a yard.
Pruning rejuvenates plants. Take a good gander at your shrubs while wandering across your yard. Anytime you see branches extending beyond the shrub’s silhouette, nip them off. This keeps your shrubs looking natural. Avoid formal pruning. Yes it’s pretty, but it connotes work.
Take time to understand your shrubs. Photinia generates burst of growth each spring and fall. Prune just before those spurts to generate a fuller and more colorful display. The same goes for privet, mock orange, junipers and euonymus, but without the colorful leaves.
Let me digress a moment. If you don’t remove the dominant bud located at the tip of each stem, the stem continues extending and becomes gangly. When removing the dominant bud, a war breaks out. There are four or five dormant buds, found at the base of each leaf, that become active and attempt to become the leader or dominant bud. This is just what the doctor ordered – a thicker, fuller bush.
Here are some common mistakes made when pruning shrubs that ruin their beauty:
■ When pruning oleanders, nandina, Texas rangers, cassias and other desert-loving plants, you need to think opposite to the way many of us prune – that is shearing the tops. This creates excessive shade so you get fewer blossoms.
Oleander is a classic example. Hide those ugly naked canes at the plant’s base. This will be a three-year process but results bring about blooms covering the entire bush. Here’s how to do it:
Oleanders produce dozens of new basil canes each spring. Save about five and pull the rest out while they’re small. Next, remove about five of the oldest (biggest) canes from the bush.
This summer you will have three sets of canes on your shrub: new canes coming up, the older canes you’ll remove next year and those larger canes from last year’s growth. This summer younger canes will hide the older canes below. Next year and forever, repeat the process by removing all but five new canes and the oldest canes. Do you see what’s happening? You are creating a new plant and it is producing a total bouquet of blooms.
■ Suppose you have an overgrowing shrub you want to reduce down. The late Eric A. Johnson’s book “Pruning, Planting & Care” describes how to grow more than 300 native and adapted trees, shrubs, vines and flowers for our area. In its “Gallery of Dry Climate Plants” is pruning guidelines for each species.
One gardener uses Johnson’s book to keep her water-conserving plants well-manicured. She flagged all her plants and highlighted when to prune in his book and you’ll find a well-groomed yard with something always in bloom.
Johnson calls the reducing the size of shrubs his two-step naturalistic method. The beauty of pruning in this manner is its simplicity.
The expert said, “The ideal approach is to allow plants to grow undisturbed to their normal height and spread. In other words, after plants are established, leave them alone.” His method “controls the size of shrubs yet maintains a more natural shape and opens up the interior to sunlight, helping develop new flowering wood.”
“Step One: Use hand pruners to cut back branches and stems creating a rough globe shape.
“Step Two: Cut every other branch back to the first large ‘V’ (where it attaches to another branch). Vary length of cut randomly from 6 to 9 inches long.
“To maintain a shrub form, continually thin out other growth. It’s best to do this gradually each season before branches become too thick and woody and avoid the ‘stubbed’ look.”
■ If you planted a shrub for its flowering habits, you must prune at the right time.
Prune spring-flowering plants such as pyracantha and lilacs after they bloom. The reason is last year’s branches carry this year’s flowers. Pruning now removes those potential flowers.
Prune summer-flowering shrubs such as Chaste tree, Spanish broom, crape myrtle and rose of Sharon now. These late bloomers flower on this spring’s growth. If you are unsure of your shrubs’ blooming habits, prune them after they bloom.
Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. You can reached him at [email protected] or call him at 526-1495.
Texas Sage Info: How To Grow Texas Sage Plants
Leucophyllum frutescens is native to the Chihuahuan desert, Rio Grande, Trans-Pecos and somewhat into the Edward’s plateau. It prefers arid to semi-arid regions and is suitable for USDA zones 8-11. This plant bears many names, chief among them Texas sage tree; however, the plant is really more of a woody shrub. The shrub flowers profusely and responds well to pruning, all combined with ease of care. Read on to learn how to grow Texas sage and where and how to use it in the landscape.
Texas Sage Info
Texas sage is a classic in the American Southwest. What is a Texas sage shrub? As a native plant, it provides cover for wild animals and birds and helps stabilize loose desert soils. This adaptable plant is drought tolerant and useful in areas with high heat and cold desert temperatures. It is also a landscape surprise that produces profuse lavender flowers. The plant additionally has deer resistance and thrives in poor soil.
Texas sage can achieve 6 feet (2 m.) in height with a similar spread. While the grayish-green, woolly leaves are not terribly spectacular, the new wood on the plant produces copious lavender purple, magenta or
white flowers. These have three fuzzy petals and a fused set below with conspicuous white anthers.
Plants are easy to propagate either through seed or softwood cuttings. In most regions, the leaves are evergreen but occasionally the plant may be deciduous. Texas sage information wouldn’t be complete without a list of its other common names. One of the more interesting is barometer shrub, as it blooms after monsoon rains. It is also known as Texas Ranger, cenezio, and silverleaf. Blooming starts in spring and occurs in bursts every 4 to 6 weeks up until fall in most regions.
How to Grow Texas Sage
Growing Texas sage is quite easy in well-drained soil. It is not a nutrient hog and can survive in soils where other plants will fail, although it prefers alkaline soil. In the wild, it grows on rocky slopes and calcareous soils. The plant is known to be drought and heat tolerant and performs best in full sun.
Shearing these plants is common, although the best natural appearance and production of flowers will occur if you prune in early spring. Initially, when growing Texas sage, young plants should be given supplemental irrigation.
Most pests steer clear of this native plant and it has few disease issues. One thing that will cause it trauma is boggy soil that doesn’t drain. Texas sage care is minimal and it is an excellent plant for a novice.
Texas Sage Care
Because the plant lives in the wild in inhospitable soil and punishing heat and cold, the plant does not need fertilizing. If you wish, you can add an organic mulch around the root zone that will gradually release small amounts of nutrients. Avoid high nitrogen sources such as grass clippings.
Keep pruning to a minimum once annually, but a good rejuvenation prune every 5 years will enhance the plant’s appearance.
Texas root rot is a common issue but only occurs in high nitrogen soils that do not percolate. In areas where rains are prolific, plant the shrub in a raised bed to avoid any root rot issues. Some suggestions for growing Texas sage are in massed plantings, as a border, in a container, or as part of a naturalized landscape with other native plants.
Texas Ranger, Leucophyllum frutescens
Leucophyllum fruitescens has many common names, including Texas ranger, Texas sage, Texas rain sage, barometer bush, cenizo, silverleaf, and ash-leaf. The plant is not a sage (Salvia ssp.) but it is native to southern Texas and northern Mexico. The names Texas rain sage and barometer bush come from the fact that the plant often blooms immediately following rain. Cenizo means ash colored, which describes the leaves, as do the names silverleaf and ash-leaf.
Texas rangers are in the Snapdragon Family (Scrophulariaceae).
Texas rangers are medium-sized shrubs, typically to 8 feet tall and wide. They are covered with small gray or gray-green leaves. Plants are usually evergreen but some cultivars may go deciduous during the coldest winters. The flowers are usually less than an inch wide, but are so abundant in number that they put on a beautiful show of purple, pink, or white blooms. Blooming is from summer into fall and usually quickly follows rain or even high humidity. Each bloom cycle does not last particularly long but plants can bloom repeatedly.
Texas rangers are recommended for USDA zones 8-11 or Sunset western zones 7-24, H1, and H2, though blooming is not reliable where the summers are not hot. This plant is widely used in the desert cities of the American southwest. However, this is not a plant whose use needs to be restricted to the southwest or the classic desert. Dave’s Garden members have had success with this plant in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and of course Texas. In desert climates, the shrubs can be planted at any time of year.
Plants should be grown in full sun, in well draining soil, and with little to moderate water. Over-watered plants will die out and under-watered plants will drop many leaves and look scraggly. The species is tolerant of alkaline soils, heat, and wind. The shrubs can be trimmed as a formal hedge but are reported to be healthier if left in a more natural growth form. From an aesthetic standpoint, the less pruning, the better. Those who find Texas rangers overused in landscaping are usually referring to the overly-groomed specimens. However, an occasional heavy annual pruning, if necessary, is acceptable and old, leggy plants can be rejuvenated by cutting them back almost to the ground. If space is an issue, it is better to grow one of the smaller cultivars than to repeatedly have to trim a larger plant.
Below is a list of Texas ranger cultivars. All grow to 8 feet unless otherwise noted.
- ‘Alba’ – gray foliage and white flowers
- ‘Bertstar Dwarf’ (aka ‘Silverado’ TM) – gray foliage and light purple flowers, to 4 feet tall (possibly higher)
- ‘Compacta’ – gray foliage and magenta-pink flowers, to 5 feet tall and wide
- ‘Greado’ (aka ‘Desperado’ ®) – gray foliage and light purple flowers, to 5 feet tall and wide
- ‘Green Cloud’ TM – green-gray foliage and magenta-pink flowers
- ‘San Jose’ – gray foliage and light purple flowers, to 5 feet tall and wide
- ‘White Cloud’ TM – gray foliage and white flowers
Texas ranger is used as a traditional herbal remedy. Foliage is used to make a tea that is to be taken at the first sign of cold or fever. It is reported to be safe, moderately effective, and tasty. As always, consult your own doctor for medical advice.
These Texas rangers are blooming during a humid and very hot spell.
The Texas ranger is a classic xeriscape plant but it can also be used in the transition zone between xeriscape landscaping and conventional landscaping. It can also be used in drier and better-draining areas in a conventional landscape. Where winters are relatively mild and watering not excessive, it is a rugged and attractive plant. When other plants are looking tired from a long summer, Texas ranger comes to the rescue with striking blooms during some of the most oppressive weather of summer. The rest of the time it is an attractive neutral background for plants of other shades of green.
When It Rains, It Blooms — Texas Ranger
Photo: Steve Bender
Grumpy delights in bringing to your attention little-known plants worthy of your garden. Here is one such character that needs little care, thrives in heat and drought, and blooms off and on all summer.
Call it Texas ranger, Texas sage, or cenizo — it’s safe to say that unless you live in Texas and Mexico, where it’s native, you probably aren’t familiar with this shrub. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow it. Winter-hardy in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South (USDA Zones 8-11), it needs only sun and well-drained soil. And if winters are too cold where you live (it’s hardy down to 10 degrees), you can grow it in a container and bring it indoors to a bright window until spring.
In its natural form, Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens) grows into an oval to rounded, medium-sized shrub from 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. A compact form well-suited to containers called ‘Compactum’ grows about half as big. Fuzzy, soft, silvery-green leaves cover the branches. Texas ranger has a peculiar, but welcome habit of blooming several days after a rain, smothering the branches with showy, purple flowers about an inch long. This trait gives it yet another nickname, “barometer bush.”
Image zoom emPhoto: Steve Bender/em
Here’s a pretty Texas ranger blooming now on our Southern Living grounds in Birmingham, Alabama. It gets no special attention and I have yet to notice a single bug or fungus that bothers it. Because it blooms off and on according to the rain, you can prune it nearly anytime of the year. But really, it doesn’t need much cutting at all.
Good drainage is the key to keeping it alive. It’ll survive on 15 inches of rain a year or 55. But it won’t last long in heavy, soggy soil.
Where To Buy Check out home and garden centers first. Like I said, it’s quite common in Texas — a mainstay in xeriscapes — but I’ve also seen it for sale where I live. You can also try a couple of mail-order sources — Stokes Tropicals, Plant Lust, and TopTropicals.
Do You Love Hummingbirds?
Image zoom emRuby-throated Hummingb/emird
Of course, you do! Well, if you’re anywhere near Holly Springs, Mississippi (just southeast of Memphis) on September 11-13, you should check out the annual Hummingbird Festival at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center. Each year, around 10,000 visitors congregate there to witness the migration (and banding) of ruby-throated hummingbirds. For details, .