5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Prune Your Flowering Shrubs Into ‘Balls’

Two Texas Sage shrubs – one recently pruned and the other not.

Drive down any street in the Southwest, and you are likely to see landscapes filled with green balls, squares, and even cupcakes.

So what are these green blobs? Believe it or not, they are the result of improper pruning of flowering shrubs.

Residential landscape with green blobs.

Here is a fairly typical example. There are six different types of flowering shrubs in this front yard – plus a formally pruned olive tree. To the casual observer, it’s hard to tell what type of plants are here because they look the same.

Let’s look at 5 reasons that you shouldn’t turn your flowering shrubs into balls, squares or cupcakes.

Beautiful red-blooming Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) allowed to grow into their natural shape.

1. Formal pruning robs shrubs of the foliage they need to survive and remain healthy.

The leaves of all plants have an essential function – they make the food for the plant. When people maintain shrubs in a formal shape, it requires frequent pruning. This creates a vicious cycle in that once the shrub grows the leaves it needs, those leaves are pruned off. And so, it produces new ones, only to be removed, and so on.

2. Frequent pruning stimulates shrubs to grow faster, creating more maintenance.

It may surprise you to learn that the more you prune, the more maintenance you create for yourself. Because your shrubs are doing their best to replace the foliage that they lost, they grow faster.

Conversely, shrubs that are pruned less often and allowed to grow to their natural shape grow slower and require less maintenance.

The interior of a formally pruned shrub

3. Shrubs that are formally pruned have a shorter lifespan.

Plants need sunlight for health and growth. When shrubs are pruned excessively into different shapes, the outer leaves form a barrier that doesn’t allow sunlight to permeate into the inside. The result? Leafless branches in the interior that can lead to dead areas developing.

Couple this with the fact that they are continually trying to regrow their leaves over and over, it’s no surprise that they start to decline and die.

Texas Sage and Valentine Bush formally pruned into ‘pillboxes.’

4. Shrubs pruned excessively need more water and create more green waste.

Plants maintained in a formal shape need more water in their constant effort to regrow back the foliage that they need. Furthermore, shrubs that are pruned less frequently and allowed to grow into their natural shape need less water and still look great!

Also, garden debris in the form of leaves and branches usually heads straight to the landfill, and if you formally prune your shrubs, you create more green waste.

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage pruned infrequently and allowed to grow to its natural shape.

5. Flowering shrubs that are pruned into formal shapes lose their beauty and produce fewer, if any, flowers.

The practice of formal pruning robs flowering shrubs of their attractive shape and many of their blooms, relegating them to anonymous green blobs.

And so, the next time you find yourself reaching for the hedge-trimmers, stop and think of the reasons why you shouldn’t.

*The primary pruning season for shrubs is in spring; at that time, we will discuss the right way to prune your shrubs to encourage a beautiful natural shape and lovely flowers. In the meantime, allow your flowering bushes to grow out.


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  • Denise Levi

    thank you – maybe we need large print tags on each plant to say — NO TRIMMING INTO BLOBS !!!!! 🙂 . and it’s bad enough to do it to Texas Rangers and the rest – but PLEASE……. STOP cutting the red yuccas into balls !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Helen Bootsma

    We would like to include this excellent article in our next newsletter but do not want to violate copyright laws.

  • Sandy Smith

    I love (and hate) the pill boxes! I see them everywhere, mainly along supermarket and parking lot berms.