Sunday, February 3, 2013

Haircut or just a trim?

Every 6 weeks I see my hairdresser to have my roots restored to the color they were in the distant past. When that's taken care of, she asks whether I want a haircut or a trim.  I'm usually conservative and go with just a trim, restoring my appearance to a close approximation of what I looked like at the end of my prior visit.  However, every once in a while, I throw caution to the wind and have her cut it short, layer it, or do something else that changes my look.  These events are often followed by an adjustment period, punctuated by questions: Why the hell did I do that?  How long is this going to take to grow out?  What can I do with this?  Eventually, I adapt and accept my new look - or it grows out and I start over.

I also tend to be conservative in the garden when it comes to cutting plants back.  I'm good about dead-heading spent flowers and I frequently give plants a trim as they start to lose their shape, but I shy away from bold haircuts, always afraid I'm going to cause more harm than good.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I attended a presentation at Rogers Garden, a plant nursery in Orange County.  The subject was the use of shrubs to give structure to the garden but the thing that stuck with me was the horticulturist's emphasis on the importance of giving shrubs a good haircut after each bloom cycle. She discussed 12 plants and, in every case but one, she recommended pulling the foliage up and chopping off a third to half the growth after each bloom period.  She clearly didn't envision taking careful little cuts branch by branch as I tend to do.  The approach was more on the order of grab and chop - very efficient by comparison to my usual approach.

Emboldened by her recommendation, I decided that it was time to charge ahead with my own pruning activities.  I went to work, starting with the front yard.
Front Bed - Before
Front Bed - After
Plants in the backyard, side yard, and even the vegetable garden border received the same treatment, although I don't have any "before" pictures to share.  Some examples:
Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope' (after haircut)

Penstemon heterophyllus 'Margarita BOP' (after haircut)
Pentas-NoID (after serious haircut)

This Salvia, planted only a few months ago, got just a trim.
Salvia macrophylla (after trim)
This Plectranthus, trimmed once immediately after it finished flowering, got a second, more serious trim.
Plectranthus (NoID) - After 2nd trim
I'm reasonably sure that most of these plants will come back in good shape.  As we don't get freezing cold, the timing of our pruning exercises isn't generally as critical as it is in areas that get hard frosts that can damage new growth.  But, in one instance, I'm afraid I may have gone too far.
Shrub hedge - street view after pruning

Shrub hedge - street view, unpruned segment
These shrubs border the front side of our house, along the street.  I'm not even sure what they are - yesterday, a neighbor told me that he thought they're some species of Pittosporum.  I don't think they've been properly pruned in years, if ever.  The gardeners run electric trimmers over the top and down the front. The interior branches are dead.  All the growth is attached to the ends of spindly, attenuated branches.  My thought was to clear out the interior deadwood and open the remaining branches up to more light. However, what I've done so far has created big holes in what was previously a fairly even, if somewhat shabby, screen.
Shrub hedge - view from back, after pruning

I've only tackled 2 of 9 of these shrubs so far, which is rather like cutting one section of hair and leaving the rest.  Here I am again, asking: Why the hell did I do that?  How long is this going to take to grow out?  What can I do with this?  I suppose I'm committed to see the thing through.  As one of my neighbors said, I can always create a new screen with other plants...


  1. Ahhhh rejuvenation in the garden is a winderful thing! I've never been shy with the pruners (and loppers) and have yet to kill anything. Once you learn which plants prefer the haircut, there will be no holding you back.

  2. The blank spots created by major haircuts tend to make me itchy to fill in the space but I'm trying to learn patience (as well as better pruning technique).