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.
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.
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!