Gardening With Tony
Shearing Is For Hedges, Not Trees And Shrubs
By Tony Tomeo
Apr 28, 2012 - 10:04:31 AM

BEVERLY HILLSYou can make fun of the decadent hair styles of the 1980s all you like, but you must admit that they were better than what came later. Back then, the assets of each particular type of hair were exploited instead of destroyed, sculpted instead of chopped into submission. Sadly, landscape maintenance evolved in a similar manner.

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Remarkably lacy foliage is a softly refined backdrop for elegantly simple nigella flowers. Shades of blue are classic. Yet, this white nigella flower seems a bit more sharp.

So many trees, shrubs and ground covers are either shorn too much to develop their naturally appealing forms, or not pruned severely enough to allow space for resulting new growth to mature and bloom like it should. Gardeners are notorious for shearing anything within reach. However, they are also notorious for allowing certain ground covers to get too deep and overgrown.

Trees that are short with multiple trunks when they first get planted are more likely than taller trees with single trunks to be shorn into nondescript shrubs. Olive, Japanese maple, tristania (laurina) and crape myrtle are commonly victims of this abuse. They are not only deprived of their form, but their grace and foliar appeal as well. Shorn crape myrtle may never be able to bloom.

Oleander, bottlebrush, arborvitae and various pittosporums that make nice informal screens in their natural forms are likewise very often shorn inappropriately and needlessly into all sorts of odd geometric shapes. Fortunately, pittosporums tend to make excellent formally shorn hedges as well as informal screens. Yet, when shorn without a plan, they more often develop into herds of noncontinuous geometric shapes. Oleander and bottlebrush, like crape myrtle, may never bloom if shorn too frequently.

Ground cover more often has the opposite problem. It does not get mown enough, or otherwise pruned down to stay shallow. This may not be a problem in most of the space covered by ground cover, but does make for hedge-like edges where the ground cover meets walkways, with all the problems of improperly shorn hedges. These edges can be softened if sloped inward and rounded off on top. However, lantana, star jasmine, acacia redolens and the ground cover forms of ceanothus do not bloom on these shorn edges unless the shearing procedure gets done at the right time to allow for enough new growth to mature in time for the blooming season.

There is certainly nothing wrong with properly planned and properly shorn formal hedges; but not everything needs to be shorn. Plants should be selected to be proportionate to their particular application without abusive shearing. Like the hair styles of the 1980s, the assets of each particular plant should be exploited instead of destroyed.

Flower of the week: Nigella

Those who crave blue for the garden probably know nigella, or 'love-in-a-mist', Nigella damascena. It blooms in May and June, typically with various shades of pastel blue, or can alternatively bloom pink, lavender or white. The lacy flowers are surrounded by lacier bracts, and suspended on thin stems among delicate pinnately lobed foliage, with very narrow ('thread-like') lobes. The plump brown seed capsules that appear over summer after bloom are commonly used as dried flowers. The plants can be half a foot to a foot and a half tall. Although annual, nigella self sows easily, so can grow in the same location for many years if allowed to.



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