Here’s how to prune shrubs properly

Here are some questions I dealt with this past week.

Question: In a previous article, you told us not to prune cassias and Texas rangers into contorted forms. But how do we prune them right?

Answer: Here is how Dennis Swartzell of Horticulture Consultants tells people to avoid contorted geometric prunings, a problem that has become widespread across the valley:

“Pruning desert-adapted shrubs to maintain their natural shape and to improve flowering is easy. First, if the shrub has been routinely sheared to create a geometric form, prune it hard to eliminate all unnatural top growth. We call this rejuvenation pruning. Cut the shrub down to four to six inches above ground level. Train the emerging new growth to create a more natural shaped shrub. Do rejuvenation pruning during the winter for summer-flowering plants such as Texas ranger and crape myrtle and after the bloom cycle for spring-flowering plants such as cassia, brittlebush and autumn sage. Once new growth fills out, conduct maintenance pruning in one of the other two methods.”

“The late Eric Johnson from Palm Springs created the two-step naturalistic method. It calls for trimming the heaviest stems down by one-third of their length, preferably to a point where they attach to an inner branch. Once you remove the large stems, then all remaining branches are lightly pruned removing several inches of foliage. Avoid shearing that makes the shape more formal. Repeat annually at the appropriate time.”

“The other is the one-third-per-year method. This eliminates the heaviest stems down to ground level. New stems emerge near these cuts replacing the older stems. Repeat the process yearly at the appropriate time. By the end of the third year, all the above-ground stems are less than 3 years old, ensuring that all of the new foliage produces bountiful flowers.”

Q: Can we grow a Three Sister Garden like Native Americans?

A: Yes, the three sisters (corn, beans and squash) do well here. The corn supports the pole beans, which fixes nitrogen to fertilize the corn and squash, and the squash shades the ground to conserve moisture.

The Springs Preserve grows the Three Sisters Garden every summer as a demonstration.

It’s a fun project for children.

The Native Americans allow the corn to get three inches high before planting beans and squash. They suffocate the corn if all are planted at the same time.

Q: What vines that bloom can I plant in an area only getting two hours of afternoon sun? A pecan tree blocks out the morning sun.

A: The lack of sun restricts plants from blooming. First, thin out the pecan to let in more light. Consider honeysuckle, star jasmine, cross vine or banks rose to give you the blooms.

Q: Where can I get your past R-J columns?

A: Go to for those published the past four years.

Q: Can I grow Jerusalem artichokes here? If so, when do I plant and harvest them? I understand they are invasive.

A: Yes, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers in loose organic soil in the fall. Harvest as you need them or harvest the whole batch when the plant dies next spring. You control the invasiveness by watering where you want them to grow.

Q: How do I transplant an agave?

A: Prepare the ground where you plan to place it by incorporating organic matter into the soil. Give the site around the agave a good watering the day before to soften the soil. Dig around the agave and lift it out of the ground. Trim off any damaged roots, and plant at the same level as it came out of the ground and water in. Don’t overwater, or you risk root rot.

Q: When do I fertilize my peach trees?

A: We normally feed them in late January and again about six weeks later, but do it now. Follow the instructions on a fertilizer formulated for fruit trees and irrigate it into the roots.


If you want to encourage wildlife in your yard, create a windbreak or are having trouble growing in our alkaline soil, the Nevada Division of Forestry will have what you need at its annual plant sale. It runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, 9600 Tule Springs Road. Only cash or checks will be accepted. Bring your own cart to make shopping easier. For more information, call 486-5411 or visit

Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at linn.mills@ or (702) 822-7754.

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