Be sure plants dormant before pruning

Several years ago we planted Russian sage plants close to front of our house. As pretty as they are, the flowers make a mess in decorative gravel. The plan is to dig them up to plant in the back yard where there is no gravel. We want to replace them with something flowering that stays green year-round, tolerates full sun all day long and grows well in this area. Any suggestions?

— Priscilla

Well, I don’t have a lot to offer you, I’m afraid. Most of the broad-leaved evergreens really want some shade, certainly afternoon shade. They may “grow” in the sun here, but they never seem to thrive. They don’t die, they just make you wish they would and get it over with! I’m going to assume that the plant you want is smaller since the Russian sage doesn’t get that big.

Boxwood would probably do OK for you. This is a neat, compact shrub that’s often sheared into a short hedge. There are really no flowers to speak of, but it has attractive, shiny, green foliage that may take on a yellowish, orangey or brownish cast over that green in the winter. The foliage can burn a bit over the winter, especially when the plant is fairly young, but as they mature, that tends to fade away.

Pyracantha is probably the toughest broadleafed evergreen I can think of, but it gets pretty big. “Yukon Belle” is the most common variety. It’s super cold-hardy and takes the sun just fine. It has pretty white flowers in spring, but the real show is the orange berries in the fall. Left to itself, it will grow to 5 feet or 6 feet tall with an 8-foot spread. This plant can be sheared to just about any size or shape you want, so controlling that isn’t too hard, but the most memorable characteristic of the plant is that it’s THORNY, THORNY, THORNY! That’s something you’ll have to deal with each time you prune it.

One broadleaf that sort of acts evergreen is broom. There are a number of varieties available. They bloom in early to mid-spring with sweet pea-shaped flowers in shades of bright yellow, gold and primrose yellow. The plant doesn’t have much in the way of leaves; it relies on bright green wiry stems for photosynthesis. Those stems look pretty much the same year-round. My personal favorite is a variety called “Lydia.” It’s low and spreading. I had one in my yard that was absolutely wonderful. It grew to about 18 inches tall and 4 feet or 5 feet wide. For three weeks each spring the plant was completely covered with glaringly bright yellow flowers that rival forsythia any day! This group of plants is also quite tolerant of drought and our hot, intense sun.

Other than that, you’re looking at a shrubby conifer like a juniper or mugo pine.


I was wondering if it is OK to cut branches from my smoke tree this time of year, or would it be better to wait until March?

— Marla


Honestly, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot whether you prune in the fall or the spring. The problem with pruning in the fall is that you’ve created some open wounds and the tissue at that point can desiccate in our dry climate over the winter, occasionally causing some additional dieback. That doesn’t happen very often, so you’d probably never notice the difference. If you want to prune this fall, wait before doing it. You want to be absolutely sure that the plant is dead dormant and won’t be stimulated to push out new growth in response to the pruning. Wait until the end of November or the first part of December.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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