The Cost of Mutilating Landscape Plants— preserving beauty, health, and saving money through better practice

By Ronald Kirk, Landscape Architect

As a designer and as a devotee of the beauty in nature, this is a big personal peeve. I suggest it should be yours as well. If you retain a gardener or landscape maintenance crew for your home or business, you may want to read on. You may well reduce your expense and increase your pleasure and other benefits in the landscape.

Beautifully pruned tree at Disneyland reveals natural character and allows filtered light

Poor landscape maintenance practice in the form of unnecessary pruning and trimming of shrubs and trees creates a goldmine for service providers. The practice has become the ubiquitous but destructive norm. Interestingly, few seem to notice the aesthetic damage these practices cause, nor the extra cost. Damaging a tree damages public health—with corresponding loss of oxygen production, heat mitigating shade, and pollutant collection. Everywhere we look we see great ugly sticks and stiff little geometric objects strewn about, where we ought to see beautifully branching real plants instead.

Yes, admittedly hedging of shrubs through shearing is sometimes warranted, possibly intended to make an artistic statement. However, 99% of hedging seen in the So Cal landscape is unnecessary, ugly and expensive.

Just as political correctness tends to sear our sensibilities, we seem to have become completely inured to bad landscape practices. Now every plant is hacked into little balls or cubes, when we ought to be enjoying its far more pleasing natural form. The Creator knew what He was doing when He made both them and us. Beauty still means something.

The truth is that little pruning of shrubs is ever required. If a particular plant imposes on a walk or roadway, selective pruning to guide branching is usually all that is necessary. As with children, the best plants are carefully trained from the beginning. Proper pruning results from making flush cuts. Stubs are ugly, can be dangerous, and often cause plants to sucker. Suckering is the multiplying of new branches from one point on a stem. A plant’s life-defense mechanism, suckering unfortunately further uglifies the plant with unnaturally dense branching. On the other hand, when skillful, structure-forming selective pruning is once accomplished, it rarely needs to be done again. No marring of the beauty of the plant. No additional cost. Certainly there is no reason for the cost of monthly slashing.

On trees, the effects of lopping are far worse. The larger the branch that is cut so as to leave a stub, the greater the damage inflicted to the beauty and health of any tree. Top-heaviness from branch suckering often makes a tree increasingly dangerous as time passes. The truth is that best practice according to professional arborists calls for nearly no trimming at all. If tree trimming is required due to danger from aged branches or some other nuisance, nothing but careful flush cutting according to well established standards is ordinarily called for.  Topping of trees, except to accomplish some other important purpose, should never be seen. Usually, it would be better to fell the tree than to subject the world to the ugly, forlorn sadness of a chopped and mangled tree.

Heavily damaged tree from poor pruning

What NOT to do.

Beautiful Abelia shrub typically sheared to a hedge. This runis its naturally arching and open branching. Now constant

Beautiful Abelia shrub typically sheared to a hedge. This ruins its naturally arching and open branching. Now constant pruning is required.








Photo Credit: Poorly pruned tree courtesy of Gary Knowles Arborist—used by permission (

—Ron is a California licensed professional landscape architect who has served Ventura County since 1977. He would be happy to provide consultation for improving an existing home or corporate image garden, or design something new, beautiful and special—beyond the merely common. He also provides protected tree consultation. See his website at or contact him at [email protected]


Get free BULLETINS. Please patronize our advertisers to keep us publishing and/or DONATE

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments