Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
February 05, 2013
Podcasts

DESERT BLOOM: Lion Tailing

Listen

Angela

If you're ready to get the shears out, a reminder that some pruning methods might do more harm than good. Angela O'Callaghan tells us about one method in particular:

LiontailedI spent the past weekend doing some of the pruning that I’d been avoiding since last year. I was really only trying to clean up some of the extra branches on my fruit trees; I haven’t even looked at taking care of the roses yet. That’s for another day, since they’re kind of a special case.

Late winter (up to about mid-February in the southwest) is the best time to groom and prune deciduous plants – those’re the ones that drop their leaves when it gets cold. There are a lot of good reasons for pruning a plant, get rid of any broken or rubbing branches, increase the amount of fruit or flowers in spring, or raise the canopy so you don’t get impaled when you walk underneath. In general, you’re trying to get rid of whatever branches make the plant less attractive. It’s rarely essential to plant life; it’s usually basic grooming.

When I came to Las Vegas years ago, I started a photo collection I called the tortured palm series. You’ve seen those palms – a couple of fronds poking out from the top of a tall shaggy log. Some look worse than others, depending on the landscaper.  It didn’t take very long before I changed the title to the tortured landscape series. I can’t put in every agonized tree or suffering shrub in the valley; there are simply too many.

To be included, it has to be more than simple bad pruning.

It has to be something terrible, like the lion-tailed pines on Rancho Boulevard. In fact, if I were going to have a contest for the worst thing anyone could do to a landscape plant, these would be at the top of the list or very close to it.

Lion-tailing is one of the stranger practices that people inflict on defenseless plants. It’s topiary gone mad. If you’ve seen it, you might have asked yourself “how could a plant be sheared so much that it looks like a big green poodle?”; and more importantly, why? It really does make the tree look like it’s got poodle cut.

It’s not the most common kind of plant sculpture out there. No doubt that has something to do with amount of labor involved. Usually, when you see a lion-tailed plant, it’s an olive tree. I have no idea why it started; maybe it increased the fruit yield. Even though we don’t produce a lot of olives here in southern Nevada, the lion-tailing practice continues.

Aside from the fact that it’s a maintenance nightmare, there’re many good reasons to avoid lion-tailing a tree. For one thing, all the smaller branches on the limbs are removed, leaving a pompom. When you cut a branch so that you’re topping it, you get a big cluster of growth at the very end of the limb. That’s a lot of weight for one naked branch to carry. Really, all you need is a single heavy wind or rainfall, and it’ll be on the round, leaving a big tear on the tree.

You might have figured out that I’m not a big fan of this practice, but at least with olive, or any tree that has smaller oval leaves, it looks like it’s been cared for. Some trees tend to grow so the branches are spreading out. The tree can be considerably wider than tall. There you have a chance of getting the desired lion-tails.

On an evergreen conifer, that’s not what happens. Clearly the ones on Rancho Boulevard were somebody’s experiment. Somebody who had no idea what they were doing.  Pines grow up, not out. Their natural shape is conical. Cutting the tops off and denuding branches except for some needles at the end, is absolutely the worst possible thing you could do.  No lion tails; no pompoms. The resulting plants look broken and shabby, anything but well groomed. Sadly, they’re really only good for entry into the tortured landscape series.

For KNPRs Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Comments

Daniel Cooley wrote on Feb 12, 2013 06:44 PM:
I've lived in LV just 7 months and one of the first things I noticed is the "lion tailing" (or, as I first called it, canopy-i-zation) practice ubiquitous in Summerlin. Whoever got the idea that cutting lower growth year after year until you have ugly black trunks and lower branches was the right thing to do? I have noticed gardeners on The Trails doing this very thing. We are letting our oleanders grow naturally from the bottom in our yard now but some of our trees have been hacked almost to death.


See discussion rules.

Archives

NormMar 24, 2014 | Spring Garden Party
Spring is here and the garden is blooming . . . so invite some friends to enjoy the rewards of gardening!

AngelaMar 10, 2014 | Lady Banks
If you love roses, but don't care for thorns, you may want to call on 'Lady Banks.' Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 26, 2014 | Signs of Spring
It may be February, but if you are paying attention, signs of Spring are visible. Dwarf peach and Mexican plum trees are in bloom. Vibrant Red Spraxis can be seen among the falling Almond blossom. Watch gardening expert Norm Schilling transplant an offshoot. Check out the slide show of photos taken from his backyard.

AngelaFeb 18, 2014 | Mulch is for Winter
Rewards for using mulch in your landscape can be had year-round. Mulch is about mulch more than just "good looks" according to Angela O' Callaghan. In any climate, and certainly in a desert, mulch is an ecologically sound way to conserve our limited soil moisture and to control weeds.

NormFeb 4, 2014 | Investing for Spring
Temperatures are scheduled to stay cool this week, but Norm Schilling finds his yard is ready for Spring. He reflects on techniques to keep older trees healthy even as the surrounding yard may change. Bigger, older trees may need more water.

AngelaJan 13, 2014 | Freezing Temps
If your garden looks like it's been zapped by Jack Frost, there's still a chance that all is not lost. Delicate desert plants can suffer chill damage even when the temperature stays above freezing. Well-established plants should survive.

NormDec 31, 2013 | Leave the Leaves
Just because most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, it doesn't mean you have to rake them all up. Norm Schilling says it's better to use the leaves as mulch to protect the plants and make rich soil. Some woody plants can be pruned now, while others should wait another month or two.

AngelaDec 13, 2013 | Winter Greens
It is the season to enjoy some winter gardening. In Southern Nevada, a cold-snap does not have to mean that your garden is done for. Angela O'Callaghan gives a few cold facts.

NormDec 3, 2013 | Winter Watering
After a recent rain followed by a cold snap this week, Norm Schilling digs in to figure out how much water is needed this time of year. Touch the leaves to get a feel and don't water much at all for the next few months.

AngelaNov 18, 2013 | Herb Gardens
Our desert environment may be hard to handle for many plants, but it is possible to grow your own herbal remedy. The healing properties of some herbs are still widely recognized. Even though we rarely have to rely on them to deal with our infirmities, Angela O'Callaghan says many herbs are pretty and simple to grow.

NormNov 5, 2013 | Fall Color
Our second Spring is in full bloom. Norm Schilling shares his favorite plants that are bringing color to the yard right now, including Chocolate Flower, Mexican Bush Sage, Autumn Sage and ornamental grasses.

AngelaOct 29, 2013 | Pumpkins
Halloween just wouldn't be the same without the jack-o-lantern. But there's more to the tradition of decorating squash than meets the eye. Angela O'Callaghan says pumpkins are more than decorations for a single day. They're food, and a very good food at that.

NormSep 30, 2013 | Fall Pruning and Mulching
Pruning for aesthetics and mulching for rich soil quality are on his to-do list before he gets started in earnest on fall planting. Find out where to find mulch and mulch more on this week's edition of Desert Bloom.

AngelaSep 17, 2013 | The Best Place to Garden
The Mojave Desert isn't the easiest place to cultivate a garden, but we do have a few advantages here. In fact, Angela O'Callaghan says Southern Nevada is the BEST place in the world to be a gardener, partly because dry air helps keep our plants healthy.

NormSep 3, 2013 | Sacred Datura
Sacred Datura is a native, but poisonous, desert plant that offers stunning blooms. Often seen at the side of the highway, it's found a home in Norm's yard.

AngelaAug 20, 2013 | Drought
Living in the desert means - learning to live with less water. The more thought you put into watering, the better off your plants will be.

NormAug 6, 2013 | Casualties of Summer
Ever the optimist, Norm finds something to learn from the casualties of summer.

AngelaJul 22, 2013 | White Prickly Poppy
Is a poppy by any other name just a weed?

NormJul 9, 2013 | Agave
Agave is well suited to our desert climate. Norm Schilling shares his collection.

AngelaJun 25, 2013 | Summer Vegetables
Growing your own food in triple-digit weather is challenging, but not impossible.

© 2013 NEVADA PUBLIC RADIO   
Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.