Abuse of Osmanthus Shrubs by Power Tools


Take a look at the two ‘Goshiki’ Osmanthus (a/k/a False Holly) on either side of my front door, where they get just a couple hours of late afternoon sun.

They’re slow-growing, so they need almost no pruning, ever, and they’re evergreen! And not plain dark green like most evergreen shrubs and trees but a variegated mix of white and light green. So lovely – I love this shrub!

And this year, in their 9th year out of the nursery and into this spot, they bloomed, and the scent covered my front yard. I was wow’ed all over again by this underused shrub.

But when I walked by these apartment buildings in my neighborhood it took a double-take for me to recognize them, sheared as they are into gumballs. 

No danger of these ever blooming, I bet. Sad, because they’d eventually grow together and be gorgeous!

Nearby, I spotted some even worse-looking evergreens in the same apartment complex – junipers treated with the same delicacy via power tools. Where can I sign up to teach their mow-blow-shear landscape crew to prune correctly? Free of charge! Not only would the result be healthier and prettier; correct hand-pruning is less maintenance in the long run than this butchery by power tools.

Speaking of pruning junipers, here are the old, overgrown ones that I rescued from pruning abuse two years ago. (I can’t help myself.) With all the dead parts pruned away, what’s left resembles bonsai and they’re lovely! Plus, they no longer collect garbage or harbor rodents.

You may recognize these as the junipers that so many commenters recommended killing.


  1. Many years ago a famous landscape architect spoke at a national rhododendron meeting and praised shrubs that would grow in a nice gumdrop shape. Shocked us all who went for plants and not landscapes! Ever since then, I’ve been wary of food-shaped plants, the meatball also being a choice shape.

  2. Plant Amnesty out in Seattle provides witty and eloquent arguments against butcher pruning and sound pruning advice and tutorials. I wish there was a similar movement and organization in the East to which we could appeal for onsite help. Maryland’s utility companies’ subcontractor, a company with considerable prestige and steep prices, is a prime offender of sound pruning practices, first charging to prune roadside trees to achieve certain death in a few years, then charging to remove those very same trees. I weep and rage driving under that ravaged canopy.

  3. Sorry, but I’m not sure you can teach these people anything. It’s just a job for many of them. I’ve tried to tell members of the landscape crews in my area that you don’t butcher crape myrtles, that you shouldn’t participate in volcano mulching,and that you don’t plant oaks beneath power lines. The all-male crews laugh at me because I’m a “know-nothing” woman and continue to landscape the way THEY think best.

    • After the tornado took down half the trees in our urban forest, crews planted crabapples in the 8′ wide parkways right under the overhead wires. I questioned whether they would be too tall as was laughed off. A couple years later they cut EVERY BRANCH THAT EXTENDED OVER THE ROAD OR SIDEWALK because the city gas a rule that branches must be a minimum of 14′ above the street and 7′ above the sidewalk. Ten years after planting, we now h SAS ve a crabapple which looks like a lollypop on a very, very long stick. And it is growing 3′ over and around the overhead wire.

  4. Some people like the very manicured look. Nice and tidy. Planting things too close together leads to this type of pruning. And you get what you pay for. Buzz jobs are quick. True pruning takes time.

  5. Great rant. I live in the Southeast and we have a lot of serial crepe murderers. The lawn care people have to justify their winter charges, you know!

  6. Goes on in the UK too. We have a local ‘professional gardener’ whose work you can track by his beautifully uniform puffball shrubs and trees….. In my last garden, I left behind a contorted hazel which its new owners have desecrated to a uniform round – can you imagine??

  7. Shrub abuse is rampant! In my experience landscapers will whack plants to death unless I stand over them and direct the pruning. Not to throw shade on everyone; no doubt there are some who are skilled.
    I planted my ‘Gishiki’ osmanthus just to have a few sprigs of it’s gorgeous foliage for holiday decoration. It’s such a sluggish grower I can barely get enough to put in a small vase. I don’t think it ever requires pruning.

  8. This conversation reminds me of pollarding, and those (to me) beautiful stretches of trees I’ve seen in old cities, especially in the winter. I don’t think of the practice of pollarding as tree abuse, and wikipedia tells me the trees actually live longer. But my brain says it’s still whacking the hell out of a plant that probably would prefer to be left alone.

  9. @Kathy Webber & everyone – yes, a landscaper is usually not a gardener. My dad retired and gardened in their tiny Bay Area place for thirty+ years until he passed away two years ago. How to find a gardener who would do the maintenance? He had a green thumb and loved to experiment with growing from seeds and cuttings, grafting, etc. So it’s all perennials, reseeded annuals, and a mini-orchard instead of lawn. Nothing to mow, blowing wouldn’t achieve anything… thank goodness for community minded souls who come lend a hand from time to time! I know mom will come up with something, but it has been an added grief… Gardeners do exist still, right? I mean ones who garden for others?

  10. I’ll be the contrarian here. While it’s true that too many landscape crews resort to clipping shrubs into geometric shapes, and often the wrong shrubs, but a regimented or geometric style isn’t inappropriate in and of itself and Osmanthus can handle clipping. In the case that inspired this post, I think the lack of plant diversity is worth calling out more than clipped Osmanthus. I think the application of clipping or shearing to inappropriate shrubs has led many in the gardening world to call out all applications of clipping even when it’s a reasonable option.

  11. Good points; I rant about landscape contractors in my book, which is why I make the case for planting grasses and perennials instead of shrubs. In public spaces shrubs are routinely butchered, but a naturalistic border can become self-sustaining, and very low maintenance; no power tools required, unless cutting back Miscanthus in late February!


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