Sad Tuba Pruning – Desert Spoon

For those of you who have not spent some serious time watching The Price is Right over the last four decades, here’s what I’m talking about with “sad tuba.”  It works well with any given defeat, but I’m going to use it for this new blog segment that focuses on the horrors of bad pruning.  And let me tell you, there are some true atrocities going on in this town!  I’m sure it happens everywhere, but with desert plants it’s just so much more obvious and painful. Our vegetation doesn’t just shoot up an extra 12′ after being hacked back like it might  elsewhere in the country (there are plenty of places where not enough pruning might lead to a total takeover of your property – not even close to true in the Sonoran desert).


The first casualty we’ll take a look at is the desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri), which gets chopped and decimated all over the place.  This native plant is supposed to have a lovely spherical shape made up of toothed leaf blades that taper to a point.  After many years it begins to lift off the ground as the slow-growing trunk forms.  It’s a beautiful and tough plant, and if you want to buy one that’s close to full size (without a trunk) you’ll drop somewhere around $100.


desert spoon 1


I’m not sure what the motivation is, but with increasing frequency you’ll see these fellas pruned in to all kinds of crazy shapes.  I think it must start innocently enough – trim off a couple dead blades on the bottom, even it out a bit so it looks consistent, take off some of the more ragged points, take off all the points so the blades match, cut everything back just a bit to hide the unevenness – and before you know it the whole darn thing has been trimmed to look like a flattened pineapple top!  You’ve instantly lost more than half the plant.  And it’s never coming back.  Ever.  Those blades are a one-shot deal.  I’ve mentioned before that the desert doesn’t just give out free shows – it has a system, and now that system has been disabled.  So you potentially had a  beautiful multi-hundred dollar plant, and now you’re left with something totally silly and bizarre.


desert spoon 2


Nauseating, right?  It’s just too sad for words.


calvin and hobbes

So let’s all agree to hire landscape professionals that know what native plants are supposed to look like.  And feel free to pull over and give a small lecture if you see this happening in real time.  (Or just throw food from the car.  Soft stuff – like cake or bananas or something).  Save the desert spoons!



  1. I have a number of mature desert spoon plants that have never been pruned. They are quite attractive to look at, but small animals such as pack rats, mice and desert reptiles have taken advantage of the natural protective canopy created by the serrated blades on the lower part of the plant to burrow in to create nests and middens. I have tried pruning the lower blades, but have always ended up terribly scratched and bloodied from reaching in to prune as close to the trunk as I can. Are there any tools out there available on Amazon or at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, etc. that can be used so that I don’t end up nursing some severely damaged tissue on my arms and hands even though I wear gloves and long-sleeved shirts.

  2. I’ve got the same problem with critters, Pack Rats have ruined my little purple prickly pear. I’ve been slowly removing the lower leaves (dead ones plus a free rows of the live ones) to clear out the protection for my unwanted squatters. I’ve read that tying up the leaves you want to keep with a rope can help with hand access, but I haven’t tried it yet (still nursing the wounds from last weekend’s pruning attempt.

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