Growing Boxwood

How to prune and grow boxwoods

By: Sandy Feather ©2007
Penn State Extension

Q. When I planted several 'Green Mountain' boxwood two years ago they had a lovely pyramidal shape. Now they have spikey growth at their tops, and I'm not sure when or if I should prune them. I've had to replace two of them and another is starting to yellow. There don't seem to be any insects on them, so can you tell me what is wrong with my boxwoods?

A. Green Mountain boxwood (Buxus x  ‘Green Mountain’) naturally has a pyramidal growth habit. You can prune out those spiky growths any time they appear. Since yours sound as though they have more than a few spikes, this is a good time to prune them, while they are dormant. Many people shear boxwood into a more formal shape with hedge shears. Simply follow the shrub’s natural growth habit with the shears until you have renewed its tight pyramidal form.

Natural Pruning vs. Sheared Shape

If you prefer a more natural shape, one that follows the shrub’s pyramidal growth habit, but without the rigid line that shearing creates, prune the spiky growth out with hand pruners. Remove the outsized stems back to their point of origin on a branch or the trunk. Removing those growths as they appear will keep them in shape without a lot of work on your part.

'Winter Gem' Boxwood

All boxwoods require well-drained soil. The yellowing, decline and death of some of your boxwoods are classic symptoms of poor drainage. Choosing the proper location in your yard – one with good drainage to start with - and careful attention to soil preparation are very important to make sure they thrive since we tend to have heavy clay soil that does not drain well.


Check the Drainage for Boxwoods

To check soil drainage, dig a hole 12-inches deep. Fill it with water and allow it to drain completely. Refill the hole, and measure the depth of the water with a ruler. Wait 15 minutes and measure it again. Multiply the result by four to calculate how much water drains in an hour. If it drains four to six inches per hour, the site should be fine for the boxwoods. Less than an inch per hour indicates poor drainage, and you will have to find a way to drain excess water from the site or find another location. If they are planted on a slope, do not assume the area drains well because it slopes. The surface water probably drains well, but there can be pockets of clay that interfere with internal drainage.


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