Boxwoods evoke images of stateliness and formality. After all, they’ve been a part of some of the most elegant and well-known gardens for centuries. Boxwoods are wonderful shrubs that make a great addition to any yard. While there are many species of boxwood, the two most commonly used in the landscape are Buxus sempervirens and Buxus microphylla.

Boxwood planter

This boxwood planter complements a wonderfully fragrant Daphne.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Fertilizing boxwood

A mix of organic cottonseed meal, composted cow manure and Epsom salt applied in spring keeps boxwoods happy year-round.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Boxwood topiary

Boxwoods can be clipped into interesting shapes and forms.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Handshears

Using hand shears will create a more natural and graceful appearance.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

The beauty of boxwoods is that they can be used in virtually any situation, so they’re ideal for everyone. They work well in planters, clipped into formal hedges or inventive shapes, or can be left in their natural growth habit. The possibilities for landscape use are endless, but there are some specific maintenance needs to keep your plants healthy and robust.

Fertilizing

While there are many different approaches to nutrient management for boxwoods, I’d like to share an organic fertilization program that I’ve found works well. Eve Danaway is a landscape architect in Atlanta who recommended the following recipe. I’ve found that it keeps boxwoods happy and well-nourished:

Eve’s Recipe

  • 8 cups organic cottonseed meal (6-2-1)
  • 8 cups composted cow manure
  • ½ cup of Epsom salt

Mix thoroughly together in a large tub or pot, depending on what you have on hand.

Feed the boxwoods in early March with organic cottonseed meal, using 1 cup for boxwoods up to 3 feet across and 2 cups for boxwoods measuring 5 feet across. You can adjust the amount based on the size of your boxwood. Six weeks later, sprinkle 2 cups of the Eve’s Recipe mixture around large boxwoods and 1 cup around small boxwoods.

In early June, you can give them another boost by applying 10-10-10 fertilizer, available in your local nursery, around the drip line of each shrub.

Pruning

How you prune or shear your boxwood depends on your garden style. If you aim for a topiary or very structured shape, then hand-shearing is the preferred method to create a more natural, graceful appearance. Don’t worry if your boxwood shape doesn’t look perfect at first – you’ll gain experience and become more proficient over time, I promise! (Boxwoods love to be sheared and will reward you with plenty of growth to clip and shape.)

If you prefer a softer, less-structured shape, you may want to simply break off 6- to 8-inch pieces randomly throughout the shrub to allow light to penetrate and create good air circulation. Don’t be afraid! You won’t hurt the plant by snapping off these pieces. The preferred time to begin pruning and shaping boxwoods is late February, and you can continue doing it through the spring months. Don’t prune too close to fall frost, as new growth will be damaged by cold temperatures.

Pest Control

One of the biggest pests of boxwoods is the leaf miner. Leaf miner damage is easily identified by the trail of destruction the insect leaves behind. The pest literally eats a path through the inside of the leaf, leaving a visible curving trail. A preventative spray in early spring, such as Orthenex®, can be a good proactive approach. (As with any chemical, be sure to follow all label instructions.)

Boxwoods are evergreen gems in the landscape. A little care and maintenance goes a long way toward keeping these jewels polished and precisely shaped.