Boxwood care in Atlanta can be a challenging responsibility – long, hot summers, oppressive humidity and rainfall that ranges from rainforest conditions to drought. One component of professional Boxwood care is managing the environmental conditions that can be managed (initial placement, controlling the surrounding plants and trees).
After that, it comes down to proper Boxwood care and maintenance. The most important component of effective Boxwood care and maintenance is proper pruning…hand pruning, that is. Unfortunately, hand pruning is fast becoming a lost art, with gas-shears becoming the tool of choice. With the typical landscaper being a 25-40 year old man, gas-shears are like the Holy Grail – they’re fast, they’re loud and they run on gasoline! Imagine the sounds of Tim Allen grunting in his sitcom “Home Improvement”…’more power, arr arr arr!’. To be fair, gas-shears do have a purpose, but should never be used on a Boxwood. Period.
Hand pruning Boxwoods, one of the staples of the Atlanta landscape, is an art that is rarely practiced. In this day of power tools for every task, few Atlanta landscapers have the know-how to properly prune Boxwoods.
The goal of hand pruning (also known as deep pruning or structural pruning) is to encourage new growth evenly throughout the plant. Creating a loose, relaxed canopy encourages new, stronger growth throughout the entire plant – not just on the outer shell. When done properly, it also reduces the bulk at the end of each branch so there isn’t as much sagging. Proper hand pruning is the most important element of Boxwood care and maintenance.
Have you ever seen Boxwoods with big holes in the canopy so you can see right into the middle, or all the way through the plant? Proper pruning, over time, will correct this problem.
If you decide you are in need of some basic Boxwood care and maintenance, the best answer is to call us! We can definitely help and you’re less likely to be stung by a Yellow Jacket, bitten by a snake (yes, snakes do like to sun themselves in Boxwoods), or sweat…yuk.
Tip: You can determine the pruning needs of your Boxwoods by placing a plate or a hard cover book on top of the plant – if the Boxwood easily supports the plate or book, it needs to be deep pruned. Another sign is that the branches are beginning to sag, leaving gaps in the canopy, as mentioned above. At this point, it’s a little late, so act fast. This sagging will continue to worsen and the recovery period for a Boxwood is slow.
If you decide to take it on yourself, here are a few tips. First, make sure your hand pruners are sharp, clean and well-maintained. Dull, bent or rusty pruners will do more harm than good. Effective Boxwood care and maintenance requires effective tool care and maintenance.
A quick inspection of each plant is always a good idea. Brush it all over to scare away a snake or caterpillar (some caterpillar stings are serious). This also helps you identify any potential problems like fungus or insect damage. If you see yellow or brown in your Boxwood, the safest approach is to take a cutting to your local extension office for diagnosis. After you take that cutting, make sure to sterilize your pruners before making any other cuts or you risk transmitting diseases.
When we hand prune Boxwoods, we tend to prune 10-20% of the branches, but you can use your own judgment. In some cases we will prune off entire branches at the intersection to thin an area that is too dense. As a general rule, we prune deep into the plant, pruning branches down by 6” or more. We prune off any wormy or noodle-like growth that wraps around the interior of the plant. The goal is to focus on the healthiest growth, and get everything else out of the way.
When you properly prune a Boxwood, it will amaze you how much growth you can remove without it being noticeable. We can fill half of a 30 gallon trash can from a single 36” Boxwood and it won’t be noticeable to the untrained eye.
The second critical component of proper Boxwood care is water. This does not mean they need more water. To the contrary, most of the problems we encounter are due to too much water. There is no way to recommend a watering schedule without evaluating your particular environment, but common sense works here. If the soil is very dry and sandy, water. If the soil is wet and muddy, don’t.
Last, if your Boxwood is being pruned properly and watered judiciously, you probably aren’t experiencing any critical insect or fungus problems. If you are, your best bet is to take a cutting to your local extension office. There are some new diseases that are beginning to affect our Boxwood population and it’s best to get a professional, timely diagnosis.