Boxwood shrubs are evergreen and are planted in gardens for decorative purposes. They can be trimmed for emphasis, as boxwoods lend themselves to all pruning fantasies: round, pyramidal, animal-shaped or simply as hedges. They give a garden volume and architecture. Boxwood shrubs are essential for large French gardens, as illustrated in Vaux le Vicomte and Versailles. 

In the symbolic language of flowers, boxwood stands for stoicism. Meanwhile, the Gauls considered it a symbol of eternity. In northern regions, it is boxwood shoots that are blessed on Palm Sunday, not olive or palm branches. In many areas, it is hanged at the head of the bed as a lucky charm and religious symbol.

Boxwood: overview and general information 

Boxwood is a shrub that can reach 16 feet high, with evergreen, dense and homogeneous foliage. There are seventy species of boxwood, some of which are native to Europe. In April, boxwood gives a pale yellow flowering, but it is mostly known for its bearing and its ability to easily lend itself to the art of topiary. Very hard, the boxwood is also used in woodworking and for making sculptures. This wood, of lemon yellow colour, is reputed to be the second hardest wood in the world after ebony. Take precautions when handling it because boxwood is toxic and its ingestion causes vomiting and diarrhoea. The crushed leaves of boxwood have a typical smell resembling that of cat urine.

Boxwood growing techniques 

Boxwood is propagated mainly by cuttings, which is preferably carried out in summer, during the month of August. Cuttings can be directly buried, however it is recommended to grow them in pots. The use of rooting hormone is not necessary but is useful for obtaining a very high success rate of cuttings. After being planted in containers, keep the plants in the shade, ensuring that the substrate remains relatively moist. Planting seedlings takes place in autumn or spring. If you have not had time to prepare your cuttings, you can use plants in containers, available in nurseries. Very accommodating, boxwood seedlings may even be planted bare root. Boxwood has a preference for rich and calcareous soil; a calcium supply is thus recommended for acidic soils.

Maintenance of boxwood 

The planting distance between two plants depends on their desired uses. For borders, boxwood are planted 4 to 8 inches apart. For hedges, an interval of 2 feet is sufficient, while to form a clump, a distance of 5 feet will be left between the seedlings. Boxwood likes sunlight but can also accommodate itself to partial shade. Since this plant requires a large supply of water, mulching is essential to keep the soil constantly moist. Boxwood has a steady, but rather slow growth, from 2 to 2.8 inches per year for young subjects and about 4 inches per year for adult subjects. In the spring, a regular supply of fertilizer is recommended to promote boxwood growth and proper bearing. A complete fertilizer, such as rose fertilizer, is the ideal solution. Boxwood can also be planted in pots and left on the terrace or outside. This plant is very hardy and even if the young shoots can sometimes burn after a spring frost, this has no effect on the plant, which will very quickly renew its damaged foliage. Generally, boxwood grown in containers can remain outside year-round, but place it preferably in a shady, sheltered from the wind location. However, if it is too cold, it is advisable to bring the pot inside and store it in a cool, well-lit spot, as potted plants fear the frost much more than plants in the ground. Repotting is done in spring or autumn.

Pruning boxwood 

Boxwood shrub is considered ideal for topiary and is trimmed twice a year, in May and September. Boxwood can withstand heavy rejuvenation pruning in May. In such cases, it is recommended to properly fertilize and mulch the soil to prevent drying. Boxwood can be trimmed in all shapes. To form a hedge, it is advisable to immediately trim all the plants to the same height. Both yearly prunings should be tidy for the hedge not to become bare. If it takes about 5 years to create a ball or cone, more sophisticated forms such as spiral or animal-shaped topiaries require a dozen years. You can use a reinforcement mesh to form a topiary animal. The frame is set up all around the plant that will be left growing and you can start trimming the branches once they start crossing the mesh. Just trim everything that sticks out; pruning can be done two to three times a year. In large parks, you can find topiary over one hundred years old. Boxwood can live for up to 600 years.

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Published in Hedges by Alexander on 04 Jul 2011