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Boxwoods for Formal AND Naturalistic Gardens

Naturally shaped boxwoods

Here’s a plant we think of as too formal, too boring, too (fill in the blank).  But I suspect our criticisms of boxwoods are based primarily on the way they’re traditionally grown – pruned to soldierly uniformity.

So I offer an alternative – the Natural Boxwood.  Here are two ‘Green Ice’  boxwoods I planted smack dab in front of my front porch, replacing the existing (and hideously misplaced) large azaleas in this brutal southwest exposure.  Here’s what the tag says: “Buxus x ‘Green Ice’ – deep glossy green foliage that maintains its color throughout winter.  A solid, semi-compact plant with vigorous new growth.  Extremely hardy.  A soft and sturdy plant.”  And it’s proven to be all of that.  Boxwoods even tolerate significant amounts of shade.  And do I need to remind the reader it’s EVERGREEN?  No, I didn’t think so.  They’re also fragrant!

On the right of the boxwoods is a Spirea ‘Goldmound’, sporting chartreuse foliage all season and brassy fuchsia flowers in June.

Pruning for Natural Shapes
The key to natural boxwood growth is to stop shearing and start thinning.  Removing some of the extra thickness keeps the plant nice and open so that more air, light and rainwater can reach the plant’s interior.  The correct pruning technique is often referred to as punching holes in the foliage but if done right, you’d never know that little green globs have been removed because the plant still looks so natural, so unpruned.  The best pruning is unnoticeable, a standard that unfortunately can’t be met when corrective pruning is finally undertaken after years of mispruning or a total lack thereof.  In those cases the natural look can’t be achieved immediately but will follow, in time.  Yet another lesson in patience.

Formal Shapes Have their Place
Still and all, for more formal settings, nothing beats uniformly sheared boxwoods for defining a space.    Love these examples!

Posted by Susan Harris


Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I take it you sell boxwoods. But do you sell the full sized ones I can use to hide the neighbor’s ugly fence?

  2. Yes, we do sell many varieties of boxwood, but we rarely get them in anywhere near their mature size, due to how big a pot (or burlapped rootball) they’d need to have. Plus, they’d be very, very heavy. If you’re referring to varieties that grow to a large size, then yes, we also carry those. It all comes down to age on some varieties, too – dwarf english boxwood will get tall with time, it just takes a VERY long time at about 2″ per year. Tall, relatively fast varieties to look for include the straight species Buxus sempervirens, the hybrid ‘Green Mountain’ (from the same breeding as ‘Green Ice’ above), and a couple skinny uprights such as ‘Green Tower,’ ‘Dee Runk,’ and ‘Fastigiata.’

  3. Thanks. Sorry, I did mean ones that *grow* large. I don’t think I could afford ones that are already big. 😉

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