August 4, 2013

Clipping Boxwood Hedges

Our many boxwood hedges make our little New England garden feel more like an English garden than
most anything else does. I think now that I cannot have enough. They all are clipped twice a year, once in mid summer, and again just before winter.
I've been clipping out boxwood hedges, in and around the parterre and the culinary herb garden for three weeks now - a little later than usual, as typically, we cut the box in June, and again in mid-September, but with a late spring, and a wetter then normal summer, the new growth on the boxwood matured later than normal. Late July may be late, but it won't hurt our many boxwood's, as most are English boxwood's, and can handle a hard cut most anytime during a wet summer. It seems the square footage of boxwood that I need to trim increases each year - here is how I handled the task this year...

Boxwood hedges that surround the perennial border in front of the greenhouse, are clipped in mid summer, and again in mid autumn to keep a tidy appearance throughout the winter.

Boxwood's are thought to be problematic in New England suffering with winter kill and wind damage, but so far, we have been lucky. We don't fuss that much, we rarely cover most of the hedges with winter wrapping of burlap ( although, I started last year with the English Boxwood), and we do little else besides their bi-annual clip and trim. I've been so please with the result of this major planting of box which began ten years ago, that I am investing in hundreds of new plants for a brand new knot garden that I will be writing about soon, which will replace an old putting green behind our house - the most viewed part of the garden.

I've been getting a little fancy with some of the boxwood's, training those at the end of the walks, into columns, cones and geometric shapes. My favorite tools here are Japanese clipper (I never use electric sheers), and hand scissors.

Details are carved out with scissors. This shape is one I started planning two years ago, and only now am I starting to see the results, as it takes some time for growth to fill-in.

The goal with my hedges in front of the greenhouse is to keep them perfectly level. One year I used a level and a string to establish the perfect line. Now, it is easier to eyeball it against a distant fence. Hand sheers also allow one to remain level.

Forming perfect balls is unrealistic, and unhealthy, as light still needs to reach below the plants. Think more like gum drops rather than gum balls.

English Boxwood can look like velvet , if trimmed properly. It is generally preferred by most hedgeries, as it grows
dense and green, allowing for more artistic freedom, and in expressing geometry.

The garden always seems neater once the box are clipped. Be sure to rake up every last twig and leaf,
for one hot sunny day will turn all trimmings to an ugly brown.

This weekend, I have finally finished trimming most of the hedges, just in time for the Agapanthus pots to
begin blooming. It's hummingbird season once again, for these are indeed magnets for hummers. 
Even the large Bay Laurels appreciated a hair cut.

After a week of trimming hedges....I felt a bit like this.

Daphne, our young female Irish Terrier cooled off, catching honey bees that were trying to drink a bit of water in a bird bath.


  1. I'm surprised with your greenhouse, you don't root your own cuttings for your boxwood hedge.

  2. I've considered doing this here with Cercocarpus intricatus, as it's been used for formal xeric gardens in Denver to success. But part of the allure of box is its vivid green. The dark olive green of the Cercocarpus leaves something wanting. Of course, my arborist tells me that Westerners would be better off getting over the desire for geometry. I'll have to settle with my espalier being bordered by dwarf lavender. I shouldn't complain.

  3. I had been stalling on trimming my boxwoods this year as I read somewhere that pruning them when they are wet may make them more susceptible to boxwood blight. It is now clearly fear that is keeping my sheep shears still as it has been dry for over a month now. have you heard anything substantive about this? It makes me crazy to think yet another plant I love will have to be replaced in my garden due to a disease issue grrrrrrr!

  4. Hi Rachelle, oh but I do raise many cuttings of boxwood in the greenhouse, they are bedded out in raised beds out back. I think I posted last September about how I do it. I may post soon with an update. I agree, far easier to take cuttings every September and root them in sand!

  5. Cheryl. I have heard of the terrible boxwood blight in the UK, but I have not dared look to see if it is here in the US yet. Surely, it won't be long if it isn't here already! But, until then...

  6. Where did u get the Japanese clipper? Any tips on how to trim your boxwood balls? Thanks

  7. Cindy, I purchased my Japanese clippers from Dieter Schmid Fine Tools, you can Google them. They are called Japanese Hedge Shears Solid Steel. They will rust, so oil them after use. I sharpen mine once every two years, but hone the edge annually.

  8. Judith S.8:02 PM

    Your dedication is paying off.It looks great! Instead of taking time to rake up the cuttings, you might lay down a drop cloth (a shower curtain liner from the dollar store works well) before you trim, emptying it before moving to the next section of hedge. Picking up the cut pieces becomes no chore at all.

  9. boxwood might be my favorite plant, shrub or overwise. it is an easy way to add structure, classism, age & whimsy to a garden.

  10. We can trim Boxwoods at any time of year, but for plant health, it's best to avoid shearing in the late fall. New growth which appears after trimming boxwood bushes may not have time to harden off before frost. Trimming can be done with electric hedge clippers.


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