Boxwood happens to be one of the most common plants around, especially if you consider all the varieties there are.  I certainly don’t mean common in a negative sense.

Boxwood and all its varieties often serve as the backbone to many beautiful (and functional) gardens.

To Shear or Not To Shear

With Boxwood most people instinctively shear the plant.  The vision most of us have is one of perfectly shaped forms.  It definitely is at the top of the list when it comes to formal gardens and topiary.

I’d like to suggest two circumstances when “selective” pruning might be the alternative to shearing.

  1. when boxwood is used in “natural, informal gardens”.
  2. when boxwood starts to decline because of too dense branching at the outer ends of the main stems.

Boxwood used in natural, informal gardens.

It’s such a reliable, solid performer; I often use boxwood in natural settings.  In these gardens the boxwood are pruned selectively by hand to encourage the plant to stay full and strong while keeping a soft, mounded shape.

Dense, outer growth causes decline.

Overtime a constantly sheared (and formal) boxwood can start to decline in health.  This could be because of a number of conditions, e.g. poor internal air circulation that could promote disease or insect infestation.

The fact is plants are not conditioned to have all their foliage concentrated just on the outer portion of the branches.

To improve or maintain the health of a sheared plant, you can selectively prune out a portion of the dense, outer growth.

If done right this will allow more light and air into the interior without causing a dramatic change in the look of the plant.

Topiary Boxwood

I’d like to focus on shearing because this is by far the most common way people prune boxwood.

These first 2 pictures show the before and after of a Boxwood ‘Wintergem’ that was sheared.

This is a recently planted boxwood that was 24 – 30″ when installed.  At this young stage you have the perfect opportunity to set the proper shape for the future of this plant.

Although you can often correct misshaped plants, it’s not easy and usually takes 2 to 3 seasons of growth to see improvement.

The fundamental rule in shaping a plant is wider at the base and taper towards the top.

There are 2 main reasons for this:

  1. It’s healthier for the plant because light is better distributed to the foliage.
  2. Aesthetically it’s more attractive and logical that the plant be wider at the base.  You want the plant to appear as though it’s connected and well-anchored to the ground.

In the sketch below I give a couple of typical shapes you would shear plants — both the “right” and “wrong” way.

It is not easy to develop these proper shapes with wider bases.  Plants naturally grow a little weaker and thinner towards the bottom.

Also, it’s been my experience that most people want to cut an equal amount off the plant all over.  That doesn’t work!

If you look at the first picture (top) of the unsheared boxwood, notice how the greater amount of growth is concentrated towards the top.  The bottom and lower sides naturally have less growth.

Now look at the plant “sheared” in the 2nd picture.  The lower portion of the plant was not touched by the shears.

I still happen to use a pair of hand shears for trimming topiary plants.

You should develop a system or pattern to how you shear a plant — get good at it, and then repeat that pattern from plant to plant.

I shear plants working around them in a clock-wise direction.

I envision the proper line the shrub should have and follow it. (see diagram above)

Regardless of how much or how little foliage there is, stay on that imaginary line.

If you need a little help and guidance, for the straight lines take a length of wood like a 1 X 2″ (or anything like that).  If you just hold it up once in a while to show the line you’re trying to create, it can really help guide you.

You more often see power hedge trimmers today for shearing topiary plants.  They are powerful and quick.

If kept sharp and in “skilled” hands they can do some nice work very productively. In unskilled hands… not so much.

When to Shear Plants

Generally it’s best to let the new growth finish and “mature” a bit before shearing.

From a practical sense the plant should not grow much (if at all) after that and the shape should stay nice until the following growth season.

If you happen to trim early, occasionally I have seen new, soft growth scorch a bit if the weather got hot right after the shearing.

On some properties plants might be sheared twice because the owner does not want to wait for the growth stage to completely finish.  So it’s done perhaps midway during growth and then again when it’s finally finished.

These are the main considerations when pruning boxwood and many of these points apply to other plants as well.

However, it’s so important you consider each plant and their “specific” preferences and requirements. 

  • Jim
    2:51 PM, 3 July 2010

    Good article. I’m actually trimming this weekend. The diagram with the shapes was excellent. I didn’t realize it was wrong to go in at the bottom. I’m trying to do as much as I can on my first house. I bookmarked your site.

    • Roger
      3:04 PM, 3 July 2010

      Hi Jim,
      Thanks for your nice comments.
      I’m glad that simple diagram helped you out. It’s amazing how many of the most fundamental things in our trade are done incorrectly.
      If you’re doing more work “on the outside” of your house, can I suggest you subscribe to my articles via e-mail or RSS. I have no doubt they’ll help you with your landscape renovation. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions you can’t find answers to on the site.
      Take care,

  • Tom
    11:06 AM, 5 July 2010

    What about a gas trimmer vs. a electric one

    • Roger
      8:13 PM, 5 July 2010

      I think if you compare good quality, professional models of each (gas & electric), you’re not going to see a difference in quality of cut. In terms of productivity, one might argue that the gas trimmers are more productive because you’re not having to worry about the wire and a power source all the time. I have seen crews use gas powered generators with electric shears.
      For years now I’ve had a Little Wonder electric shear with one-sided blades. I take good care of it and have a few sets of blades, which I rotate on the machine. So it’s always sharp. Here’s a link to Little Wonder’s website. They have both gas powered and electric models.
      I was thinking to suggest renting each type to help with your decision, but I’d be concerned the electric ones you’d rent would not be of the caliber that I’m referring to.
      If you’re in the trade you could ask for opinions from other landscapers. If you do I’d be interested in those opinions. There is a way to do “polling” on a website. I’m going to look into it because there are many topics to poll and see what other people think.
      If you ever have the chance, please let me know what you find out and decide on.

  • Martha
    12:14 PM, 28 February 2011

    I have a nice row of naturally short boxwoods. Last spring I tired to selectively prune by going into the base of the plant and thinning a bit. This seemed to let in more air and light and the result appeared good. During an August drought my husband was inspired to trim overall for length. The growth in September was weak and lighter green. This has lasted through the winter. Please advise me on how to care for them this spring. The lighter tips really look funny. (I’m sure you can guess that my husband and I have different ideas about pruning.)

    • Roger
      9:53 PM, 28 February 2011

      Hi Martha,
      Yes, you and your husband’s pruning styles are different, but with regard to boxwood they can complement one another.

      Thinning out the boxwood selectively is excellent. This is the pruning that truly supports the health and longevity of the plants. Continue to do this when you feel the plants are getting too dense (for their own good).

      Shearing the ends for a neater look is, as you know, typical for boxwood. And frankly, they handle it pretty well. I have seen discolored and stunted growth on boxwood before, and no doubt this incident of yours relates to the shearing and dryness. Without seeing the plant(s) my guess is they’ll be fine, especially if the body of the plant seems healthy.

      To help with the cosmetics I would do a “light” shearing in the early spring to clean off some of the discolored/stunted ends. Do this before the new growth starts, but not too early.

      I’m confident new growth in spring will push out from the stems, and the plant will look normal again. I don’t know if you normally feed the boxwood, but you could give them a fertilizing in early spring just to give them some additional help. If you’ve been getting the snow and rain that we have in the northeast, the ground is and will be plenty moist in the spring. If so, be careful not to over-water. In fact, if they’re established, you shouldn’t have to water until the ground becomes dry again (probably in the summer). Boxwood do not like being too wet!
      Take care,

  • Pam
    11:57 AM, 23 November 2011

    Roger, We live in southern Louisiana and have two very large boxwoods at our front door. I do not know how old they are, but the house was built in ’39. They are healthy but way overgrown, how far back can we trim them and can they be salvaged or do we need to remove them and replant? We would like them at about 3 to 4 foot off the ground, not 5 or 6 for upper growth.


    • Roger
      4:24 PM, 23 November 2011

      Hi Pam,
      It’s difficult to say whether you can ultimately get the boxwood down to 3 or 4 feet. I’d recommend you do this in stages (if you have the time and patience).

      Make your initial pruning cuts “selectively” – that is: single, strategic cuts using a hand pruner. Generally, you don’t want to make cuts below where existing leaves stop. Follow the top growth down its stem until you see the foliage “thinning”. Make your cut(s) just above that point.

      The strategy would be to make cuts like this universally across the top in order to lower the plant’s height as much as you can this first year. I would at the same time “thin” the growth in this upper portion of the plant to let more light in. By letting more light in you’ll encourage the remaining stems to bud and grow more leaves lower down.

      If all goes well you should be able to do a similar process next year and lower the plant a bit more. Realize, of course, that the degree of success with this is a variable.

      This other article on the blog pertains to pruning similar to this strategy. Maybe you’ll find it helpful too.

  • Kevin
    2:45 PM, 22 March 2012

    Hi Roger,

    I have several boxwood (Green Mountain variety) in my yard that I planted about 7 years ago at my house in Wisconsin (zone 5). Not being educated at the time (this is my first house), I have never really pruned them. I did shear them a couple of springs ago, but they continue to have a very bushy, appearance. Thanks to your article I feel confident about pruning them going forward. I favor a more formal look.
    My question is what specifically is the best fertilizer for this type of Boxwood?

    • Roger
      11:18 PM, 22 March 2012

      Hi Kevin,
      Green Mountain is such a nice plant – I use it often.

      If your boxwood are looking good and growing well over the past 7 years that answers my question about the soil condition and quality. Boxwood prefer a well-drained soil with a pH range between 6.5 to 7.5. Their root system is very fibrous and generally close to the surface – therefore, don’t ever cultivate near them. A layer of mulch works wonders for them, just don’t pile mulch up around their stems/trunks.

      I’m a big advocate of organic fertilizers. They’ll feed the plant and condition the “life” in the soil too. To name a brand I happen to like the Espoma products. Their Plant-tone would be a good choice for your boxwood, and actually for most of your other shrubs too. They do have other fertilizer products, but this one is just a great “general” fertilizer.

      To apply it’s as simple as spreading the granular fertilizer slightly under and just outside of the plant’s dripline. Nature and time will do the rest.

  • Lila Wiese
    11:10 PM, 19 April 2012

    Is mid-April a good or bad time to prune? My 2 year old small hedge of boxwoods are around the front edge of my small cottage garden. They are a bit over a foot tall and in diameter. I’d like them to remain about 1 foot in height but now realize they need to be shaped more narrow at the top for sun to reach the bottoms. They have just begun to meet one another, which is what I have wanted.

    Thank you!

    • Roger
      11:01 PM, 20 April 2012

      Do you know the particular type of boxwood you have? By your description I’m guessing it’s Dwarf English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruiticosa’). These are typically the ones used for low hedging and borders.

      It would be fine to prune them now. It’s good your training them early on, and it sounds like you’re off to a good start the way they’re starting to grow together. Also, shaping them so they grow wider at the base is excellent – good for the health and “look” of the plant.

      In general (and for routine maintenance) boxwood are pruned in mid-summer, but again, you’re OK pruning now. When I have to renovate or drastically prune boxwood I’ll do that in early spring.

      I have customers that want their boxwood always manicured. These plants are sometimes pruned 2 -3 times a year.

      One point of caution: when the weather is hot and dry do not prune/trim boxwood too severely. I’ve noticed the remaining growth can get scorched.

  • Gillian
    6:47 PM, 20 April 2012

    Hi Roger,

    I’ve just purchased Green Gem boxwood for framing a walkway. My garden is informal, so I don’t want a ridged line, but thought the boxwood would define the walkway. I’m planning on planting the boxwood 12″ from the centre (they are in 6″ pots).

    My question is; should I trim them this spring or not?

    thank you!


    • Roger
      11:27 PM, 20 April 2012

      Green Gem is such a great variety. It’s one of several varieties that are a cross between Boxwood koreana and sempervirens.

      It’s called a compact, slow growing boxwood that should grow to somewhere around 2′ high and equally wide. So think about that 2′ width and how it will relate to the walkway in the future. If you intend to plant it so the center of the plant is 12″ from the walk, I think that’s too close. I would go to somewhere between 18 and 24″ from center of plant to walkway edge. I know that might look a little odd because the boxwood is young and small, but think about future growth and development. You can always fill in that open space (between walk and boxwood) with annuals, perennnials or ground cover. These “fillers” will help occupy the void, not compete with the boxwood’s development, and can easily be removed or transplanted as the boxwood gets bigger. This is a strategy we do all the time while spacing young plants properly.

      In terms of trimming, I would say because this plant is so young it makes sense to trim it lightly to encourage strong branching and a fuller plant. As it gets older and has that stronger framework you can back-off the trimming. Ultimately you might end up doing a little “selective” pruning with hand shears, and this will keep that informal look you’re after.

  • Diane Alden
    3:31 PM, 25 May 2012

    I have read the information and understand fairly well how to prune. I have a number of boxwoods, large and small, young and old, but in this very wet spring they are all putting out lots of new growth and I would like to do some limited selective hand pruning now; it is the end of May. Will it harm the plant to do so? I realize hot weather is on its way.

    • Roger
      11:46 AM, 27 May 2012

      Hi Diane,
      For the “selective” pruning you’re considering, now (late spring) would be fine.

      I think a simple guide line would be to look for the shoots that are extending out more than others (and growing beyond your idea of the plants size and intended shape). These are the ones I would “select” and prune first. If you follow these stems down into the body of the plant you can make your cut there. This way you’ll mask the cut while at the same time thinning the plant a bit to get more light and air circulation.

      After shortening this more dominant growth you still feel the plants are too dense (perhaps the older boxwood more so), then use your judgement and selectively continue to thin them out.

      I hope your boxwood appreciate the excellent care you’re giving them. 🙂

  • Janine
    12:47 PM, 2 June 2012

    I have lived at my home for three years (wisconsin) and have done nothing to my box woods. They are planted in front of my porch in a row now each kind of rounded in shape. How do I go about making them one continuios square looking hedge? There are 7 total. Looks like from your diagrams that square isn’t the way to go. Thanks for your response.

    • Roger
      12:44 PM, 3 June 2012

      Hi Janine,
      To prune your boxwood as a hedge first establish a height for the hedge. Perhaps there’s a point on the porch that you can reference (e.g. trim board, floor, etc.) to guide you in making the height consistent and level all the way across. Alternatively you could set up a horizontal string line using 2 poles or stakes at the back of the hedge. Use a string line-level or a carpenter’s level to adjust and get the string level. Now, using that reference point on the porch or string line, trim straight across to establish a level top for the hedge.

      Next, trim the sides straight across without going in where the plants are currently growing because of their rounded shape. It may look and seem a little odd as the density of foliage will vary, but resist the urge to stray from this “straight line” you’re trying to establish on the sides. Remember too to trim so that the plant (sides) gets wider towards the base, just like I show in the diagram.

      At this point you may have an overall shape with sharp corners and edges where the sides meet the top. It’s perfectly OK to soften these edges and round them a bit. You may prefer that look vs. the more linear look of sharper edges and corners.

      If you continue to trim the plant back each season to these new lines, the plants will gradually fill in and become uniformly dense as one hedge.

  • Karen
    12:46 PM, 6 July 2012


    We bought a house with 100 year old boxwoods. there are over 140 of them on our property. I don’t know what type they are but they’re gigantic (maybe 9 feet tall and almost that wide). They’re way out of hand and we don’t really know where to begin. It’s been around 100 degrees here and I don’t want to kill them but I do want them trimmed. Do we need to wait till early next summer now? How far back can we take them the first trim?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Roger
      11:43 AM, 7 July 2012

      Hi Karen,
      First off, I like your blog. I would love to have a homestead and be more self-sustaining. And it’s so cool the way you learn as you go, each and every day. And how each aspect in nature fits so beautifully within “the system”. Good luck to you and all your endeavors.

      With regard to the boxwood I’m thinking they’re Buxus sempervirens.

      It sounds like these old timers should be rejuvenated, and they actually lend themselves to renovation quite well. Late spring is the best time for this type of pruning/renovation.

      There are two approaches: 1) Renovate in stages, i.e. in the first year follow the stems down from the top a foot or so and make your cuts there. At the same time selectively follow some of the interior stems down even further and cut those out. This will thin the plant as a whole and allow in more light and air circulation. The next year follow the same strategy and lower the plant another interval. You could actually keep up this annual campaign until you achieve the desired height/results.

      2) Another approach would be more aggressive, but it works too. You can actually cut the entire plant down to 2 feet or so and it will push growth from the base and remaining stems.

      Hope this helps.

  • jez
    1:15 AM, 15 August 2012

    I planted young boxwoods just this month.pls tell me when is the right time to prune/trim them.thank you

    • Roger
      10:14 PM, 18 August 2012

      Now (mid-August) would be a good time as the new growth has had time to mature and “harden-off”.

  • Taeli
    6:30 AM, 15 October 2012

    hi there!
    my husband and i just bought a new house, well luckily for us our neighbor is a professional landscaper! He brought us about 50 boxwood plants from a site where he was working where the owner just decided he wasnt very fond of them. So immediately (yesterday) we placed them in the ground and watered them alot! Now, im afraid Ive watered them too much and also maybe spaced them too close? We placed them in the ground only far enough apart to still be touching because I hate that waiting for them to grow together stage. So please help! i have never had any shrubs whatsoever and i dont want these beauties to die and go to waste!

    • Roger
      1:03 PM, 15 October 2012

      With regard to spacing the plants, you should be OK. I’m presuming you’re wanting a hedge-type look – or at least have the intention they grow together as a grouping. If any of these scenarios is the case you should be OK with them just touching (as you describe).

      Just a couple of thoughts with regard to planting and their care. Be careful not to overwater. Boxwood do not like wet soil – slightly moist is fine. Planting here in the northeast during the fall requires very little watering. With the cool weather and occasional rain we might water a new planting once or twice per week until the end of October.

      The other important point to mention here is planting depth. Make sure the root balls are slightly above the existing grade. There is hardly no danger of planting too high, but a bit too deep can adversely affect the plant.

  • Taeli
    6:24 PM, 15 October 2012

    oh my! well i watered them well yesterday and my luck it rained ALL NIGHT LONG! i went out to check the soil today and i kinda have that clayish soil… needless to say it was crazy wet like i stepped on the soil around the plant and sunk in!! So what can i do to protect the plant now? How do i reverse its overwatering? And the plants are planted i would say maybe a foot deep?we just planted them deep enough for the pre-existing soil to come level with the ground. Thanks for all your help so far, i think the spacing is going to be PERFECT!

    • Roger
      10:20 PM, 15 October 2012

      For over-watering to be damaging it must be something that’s done steadily for a period of time. When the roots are kept excessively wet for a period of time they starve for oxygen. Various diseases can also develop. Root rot is another concern.

      Don’t do any watering for now and let the soil naturally drain. The clay condition you describe will also hold moisture.

      I probably would have planted them a bit higher than level with the existing ground. Make sure there’s no excess soil piled around the base of the plant. A portion of the top of the root ball should be somewhat visible.

      If you add mulch be careful, again, to not pile it under the plant. An inch or so would be quite enough, and not up against the stem of the plant(s) either.

  • Taeli
    5:40 AM, 16 October 2012

    Thank you SOO much! You have been such a huge help! Ive worried myself to death about them! Today I will go out and make sure there is not an excessive amount of soil. So for now i should be in the clear? I really hope that these plants take off in their new homes! And I will keep you updated along the way as well! We are adding mulch but I think I will wait until the Soil really dries out. Hopefully we wont get anymore heavy heavy rain! Again, you’ve been a blessing! Thank you once again!

  • Diana
    9:06 PM, 4 April 2013

    Hi Roger,
    I am trying to figure out when to prune my boxwoods, but I am in an atypical climate outside of Sacramento. Summers are hot (up to 110) and dry. (No rain from the end of April till October) . Winters can get down into the twenties, with daytime temps in the 40’s and 50’s. We are zone 9. Fall and spring are wonderfully temperate. Is pruning in February or March OK? Most pruning is done here in the winter months. Are our winters mild enough that it is OK to prune boxwood then?

    • Roger
      5:06 PM, 6 April 2013

      With the degree of heat and dryness you typically get, it makes sense to do the majority of pruning during the winter months into very early spring.

      This past year (here in northern NJ, Zone 6) I noticed a boxwood hedge growing over a customer’s walkway. It needed a severe pruning to bring it back under control. At the time it was late summer. And although the season’s new growth had “hardened-off,” I was leery of making too drastic a cut at that time. The soil was dry and the temperatures were hot. We, therefore, just did a light trimming.

      I scheduled to return in March to then make a more aggressive cut, which we did a few weeks ago. I’m confident that the boxwood will recover nicely as they push new growth later this season.

  • Jessica
    12:21 AM, 30 April 2013

    My husband and I bought our house just over a year ago. We have 5 boxwoods spaced randomly around our house along with other shrubs, and my husband loves the look of the boxwoods the best. However, I don’t know if they have ever been pruned, and now they are completely flopped out in the middle. It is like they are so heavy with foilage that they have spread open. We noticed they were spreading a little, and then a few heavy rains came and they completely spread and flopped out. At first they were recovering after a day or so but now they staying spread out. I don’t know anything about the variety, but my guess is they are about 4-5 years old and are about 2.5 to 3 feet tall when they are upright. We live in west GA and have lots and lots of red Georgia clay. what can we do to prune them properly? Thank You!

    • Roger
      11:28 PM, 12 May 2013

      It sounds like most of your boxwood’s growth over the years has been at the terminal ends of the major stems. In other words, without being pruned the plants are simply trying to get as tall as they can by putting all their energy into the ends of their main stems and branches. This has caused the stems to elongate rapidly – the weight of the foliage becomes too much for the stems, so they bend over.

      I would selectively prune back the upper and outer most stems and branches to reduce the weight at the ends. I have done this so aggressively on overgrown, bent over boxwood that they actually push new growth from the base of the plant along with new growth from the standing stems and branches.

  • Susan
    7:24 PM, 16 May 2013

    We have purchased a home with badly nelgected yard. The boxwoods are between 3 and 5 feet tall, with very sparse leaves and are 90% stem. How should we approach these?
    We also have two overgrown Holly bushes how can we start reducing their size?

    • Roger
      3:42 PM, 19 May 2013

      Hi Susan,
      I’m not sure what else might be going on with the boxwood besides neglect. Are the leaves that are left on the plant a healthy green and full size, or are they stunted, discolored, speckled, etc.? Are the plants getting enough light. Too much shade will make the boxwood weak and sparse.

      If the plant is generally healthy and just neglected you can start by selectively pruning back the ends of the elongated stems and branches. You can make some fairly aggressive cuts down to where lower branches and leaves are, and the boxwood will rejuvenate over time.

      With the holly it would be helpful to know the type of holly you have in order to recommend just how to prune them. You can always bring a small sample to a good plant nursery or garden center for ID.

  • Claudia
    3:58 PM, 30 May 2013

    I have a bunch of huge boxwoods in my yard, which were probably planted when the house was built in 1959. They seem to be two varieties: one is larger than the other, brighter green and round leaved, these are probably 12′ across and 4 feet high. The others are smaller, denser, with pointed leaves and are a darker, less shiny green. I moved several of the second variety during late winter, and a couple of them have died – we are in zone 8 SC so maybe I waited until too late in winter.

    So I have a couple of questions. First, what varieties do you think I might have? (Korean, Japanese, English, etc…?) and Second, when is the best time to prune and try to move the remaining boxwoods so they don’t die? I like them, they are just in the wrong place right now. I was considering cutting them back now and then moving them this coming fall, but since it’s now almost June I am afraid to cut them for fear they won’t like it with the summer heat approaching.

    • Roger
      11:48 AM, 18 September 2013

      The first group of boxwood that are wide and not so tall (rounded leaf) are probably a Buxus microphylla cultivar. So they could be a Japanese or Korean variety or a hybrid of either one.

      The second group (smaller) sound like a Buxus sempervirens or Common Boxwood. This would include the Dwarf English Boxwood. And realize too that there are many cultivars of this specie as well.

      Evidently these plants are well-established, and to transplant them is possible, but challenging. Even for an experienced landscape contractor this would be “a task” involving transplanting experience/knowledge, equipment and manpower.

      In terms of pruning, I would do that in late summer.

  • Ralph
    10:50 AM, 1 June 2013

    I have a two year old boxwood hedge along a veranda on the north side of my home in southern Ontario, plants are about 18″ high. Of the 15 or so plants, there are two that I am about to replace as they are brown with little or no foliage. There are three others that have some green stems and some that are brown and not producing foliage. The rest are all quite healthy so I think the dead and dying plants may not have been strong or healthy in the first place. Will these “half dead” plants come back? Should I cut away all the dead wood and see what happens? Or are they likely to die completely and therefore may as well be replaced now? Thank you!

    • Roger
      3:39 PM, 6 September 2013

      Tough to give a strong opinion on the struggling boxwood w/o seeing them.

      I missed your “comment” as I see you posted it back in June. But I imagine by now (early Sept.) you have more evidence whether the plants are surviving or not. Those that still show green (50%) are probably stabilized at this point. And to answer your question, those plants will likely improve and fill in over time. I would suggest pruning out the dead branches and stems. Yes, you will have some gaps, but that open space will now allow light to enter, which will encourage new growth.

      Depending on the variety of boxwood, this rejuvenation will take some time. If you’re concerned about the look of the recovering plants, you could transplant them to a less viewed part of your yard and replace them with new ones.

  • Suzanne
    10:04 AM, 6 June 2013

    Hi Jim,

    I just planted boxwoods in my backyard by the pool. I want to keep them nice and low, so is it too soon for me to starting pruning the tops? They’ve been in the ground for about 2 weeks.

    Thanks so much, Suzanne

    • Roger
      11:02 PM, 5 September 2013

      Hi Suzanne,
      Hard to say if it’s too soon to prune without seeing them. What variety of boxwood did you plant? Do you know if the potential size and form of this variety is what you envision by the pool? Check out this boxwood design guide by Saunders Brothers Nursery. It’s excellent and will hopefully help you find the boxwood variety you have along with its growth details.

      With this information you’ll know what your boxwood aspires to do and that will be helpful in figuring out the trimming/pruning strategy. Now if you’ve chosen a variety that wants to grow 4-5′ high, and you want it to stay just 18″ high, you’ve chosen the wrong plant for that spot. On the other hand, if you want to keep this same plant 3′ high, it’s possible with a diligent pruning/trimming regimen.
      Hope this helps.

  • Maureen
    1:08 PM, 21 July 2013

    I have boxwoods that are looking straggly. I’m in northern Nj. They had some damage this winter and I cut the dead branches off in spring. Than for the first time I noticed little flies everywhere in May/june. Not sure what to do some just kept spraying the flies off and watering. Now I have thinned branches but new growth internally (which i read is good) light is able to get to core. Do I prune/shear the long straggly new growth or wait till it is cooler. I like the natural look but now realize that the shape may be wrong with longer branches on the sides.

    • Roger
      12:44 PM, 1 September 2013

      Hi Maureen,
      If the straggly growth is unsightly you could prune it back now. This season’s foliage will have produced and stored carbohydrates that can be utilized next spring for rejuvenation.

      Since you like the natural look, prune back the longer (dominant) branches using hand pruners.

      I’m not sure what the flies were in May. If they reappear next season it would be smart to get that diagnosed. Perhaps a local garden center or plant health care person could help. And you can always send a sample down to Rutgers.

  • Eric
    11:54 AM, 17 August 2013


    Great site and advise.

    I live in south east Virginia, zone 8. We have American Boxwoods in our front beds and under (well, now growing above the window sill) the windows. They are more than 15 yrs old and have been getting progressively too high and wide despite annual shearing alone (which I now understand was the wrong approach). My plan is to approach them now by thinning and height and girth reduction as you describe.

    I’d like to reduce then by at least 18 inches in height and 6-12 inches in girth and keep them there so they fit better with the other plants in the bed that are now being increasingly crowded.
    Is this a reasonable expectation? I’d really hate to remove them because of their over grown size.

    As a side note, I read on various sites that it IS possible to aggressively cut back and even you recommended above (with another variety I think) cutting a severely neglected plant to 2-feet – wow!! The local landscapers here tell me that I can aggressively cut down and back and they’ll recover (“just cut them down to the height you want” they say). But I’m thinking that with that approach there is a higher then desirable chance for killing the plant as that takes the cuts below the lowest leaf bud on the branches.

    What do you think?

    • Roger
      11:11 PM, 31 August 2013

      Hi Eric,
      To reduce the height of your American Boxwood by 18″ or so I would do it over 2 years. And combine “thinning out” the plant(s) with cutting back the length of stems and branches. This is all done “selectively” with hand pruners.

      The thinning out of the plant is just a good practice in general. By letting more light into the interior of the plant it will be more likely to push growth down lower. This way, as you reduce the size of the plant, it will be less of a shock to the plant.

  • Chip
    7:45 AM, 14 December 2013

    Hi Roger,

    We have boxwoods that are about 3 feet tall as foundation plants along the front of our house, which faces north. We are in Connecticut and the boxwoods have been there for about 15 years. I am not sure which variety we have, but would guess that they are American boxwoods. The boxwoods have done quite well over the years despite minimal direct sun due to their location.

    Three or four years ago we had so much snow in the winter that the boxwoods were bent way over and kept that way for a couple of weeks despite our efforts to dig them out. Now they droop over whenever we get the slightest snowfall. Clearly the stems and branches are weak.

    Would pruning the boxwoods back dramatically help them regain their strength? How do you suggest that we help them become stronger?

    • Roger
      12:10 PM, 14 December 2013

      Being on the north side and with less light, the boxwood would tend to be weaker in terms of stem strength.

      I would begin an incremental pruning-back of the main stems. If possible wait until early spring. Then, selectively choose the tallest stems and prune them back several inches. The exact amount is a judgement call on your part mostly because of how they’ll look. I’ve cut boxwood back severely to have them rejuvenate – of course they looked pretty pathetic initially. Therefore you may want to increment the amount you cut the plants back over a few seasons.

      In the meantime, and sooner rather than later, I would tie the plants to give them support. In this post I mention using Arbor Tie on an upright juniper to support the branches. We often do a similar technique proactively for plants that have a tendency to splay open over time (e.g. certain varieties of arborvitae). We weave the tie within the plant to surround the vertical stems “like a supportive collar”. If your careful to keep the tie hidden by foliage, you almost can’t see it. This will help the plant(s) through this winter, and you may even want to leave the ties in place throughout the seasons.

  • Chip
    6:15 PM, 14 December 2013

    Roger, thank you very much. We have some padded tie material that we use on tomato plants in the summer that should work well. Good suggestion to use it ASAP. Hopefully today’s snow will melt soon! Thanks again.

  • Chris moore
    2:25 PM, 21 February 2014


    I have a boxwood hedge at my new home that was allowed to get too high. I live in central Ohio and am wondering how and when I could do a significant height pruning?

    Thanks for your help and thanks for the great articles!

    • Roger
      9:04 AM, 22 February 2014

      I would plan to prune the boxwood in early spring (mid to late March).

      Realize that if you cut-back significantly you’ll expose bare stems & branches. Boxwood will rejuvenate, but it does take time.

      If practical (and you have the time & patience), I’d work with hand-pruners. You’ll have more control by making “selective” cuts vs a universal shearing. When you prune selectively you can usually go after the thicker, dominant stems and preserve some of the nearby smaller stems & foliage. This helps “ease the look” of the harsher cuts.

  • Diane
    9:28 PM, 22 February 2014

    I just stumbled onto your site trying to learn more about our 42+ yr. old boxwood. They have no leaves at the bottom for about 10-12 in. Now I know there is hope for them. I was afraid to cut them back too far until reading all of your advice to others. We will wait a few more weeks and then thin and prune. It has been unseasonably cold here in middle Tn. this winter and we are expecting at least another week or two of pretty cold weather but the trees have already started to bud. I am sure we need to fertilize as well.
    Thank you again,

    • Roger
      9:46 AM, 23 February 2014

      Hi Diane,
      Yes, what a winter it has been!

      It will take time to get your 42 year old boxwood to fill in at the bottom. But with consistent, selective pruning you should gradually see improvement down there.

      The trick is to focus your pruning on the dominant ends of branches at the top and upper portion of the plant. You want to encourage the plant to be wider at the base – just like in the “right & wrong” diagram in this post.

      Did you see this post on pruning large boxwood?

  • Johnny
    9:23 PM, 25 March 2014

    Hello Roger,
    Great write up, now I know how to trim these for my first time, Thank You.

    I had seen above you stated to “subscribe to my articles via e-mail or RSS”, So I hope this message reaches you.

    Here is my problem, my township decided to spray a brine solution not only in the street but 5 to 6 feet past the curb, and that has damaged 43 of my 97 Winter Gem Boxwood’s that were just planted this past September, the 43 be closest to the street, I did not notice the spraying until today, I was concerned as to the coloring of the Boxwoods the last few days, But then this evening I noticed the white film sprayed about 7 feet into my driveway, So even though it is 35* out right now I am hosing them down and watering them 12 at a time via sprinkler, is this the right thing to do, my neighbor says yes but then I have read that Boxwoods do not like a lot of water at this time of year, my neighbor states that I should water them for many hours to clean the soil and roots.

    So you know my climate I am in Montgomery NJ .

    Thank you,

    • Roger
      10:37 PM, 25 March 2014

      I’ve not found Boxwood on any list of salt tolerant plants, so it’s good you’re aware of the condition and trying to mitigate it.

      I did a little research and came across this great article from the CT Agricultural Extension Office. It describes the condition of excessive salt and gives recommendations on what to do about it. Leaching is a help, and if your soil is no longer frozen and drains well, that appears to be a good thing to do. Spraying and washing off the foliage is advised too.

      And you could also add gypsum to the surface to help neutralize the salt.

      I’d think about sending a soil sample to Rutgers. You can get a soil sample submission kit from your local Agricultural Extension Office. If you do, make sure you specifically request a “salinity” test. With the test results you’ll know exactly where you stand. And often they’ll include recommendations along with the analysis.

  • Johnny
    10:15 AM, 29 March 2014

    Hello Roger,
    Great write up, and thank you for your help.
    Johnny J J

  • Pat
    7:04 AM, 21 April 2014

    “Hi” Roger – “thanks” for the helpful info on Boxwood.

    I have a different problem with Boxwood; I have two boxwoods each in a large container … they have turned a yellowish color and with this past winter being a very long “cold” winter (OH), I’m wondering if I’m losing them. One has always been a little more “yellow” (would Iron help?), but I was wondering if I could cut them back for new growth – would this ruin or help them become greener? What type feeding would you recommend Boxwood in containers?

    Appreciate your expertise.

    ~ Pat

    • Roger
      12:18 AM, 28 April 2014

      It’s been my experience with Boxwood in planters that after a few years they’ll likely need to be changed-out. I think you can prolong this by making sure your planters are slightly elevated so they drain properly. And feeding a couple of times a year with a general purpose liquid fertilizer is smart too. Of course a watering routine is also important.

      We sometimes use various evergreens in planters and the look is great. But realize these plants are now subjected to conditions that are way different then what they naturally prefer. The planter confines and limits root growth. It fluctuates to the extremes of temperature – unlike the ground. It’s likely to dry out and stay dry for longer periods of time (unless irrigation is provided).

      And when these plants are weakened and stressed because of these less-than-ideal & unnatural conditions, they’re more susceptible to insects and other problems.

      Sometimes what we’ll do with these plants when they seem to be getting “tired” of the planter is transplant them into an ideal spot in the garden and see if they recover.

  • Janet Bolton
    12:32 PM, 21 April 2014

    In Wisconsin my boxwoods had about 6 inches of bright yellow color this spring. Is it necessary to prune all the way back to only green stems?

    • Roger
      10:58 PM, 29 April 2014

      I’m presuming that yellow foliage is on last year’s growth. And it’s probably due to the winter conditions we had.

      Check to see if those stems are green (alive). If they are I’d wait and see how the plant reacts with new growth this spring.

      It’s doubtful the yellow foliage will change color wise, but perhaps new growth will push out and hide that.

  • Teresa
    9:39 PM, 22 April 2014

    I have boxwoods in front of my new home of 1.5 years. The boxwoods were trimmed incorrectly before I ever moved into the house. They are like picture 2, I would like for them to have a round shape or a square if round is too hard to get now. How do I trim them so that they take on that round shape or do I hard trim the top to more of a square?

    • Roger
      11:15 PM, 29 April 2014

      By picture 2 you’re probably referring to the diagram and the second image from the left. I’ve been able to correct many shrubs that were shaped wider at the top by consistently pruning/trimming just the top portion, and not the lower.

      By imagining the proper line (shape) the plant should have, you focus your trimming where the growth is heavy and let the shears just follow the imaginary line. If there’s nothing to cut where that imaginary line is…so be it. This is where people go wrong – they believe if they take 2″ off in one spot, they should do the same throughout. Many plants naturally will grow less towards the bottom. You, therefore, have to follow the imaginary lines of the proper shape to get that “wider at the base” look.

      It may take several growing seasons for the lower growth to catch-up and fill-in to get the correct shape.

  • Zulfar Shaker
    9:55 AM, 29 April 2014


    I wanted to plant a couple of Japanese boxwood into two planters that we attempted to grow gardenias in (however didnt do well). the planters have azalea soil and I am hesitating on whether or not to remove and replace with regular potting soil before placing the boxwoods? will the acidic soil hurt it?

    Thank you,
    San Diego, CA

    • Roger
      10:13 PM, 3 May 2014

      For boxwood you want more of a neutral soil pH (6.5-7.5). It’s likely the azalea soil you have is acidic. Of course a soil pH test would confirm that.

      But if you’re unsure, I think it makes sense to change out the soil to the standard potting soil. I wonder if soil analysis (like pH) is listed on the bagged soil. You would think it would be. Soil pH test kits are inexpensive, and you can find them on Amazon.

      Remember too that boxwood prefer (demand) well-drained soil & conditions. Make sure the planters drain well, and elevate the pots slightly off the ground or surface. People neglect to do that and the planters can not drain properly.

  • Bonnie
    3:09 AM, 2 May 2014

    I live in Wisconsin and have a rather large planting area that needs to be re-done due to foundation work we had done. I am interested in adding a few Baby Gem Boxwood to the area in question. The area has an eastern exposure and the only direct sunlight it gets is in the early a.m. hours. We also have a large Maple tree that blocks the mid-day sun. I’m wondering if you think it will receive enough light in this location? I prefer to keep the shrubs smaller by pruning instead of letting them grow to their 3’x3′ potential. Will the presence of primarily shade throughout the day inhibit the health of the shrub or just the extent of its growth every season? The area I have to re landscape is about 4’deep by 20′ long. Have you any other suggestions for shrubs, maybe even flowering types, that can be put there that will not grow too tall (over 4′) but will still help fill in this rather large area of space. I am planning to also plant shade-loving perenials and annuals to fill in between any shrubs that I do plant.

    • Roger
      4:43 PM, 11 May 2014

      The boxwood would likely be OK in that area/exposure, but you should expect it to grow slower and thinner than if it had more light.

      Another plant to consider would be Azalea yedoense ‘Poukanense’ Compacta (or Azalea Poukanense Compacta).

  • Shannon
    4:32 PM, 23 May 2014

    My mom is having issues trimming her boxwood — she says the cut leaves turn white and the bush looks pretty awful. She says it takes all summer for the otherwise very healthy plant to look good again. She lives on an island a couple of hours south of Seattle. The boxwood is about 12 years old and usually a nice glossy green with no signs of disease. She’d like to be able to trim the height of it because it lives just beyond the edge of a deck and is starting to encroach. Thoughts? Thank you!

    • Roger
      8:18 PM, 4 July 2014

      I’m not quite sure why the trimmed leaves turn white. Perhaps the cut edges are scorching a bit from sun and heat.

      We avoid pruning the new growth on boxwood as hot weather approaches. Once the new growth matures and “hardens-off,” then we can start trimming again. For example, here in the northeast it’s around August when we confidently trim boxwood after its seasonal growth.

      Alternatively (or in addition) we prune boxwood in the early spring before new growth starts.

  • Josie B.
    4:42 PM, 13 July 2014

    Dear Roger,
    I just bought 26 Common Buxus Boxwood Treelings from Walmart. Its now mid July. They are about 1 gallon containers and the plants are about 8 inches tall. I thought I was familiar with boxwoods but now after all my new reading/research I feel clueless. My question is, should I plant now or wait until Fall? What should I do with them to keep healthy if I wait for another 2 months? Also, how far apart should I plant them if hedging? I’ve read as little as 6 inches to as much as 1/2 its width which according to the label is 3-20 ft. How should I know what is its true width/height if the label says 3-20 ft? Last question, I’m reading that they are slow growers but others say fast. Will these small 8in treelings ever become a hedge in my lifetime? Many thanks and sorry for the long write up.

    • Roger
      11:30 PM, 2 October 2014

      To know the plants mature size you would need to know the particular specie and variety. There isn’t any more definitive name on the label, e.g. a botanical name?

      Once you know the exact variety, you’ll know how the plant intends to grow & mature. That information guides you on how far apart to space the plants. There are so many varieties of boxwood, and each has its own growth characteristics.

      Planting them in the summer should be fine as long as proper watering is/was done.

      You should know that if you determine the spacing you’ve given them is incorrect, you can move them fairly easily (and safely) in the spring. I would not do it now (fall) as they’ve probably “set” some root in the ground, and that will help them do well through the winter. You could even give them some winter protection by spraying with an “anti-desiccant” or protecting them with a physical barrier like burlap.

  • Josie B.
    4:46 PM, 13 July 2014

    Roger Josie here again. I forgot to mention in my earlier write up that I’m in Zone 4b Canada, Quebec. Will my baby boxes live in this zone? I have the common boxwoods from Walmart (8 inches)? How far from the road should I plant them if they grow to be 3 – 20 ft wide? The snow plow guy piled about 5 ft of snow on the side of my yard from the street. Don’t know if it was salt or just the black pebbles. What should I do to protect the little guys. Its only mid July but I want to definitely be prepared.

    • Roger
      11:39 PM, 2 October 2014

      Common Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is hardy to zone 5. You’ll definitely want to protect yours for the winter.

      I would set up a physical barrier for wind/sun protection, and to protect against any salt (or whatever) from the plow guys.

      We use a material & stakes called “silt fence” on jobs to control runoff and erosion. I think something like that would work well for you.

  • John
    11:11 AM, 28 July 2014

    Hi Roger
    I live across from Seattle WA (zone 8b) and have an old established boxwood hedge (>55 yrs. old). The hedge is about 45 inches tall and 36 to 48 inches wide across the top (depth) and generally narrower at the base but tending to be more straight up and down the sides. > I bought this house about 23 years ago and the hedge had the same general shape then though infrequent missed pruning’s may have allowed it to grow wider. I have never felt good about trying to change the shape to the ‘tapered top’ look since it will make the sides completely bare at the top. Allowing the base to fill out is not an option. The hedge does look good after I prune it, but I don’t really like the size and would like to gradually trim it back to a more reasonable depth (mostly to reduce the yard waste but also to allow deer to jump over instead of thru it). Any suggestions for how to proceed?

    • Roger
      2:29 PM, 6 October 2014

      By definition, what you describe you’d like to do to your boxwood is “renovate” them. You do this by “selective pruning” with a hand pruner. In this post I talk a little bit about selective pruning on boxwood.

      This type of renovation should be done over time (e.g. 3 yrs.). With these selective cuts you’ll be thinning the plant to allow more air and light to enter into the body of the plant. This will begin to make the plant push buds internally instead of all the growth occurring on the exterior. And as you’re making cuts to thin the plant you can also shorten some of the branches to begin the process of reducing its size. Hopefully you can see how a process like this takes time.

      What’s nice about a renovating method like this is, the plants don’t look hacked-back. One would argue you could do that, but they’re going to look nasty until new growth disguises the aggressive cut.

  • david
    4:30 PM, 17 September 2014

    Thanks for the excellent article and the helpful answers. It’s Sept. 17 here in a NW suburb of Chicago and I’m wondering if it is too late to prune back the boxwoods. Our first average frost date is, I believe, Oct 15. The earliest we get frost could be Oct 9

    • Roger
      9:49 PM, 17 September 2014

      If you’re able to I’d wait until spring. There are stored carbohydrates in the plant that you’d rather not reduce before heading into winter.

  • Julia
    12:23 PM, 26 September 2014

    Hi, Roger.
    I may be in the same situation as David in Chicago but I wanted to double-check with you on this: I live in a suburb of Cincinnati (east side) and have 2 boxwoods that were planted in cone shapes 1 1/2 yrs. ago for an ornamental look. They are approximately 3 1/2 feet tall and have been doing well in spite of last winter. However, I would like to trim the sides of them (1-2 in.) for the first time to eliminate some growth that has distorted the cone shape. Can I do that now? Also, do you have any special tips for trimming them to maintain that shape?

    Thanks much!

    • Roger
      11:16 AM, 29 September 2014

      Yes, I would make the same recommendation as for David in Chicago, i.e. if you can, wait until spring to prune.

      As far as any special tips – just be conscious of shape. Try to maintain a wider base, just like the diagram in the article shows. If you don’t trust your eye, use a straight stick of sorts to hold next to the plant and at the angle you’re maintaining. The stick will clearly show how that line should continue to the base and not curve in (like so many misshaped shrubs are). Keep holding it up for reference.

  • Anita
    8:36 AM, 27 September 2014

    Green mountain boxwood has been recommended for planting in beds in front of our south-facing home. They would be shielded from the north wind, but would get unfiltered south sun, especially in the summer. Would this plant thrive in these conditions in the Kansas City area?

    • Roger
      10:57 PM, 28 September 2014

      Green Mountain Boxwood is hardy in zones 5-8. Kansas City is in zone 5. You should be OK.

      I’m in northern New Jersey, which is zone 6. I happen to use Green Mountain frequently on projects. Although I mostly do residential landscapes, recently we planted 28 Green Mountain Boxwood along a newly constructed school gymnasium. The building faces south and is all brick. I’m confident it will do well.

      If you plant this fall, consider spraying the boxwood with an anti-dessicant.

  • David
    11:41 AM, 29 September 2014

    Thanks for the advice! I’ll be waiting until spring to prune.

  • Anita
    2:38 PM, 29 September 2014

    Thanks Roger! I appreciate you for sharing your expertise and recommendation about an anti-dessicant.

  • Ann
    9:41 PM, 24 October 2014

    Roger, I have the same situation as Teresa above, commenting in April of this year. Unfortunately, my boxwoods are 18 yrs old, have never been pruned correctly, and some are close to 5 ft tall. I like in OK, Cold Zone 7a, Heat zone 8. I would love to be able to shape these successfully but they are so big and old, I don’t know that it’s worth it. The top 5-6 inches are green and along the immediate sides are green, but the middle as you might imagine is bare wood. What’s your opinion of this situation and your recommendation of what I should do? If I were to start trimming, could I start some now and continue in early spring?

    • Roger
      11:41 AM, 30 November 2014

      Boxwood will rejuvenate from corrective pruning. But, if you need to dramatically change the size and/or correct the shape, then this process should be done over several years. In cases like that it is sometimes more practical to just remove the plant(s) and start over.

      When renovating a boxwood for size and/or shape, you’ll mostly be using hand pruners to make individual cuts. Not only are you making cuts to reduce and shape, but also to “open up” the dense foliage and branching so more light gets into the interior of the plant. This is key to rejuvenating the plant.

  • Michelle
    1:33 PM, 1 January 2015

    I have a boxwood hedge in front of my house that is all shaped as one continuous squared off hedge. I don’t like geometric looking hedges. I would like them to be more soft and I also would like to cut them into individual plants again. How do you recommend separating the plants and reshaping them? I would either like to shape them into soft rounded shapes or more triangular but still soft shapes like either of the two sketches in your article. The also have a large truck at the bottom with no branches so they are bare for the last couple inches and aren’t filled in all way to the ground like a lot of hedges I’ve seen. So I’m not sure they will ever look the way I want. I’ve included some links with pictures of what I’m referring to. Any tips would be appreciated.

    • Roger
      10:41 PM, 28 February 2015

      I’d have to see the hedge to feel confident with my recommendations, but here are some of my thoughts.

      It sounds like the hedge is fairly well established. Therefore, the foliage is just what you see, i.e. on the outsides of the plants. If you begin to separate each plant you’ll expose the bare branching between them. That’s going to look terrible.

      Boxwood can rejuvenate, but in a circumstance where those internal branches have grown together and have been that way for some time, rejuvenation may not be completely successful.

      I don’t want to discourage you from trying, but I’m also hesitant to say go-ahead because of the uncertainty. I guess the question to ask yourself is, “If the boxwood don’t rejuvenate well enough after the cuts (and you’d have to be willing to give it at least 2 full seasons), am I OK with the task and expense of removing and replacing them?

  • Daisy
    4:01 PM, 7 March 2015

    Hi Roger – Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. I don’t think I saw an answer to my question: If I want to spur growth at my prune point, does it matter if I prune to last year’s wood or just trim the new, bright green growth?

    • Roger
      9:25 PM, 9 March 2015

      Hi Daisy,
      Sorry I missed your other question.

      If you need to or wish to prune back to last year’s wood, you’ll simply spur growth at that point.

  • Don Pearce
    7:28 PM, 11 March 2015


    I have over 300 feet of boxwood hedges that are 30 yrs old. I love them, but they have gotten so tall and ‘leggy’ that I want to know if I could cut them way back w/o killing them. What is your advice?

    Don in Dallas

    • Roger
      10:47 AM, 12 March 2015

      Yes, you certainly can cut them back, and spring is a good time for that.

      I’d say you have 2 approaches with this. One, you could cut them back radically to within 12″ or so of the ground and let them rejuvenate from the remaining base stems.

      Or two, you could reduce their size in stages — perhaps over a 2 to 3 year period. In this case you’d make incremental cuts in the overall height of the plant(s), while at the same time making cuts both internally and further down stems to open up the branching of the plant. So you’ll be simultaneously reducing the size (height & width) and opening up the body of the plant for more light and air. This opening up the plant for light and air is critical because you want the plant to rejuvenate and re-bud on the inside (not just on the outside, terminal ends).

  • Gordon Benninghoff
    5:27 PM, 15 March 2015

    I have (3) Korean Boxwoods in front of the house and they have a Northern Exposure. Last year 2013 we had a hard winter and they didn’t come back at all. Meaning turning green as they always did in the Spring. They stayed what I would call a light brown in color. A couple of small spots had a few leaves on them but by and large 95% of each plant never got new leaves in 2013. Here we are in 2015 (early spring). I’ve read where I can cut back the Boxwood of each plant pretty well. Meaning like cut it back to 1/2 the height they are now. Also this is the time of the year to do it. (right now). Is that correct? If I cut back all (3) Boxwoods Now! 1/2 back. I’m informed that they will (come back) in growth or new shoots will form and grow back to it’s size again in due time. If I don’t see (new green leaves forming in the Spring after cutting back the plant). It’s dead! Pull the plants out. Start over again. I live 40 miles South of Erie, Pa. We had a lot of snow this past winter year. A interesting thought here is: Down inside the plant on its inner branches they have this yellow greenish look on the bark. I kept my plants in a rounded trim situation. Each one and sorta run one into the other so to speak. What I need answered is this. 1. Is my thought of cutting the bushes back to 1/2 their size NOW. Going into Mid March Correct. 2. If they don’t come back green this Spring, Pull them out and replant new ones.
    3. Or is there another direction I should take here?
    4. Just plan on taking the 3 plants out this Spring and replant with new ones. I’m really confused what’s right here!
    Thank You
    Gordon Benninghoff

    • Roger
      9:41 PM, 15 March 2015

      As you describe the past of these boxwood I don’t have much hope for them recovering, especially after this winter.

      If you decide to give it a go and cut them back, wait until mid-spring. If you do it too early you could expose any new growth and live tissue to an early spring freeze.

      You’ll know by late spring/early summer if there’s any hope as you should start to see some budding from the remaining stems.

      In the late fall think about protecting them (or their replacements) by wrapping them in burlap or spraying with an anti-transpirant.

  • K Frankfurt
    9:43 PM, 17 March 2015

    I live in Chicago, and a neighbor wants to get rid of a boxwood. Of course I am glad to take it off her hands. Can we transplant now? If I understood correctly, it has stored carbs to help it survive the process. Should we be concerned about the chance of another freeze?

    • Roger
      11:23 PM, 17 March 2015

      It looks like Chicago is zone 6 on the Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which is the zone I’m in here in NJ.

      Next week (3/23) we plan to start transplanting deciduous plants on properties. We’ll then segue to transplanting evergreens after that (first or second week in April).

      If you’re able, I’d hold off till the end of March/beginning of April. With the boxwood undisturbed and rooted it can better handle any last blasts of winter.

  • K Frankfurt
    12:33 PM, 18 March 2015

    Thank you for your advice!

  • Mark
    4:29 PM, 26 March 2015

    My boxwood hedge (12 -14 years old) has over grown a large section of my walkway which we are replacing. How aggressively can i trim it back without killing the hedge. It’s about 22 inches tall and 16 wide. Ideally i’d like to trim 3- 4 inches off one side. Thanks.

    • Roger
      8:45 AM, 27 March 2015

      No doubt you will get into bare wood when you cut back your boxwood 3-4 inches. And it will eventually rejuvenate — possibly over 2 seasons.

      Have you considered either re-designing the walk (if possible), or moving/transplanting the hedge? I make these suggestions because otherwise, you’re going to have an ongoing problem with the boxwood being too close to the walk.

      I don’t know the length of the hedge, but if it’s 22″ tall and 12-14 years old, moving it is a solution. (Of course this assumes you have space on the opposite side of the hedge to move to.)

      The transplanting strategy (without seeing it) would be to start digging a trench on the side you’ll be “shuffling” the plants over to. Keep in mind you’ll be shaping the rootball of the boxwood at the same time on the “trench-side” of the plant.

      Once the trench is finished and the rootball(s) have been shaped on that side, begin cutting & shaping around the remainder of each rootball with your spade. You can literally push the spade down and cut to the dimensions of the rootball all around each plant to loosen it. Boxwood have very fibrous root-systems and let you use this “digging-method” quite successfully.

      When a plant has become loose, simply “shuffle” it over its adjacent spot in the trench you dug. You should be able to reset each plant next to one another to replicate the original hedge.

  • Paul
    12:41 AM, 29 March 2015

    Great article. I live in zone 9a and have 16 Green Tower Boxwoods that I have planted with the hope of creating an 8 foot high hedge in a narrow alleyway. The boxwoods are 2 years old. They have grown from 3 foot tall plants to 6 foot tall during the last two years. They are beginning to look like the hedge I planned on. However they tend to get very droopy after the spring growth. So far I have not pruned them at all, because I wanted to encourage the upward growth. How long should I wait before start the annual pruning/trimming and is there any way to stiffen the upward growth?

    • Roger
      2:44 PM, 29 March 2015

      Nice plant choice for what you want to accomplish in that narrow space.

      I’m familiar with what you’re describing, where the new growth droops on the soft, young stems.

      I think because this plant characteristically grows fast you’re always going to experience a certain amount of that new, softer growth drooping. I think the best condition to help control that is a strong, internal branch framework. In other words where the older stems are encouraged to mature and strengthen to better support the new growth on the ends.

      So how do you do this? Ideally you would have been pruning/trimming the plant from early on so that as you allow the plant to grow in size a bit, you’re also “controlling” the amount of size & growth while the internal stems & branches mature in caliper. This is what nurseries do (or should do) that grow plants for market in larger sizes. In effect, you’re sacrificing a certain amount of speedy growth for the benefit of strong, internal stems & branching.

      You could start a strategy like this now. And it could be that you’ll need to prune/trim a couple of times in one season to start. So perhaps halfway through the “new growth phase” this season you do a light trimming. This will likely stunt the amount of growth the plant makes this season, but at the same time allows the internal branching to mature & strengthen.

      One word of caution: When you do trim young, soft growth (on boxwood) during hot & dry periods, you do run the risk of some foliage getting scorched. Think about timing the pruning when it’s not so hot & dry. Perhaps wait for a forecast of cloudy, cooler weather — and if necessary water the plants a day or 2 beforehand if the soil is dry.

  • Rose
    6:23 AM, 14 April 2015

    Great article, glad that I found this because it’s so informative.
    I just bought and planted 12 dwarf English Boxwood and just would like to know when is the right time to start pruning them. They are still tiny, like 8″-10″ in diameter. Some have new growths that are sticking out even before I bought them…I want to do the right pruning because this is the first time for me to plant boxwoods. Thanks, Roger!

    • Roger
      9:11 PM, 14 April 2015

      I would wait till the new growth matures and “hardens-off”. When the growth is new it’s tender and very susceptible to burn from hot, sunny days.

      In the meantime, let the new plants root a bit and establish themselves. Carbohydrates and other compounds are produced (through photosynthesis) and stored in the new leaves. This stored energy will likely be used by your boxwood to help root development.

      If you’d like, you can trim lightly later on in the season.

  • Peggy
    12:33 PM, 15 April 2015

    We have a American boxwood that reaches the top of our two story old farmhouse. It obscures ability to view out our windows. Where do we begin to get control of this massive mess.

    Thank you for helping us see sunshine again!


    • Roger
      9:07 PM, 15 April 2015

      Wow. That boxwood must be 100 years old.

      Here’s another article, and this one shows pruning large American Boxwood. However this technique is for maintaining the boxwood, not radically reducing the size.

      I’d have to see the plant and how it relates to the house & windows to give an opinion one way or the other. Can you email me a picture?

      It might be possible to move the plant too. Again I’d have to see it.

  • Peggy
    5:29 PM, 16 April 2015

    It has to be that old, as the old farmhouse started out as a half house in 1767, then raised to a full two story.
    What is the best way to send a photo?


    • Roger
      10:23 PM, 16 April 2015

      The best way to send a photo is in an email to me. Here’s my email address:

      Perhaps I shouldn’t presume you know how to do that. Please let me know.

  • Rose
    8:37 AM, 28 April 2015

    Hi, Roger!
    Which do you prefer best, green mountain boxwood or winter gem boxwood?
    I noticed that the winter gems foliage are darker and shinier than the green mountains,
    and can boxwoods stand partially shaded areas?

    • Roger
      10:54 AM, 28 April 2015

      Green Mountain Boxwood and Wintergem Boxwood are different in growth habit too.

      Green Mountain will have a slightly more upright habit, while Wintergem will grow more mounded (height and width similar).

      Both will take partial shade, but experience has shown me that the more light the better.

  • cindy
    5:03 PM, 8 May 2015

    Hi Roger,
    Ive just purchased two winter gem boxwoods from Menards and the tag on these plants said they get 2 ft tall by 2 ft wide. I wanted to be sure and so googled and now I have no clue because each website says something different.If they do indeed get bigger than what the tag says, is there a way to keep them at that size? These are going to be close to my walkway and so I cant have them big. Ive already regrettably had to pull out two different shrubs that were there and it about broke my heart. Poor little babies grew so well for me…and oh boy did they grow ! Couldnt prune those types.

    • Roger
      9:26 AM, 9 May 2015

      I know what you’re saying about varying information, particularly with plants that are one of many cultivars under a genus. The botanical name for this plant should read: Buxus microphylla ‘Winter Gem’.

      There’s so much opportunity to have variations, mis-labeling or incorrect labeling. It’s just not an exact thing, especially when you’re trying to fit a plant to such a “limited” space.

      In my experience, ‘Winter Gem’ gets larger. I’d say 4’x4′ is more realistic.

      Have you considered Dwarf Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’)?

  • Cindy
    12:09 PM, 9 May 2015

    Wow. Thanks for the quick reply. It’s so rare these days.
    Yes, I did consider dwarf boxwood. That was my intention when I was looking for an evergreen for that spot. The tag does call it by its proper name, but says 2×2, so I thought it was somewhat of a dwarf. I dont know weather to take them back or plant them and prune heavily to keep them the proper size. I have a little bit more room to play with than 2 ft, but definitely dont want anything over 3 ft. Maybe Ill just bonzai the heck out of them and hope they survive the drastic cuts ? Decisions decisions. Wish I understood more about pruning.

  • Sonja
    3:38 PM, 19 June 2015

    Hello All,

    I just got a wonderful new position to work in. I’m responsible for a wedding venue and super excite. It includes a little pond and lots and lots of plants of course.

    The formal part is the boxwood. So here my question, I have 26 boxwood bushes and I’d like to shape them into balls. Is there such a thing as a form for that so that they will all look alike?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Roger
      11:29 PM, 21 June 2015

      Congrats on the new job. It’s so great you’re taking the time and interest to research the right way to do things.

      First off, what shape are the boxwood currently in? If they have been shaped differently over a period of time, you’ll need to proceed carefully (if at all).

      Realize that beneath the foliage will be stems and branches which form the “interior” framework for the current shape. If you trim/cut too aggressively into that interior branching it could look terrible and possibly not recover too well or too quickly.

      If you’d like to email me a picture of the boxwood, perhaps I could give you more definite advice on how (or if) to proceed.

  • Bonnie
    4:53 PM, 4 July 2015

    All my boxwood have been done from cuttings from one plant over the years.
    This April and May were so dry and the fact that my garden was on tour in June meant I did not do my usual cut back….I knew this winter was tough and that there would be die-back under when I cut them.

    I use a power cutter, as I have many boxwood. I then go back and cut out some “lace” holes with a hand clipper, I was told this is good for the plant.

    It is now July….so do I just leave all and cut early NEXT spring? Or can I cut them now? Thanks, Bonnie

    • Roger
      10:49 PM, 4 July 2015

      We’ll do a lot of our shrub pruning through the summer, including boxwood.

      I’d suggest you do a light trimming with the power shears and then “selectively” thin out some of the branching for the plant-health benefits of more light and air circulation. You mentioned “lace” holes — I imagine you’re referring to the thinning-out cuts I just mentioned. This is such a good practice you’ve been following.

      Here’s an article I wrote about Pruning Big Boxwood that talks a bit about this trimming/pruning strategy.

  • Carleen
    10:01 AM, 11 July 2015

    I’ve noticed a strong odor where our winter gem boxwoods are planted. It smells like cat urine. Other Internet sources have stated that the odor could be from our boxwoods. These are right under our living/dining room windows. Before I start throwing down cayenne pepper or moth balls to deter the few neighborhood cats, do these particular boxwoods throw off that type of smell? Thanks.

    • Roger
      11:59 AM, 11 July 2015

      Normally, the bad smell of boxwood is associated with Common Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens). Winter Gem is a cultivar of Buxus microphylla koreana. And I personally have not experienced the smell with Winter Gem.

      I guess it’s time to get the moth balls and cayenne pepper out. 🙂

  • Carleen
    1:16 PM, 11 July 2015

    Thanks Roger for the quick reply. I guess it’s off to Walmart! I’m glad it wasn’t the boxwood since this is the 3rd year that they are in and they are gorgeous.

  • Laura Bilger
    6:05 PM, 11 July 2015

    I have 4 year old little leaf boxwood that I have only lightly pruned and never shaped. Now they are big enough, I would like to shape them. When would be the best time to start shaping the boxwood?

    • Roger
      9:28 PM, 11 July 2015

      Now is the time we do our “general” trimming work, i.e. mid to late summer. And boxwood would be included.

      If I’m doing a more severe cut-back to renovate the boxwood, I’ll do that in the spring.

  • Rose
    9:52 AM, 18 July 2015

    Hi, Roger!

    I have dwarf boxwoods and winter gem boxwood, what is the best fertilizers for boxwoods and how often
    should I apply it

    • Roger
      9:07 PM, 21 July 2015

      Hi Rose,
      I would use a general, organic fertilizer for the boxwood like Espoma’s Plant-tone.

      Once a year would be fine, and early spring would be a good time.

  • Kathryn
    3:28 PM, 26 July 2015

    I would like to plant boxwood in planters about 5ft long, 3 feet wide and 2 ft high. The first question is whether they could thrive in a planter of that depth. The second is whether there is a variety that would grow about 2 or 3 ft high (or could be trimmed to that height) and that could be kept to a depth that would allow me to plant annuals in front. I would like to create a year-round visual barrier, but also have seasonal color. Do you have a recommendation for a suitable variety of boxwood? I have yet to order the planters, so I can adjust the size if needed. Thank you very much.

    • Roger
      5:39 PM, 26 July 2015

      We plant boxwood in planters quite often. After all the years of observing how they perform, I look at it (and advise my clients) that its really temporary. Eventually the evergreen succumbs to the years of being confined to the planter. After all, like all woody plants its natural life is “in the ground”. But you will get plenty of years of enjoyment and function from the boxwood in the planter.

      In terms of the particular boxwood variety to choose, I’m going to suggest you download the “Boxwood Guide” on This boxwood nursery put together this guide with many of the varieties used today. It’s so informative and helpful I ordered the hardcopy version, which I refer to all the time. This guide will give you all the information (mature size, form, etc.) that you’ll need to pick those that will work for you. Also, after picking those that might work, the next thing is availability. You’ll have to call around to nurseries in your area, but at least you’ll have the accurate names of the varieties.

      Hope this helps.

  • Elizabeth
    1:24 PM, 6 August 2015

    I have two large, old boxwoods which flank my wide front steps on the house I have lived in for 35 years. They have occasionally been trimmed, but not for many years now, and it shows. They are about 8 feet tall, and nearly that wide as well, and very “au natural” in their appearance.

    Is there a way to trim and shape them, after this much benign neglect? I think I would like to keep most of the height, but would like to diminish the width to about 4 to 5 feet, and give them a more defined shape–either conical, or clearly rectangular. Is this even possible? If so, is this a several-growing season project? The area they are in is very shady, with filtered sun only a couple of hours a day in summer. I live in Zone 5.

    • Roger
      11:01 AM, 7 August 2015

      You could begin the process of reducing the width of your 35 year old boxwood, but it would be a process over several years.

      Each early spring you would have to selectively prune the sides. This article on pruning large boxwood may help.

      Your annual cuts should focus on the heavier, woody, side branches. Go back into the body of the plant and make your cut there. At the same time be conscious of leaving some of the younger foliage & branching in that area to help disguise those stronger cuts. This annual pruning should allow more light into the body of the plant and encourage it to bud further in. At the same time you’re reducing/eliminating the thicker branches that extend to the extreme outside.

      I know this is hard to understand — as it’s hard to explain. 🙂 Honestly, it does take experience to do something like this. But I don’t want to discourage you either. If you give it a go just start a bit conservatively. Perhaps you’ll gain more confidence with your cuts as you see the plant’s reaction year to year.

  • Diane
    3:26 PM, 7 August 2015


    I live in KY and have 16 year boxwoods that have not been trimmed for a couple of years.

    When is the best time to prune and how should I prune them?


    • Roger
      5:59 PM, 10 August 2015

      We’re doing general pruning on boxwood now and will continue through August. If you’re planning to doing aggressive cuts to renovate the plant, that type of pruning would be done in early spring.

      Check out this article on Pruning Big Boxwood to see how I recommend to prune boxwood.

  • JT
    4:15 PM, 14 August 2015

    Hi Roger,

    Nice article! Thanks!

    I just moved into a house this late in summer. The yews were old, scraggly and half dead. We had them professionally removed. I was lucky to find 6 little cone shaped Green Mountain Boxwoods to replace the yews. They are about 18″ tall and somewhat dense. We would like to keep two of them in the cone shape (flanking our entry to the porch) and the other four boxwoods we would like to trim into spheres, Would it be going against their natural growth habit to make them into spheres? Would it lead to bad results? How soon could I start the trimming process after planting?

    Thanks for any advice,

    • Roger
      9:50 PM, 16 August 2015

      Although Green Mountain Boxwood is classified as an upright conical form, you can train yours both in a “cone shape” as well as a mounded/sphere shape.

      It’s all about the trimming.

      Since your young plants are already somewhat conical, those will be easy to continue in that shape.

      For those you’d like more sphere-like, simply begin to round the tops. I would not be too aggressive with rounding the top. Basically you’re stunting the dominant growth at the top and encouraging (and allowing) more side growth. This will be an on-going process from year to year. But after 2 to 3 years the width of the plant will increase and become more equal to the height, and more “sphere-like”.

      And no matter if the shape is conical or rounded, always remember to trim so the base of the plant is wider — just like I illustrate in the sketch.

  • JB
    2:26 PM, 19 August 2015

    I have wintergem and green mountain boxwood intertwined in half knots. Planted 4 years ago. Zone 5. I have just trimmed them but have never fertilized them. Is August a good or bad time to fertilize? when is the optimum time to fertilize?

    I also lost a couple of bushes in the row and need to plant a new one. Will that be easy? Will that damage to roots of the neighboring plants?

    Thank you

    • Roger
      11:09 PM, 19 August 2015

      I would fertilize in the early spring.

      If you’re replacing dead plants, I’d imagine you’ll be removing the stump(s). Boxwood have very fibrous root systems and I don’t think you’ll do much, if any harm digging to plant the new one(s). Early fall would be a good time for that — spring would be better because the new plant would not have the winter to contend with.

  • Gina
    11:54 PM, 27 August 2015

    I have boxwoods that will have been planted a year this October. They are round in shape, and I’d like to keep them that shape and about the size that they are. I live in Kentucky. Is it too late to prune them? They have new growth that looks bad. Thanks!

    • Roger
      9:08 AM, 28 August 2015

      It would be fine to trim your boxwood now.
      We’re still trimming on some jobs too. 🙂

  • Jamie
    11:18 PM, 18 October 2015

    We missed trimming our boxwood bushes (1 yr since bought) and our boxwood hedge (8 -10 yrs) and it’s now suddenly gotten cold. Tonight is down in 30s. There will be a few warm days coming soon (65-70 degrees) but generally it’s getting cold heading towards November (50s during day and 30s at night). Is it too late to trim them? I don’t want them to go into shock or not heal or grow properly. Thank you in advance!

    • Roger
      11:57 AM, 29 October 2015

      If you can, I’d wait until spring to trim the boxwood.

      You could stimulate new growth, which would not be good. And also, there are stored carbohydrates in the foliage, which is stored food for the plant.

  • tina
    6:59 PM, 26 January 2016

    I would like a boxwood hedge that is 4′ high but only 1′ wide. Should I choose a columnar boxwood, like Green Tower? I’m worried if I choose something, like winter gem, that trimming it to a 1′ width would kill it. Thoughts?

    • Roger
      9:43 PM, 26 January 2016

      I have not used Green Tower, but looking it up it does claim to stay rather narrow.

      The descriptions I’ve read also claim it can get 9′ tall. Even at that, I do think it would be possible to keep in in the 4′ range with diligent pruning.

      Sounds like a good choice for what you want to do. Good luck — and I tip my hat to your research and planning.

  • Melissa Hansen
    8:10 AM, 8 April 2016

    Hi, I live in Ocean City, NJ. I currently have 5 dwarf boxwood plants along my front landscaping. We experienced some severe flooding this January where the plants were under water for a couple days. One is obviously dead. The other 4 have yellow leaves that fall off when I brush them but have green growth on the inside of the plant. I’m not sure if I should prune off the yellow leaves, exposing the inside green or just leave them alone. Do you have any suggestions?
    Thank you.

    • Roger
      9:24 AM, 8 April 2016

      I would give the plants a bit more time this spring to push any new growth. By early May the plants should clearly show what’s “live ” and what’s not. You can then safely cut-back and prune-out deadwood to live points on the plant.

  • Sharyn Klatt
    9:16 PM, 10 April 2016

    My husband became impatient today and cut down( to about 3 ft above the ground )a 58 year old boxwood hedge that was 15 ft long with tiny leaves appearing. Will it die this year?

    • Roger
      9:52 PM, 10 April 2016

      Boxwood is capable of rejuvenating itself after being cut back severely. In fact, it’s actually a tactic to revive an old, overgrown plant.

      Of course there’s no guarantee as to how thoroughly it will rejuvenate. And this regrowth typically takes at least two growing seasons — so patience is needed.

      Also, I’d give them a feeding of Espoma Plant-tone this spring to help the process along.

  • Jim
    12:00 PM, 26 April 2016

    I have a 32 year old korean boxwood plant that borders our approach walk. It is a hedge consisting of 12 very mature plants. Over the years a couple of things have happened. First it has gotten rather large and is now overhanging both the sidewalk and the driveway. Second, animals have used it for a winter home over the years and love to chew on the lower branches which leads to sizeable holes in some sections.

    My question is can I cut this way back say to the size of a basketball and let it restart? It is so dense that while it still presents an attractive foliage, the inner branches are completely bare due to the lack of sunlight.

    Will it regrow if I cut it back?

    • Roger
      9:48 PM, 30 April 2016

      Over the years I’ve cut back 2 or 3 American boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) to rejuvenate them. They did rejuvenate from the base. I don’t know that Korean boxwood (Buxus microphylla koreana) would react the same.

      You can certainly begin to reduce the size by systematically thinning the plants. This is a long-term strategy, but certainly a safer one. I found this article from The Pruning School, which describes the process very well.

  • ronda
    11:34 AM, 7 June 2016

    Hello, I have a young (3 year old) row of Green Mountain boxwoods that have individual shoots of growth sometimes 1-2 foot high above the main bulk of the bushes. I would like the plants to grow as tall as possible but find this uneven growth unattractive. However, I am willing to leave the shoots if you think this is the best way to achieve full size quicker. Would you kindly advise as to which is better?
    Also, I am trying create a tall hedge of Needlepoint holly and am not sure if I should lightly prune sides AND top to stimulate more growth or should I not cut any from the top to achieve maximum height the quickest?
    I appreciate the work you put in to helping the layman understand more about the proper way to do things. Thanks!

    • Roger
      5:38 PM, 11 June 2016

      For the boxwood I would prune them to some degree. This pruning will encourage the plant to develop stronger stems. It will also “tell the plant” to push growth from lateral buds below the branch ends, which makes the plant fuller. Just removing the branch ends causes these beneficial results.

      For the holly I’d prune the top slightly, as well as any “wayward” branch ends growing beyond the general shape of the plant. The beauty here, as with most plants, is the natural, softer look — and not the tight, formal look. The holly is trying to get taller quickly. By tip-pruning the top it does just like I mentioned above re: boxwood, i.e. stronger stems and fuller plant. I get that you want maximum height ASAP, but just tip-pruning will allow most of the growth to remain.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying my articles. It does my heart good to see folks learning how to take care of their landscapes properly.

  • Dawn
    12:45 PM, 20 July 2016


    First, thank you for posting such helpful information and taking the time to answer each post. Wow!

    I have a row of 22 Green Gems (18 inches) right in front of a row Green Mountain boxwood. All planted three summers ago. We wanted to keep the gems rounded in shape but I think they are planted way too close for that (only about 5 inches apart). A landscape service suggested moving every other one or let them grow into a hedge as well. If we do remove every other one, this would leave about 24 inches between each gem. It might look odd at first since there will be so much space between. We do want the Mountains to grow into a hedge. We think this will be more interesting than two rows of hedges. Can you tell me if this spacing is good? I also want to get the gems to look like your drawing above with the bottom foliage close to the ground. Right now they look a bit like a lollipop as I can see the stem. Is there a way to get the bottom of the plant fuller to look more natural? Again, thanks for your great info!

    • Roger
      9:53 AM, 25 July 2016

      Also, how close are the ‘Green Gems’ to the ‘Green Mountain’? Are you concerned about them growing together?

      Moving every other ‘Green Gem’ sounds like a practical solution — and they’ll fill out nicely after that. To get them to fill in at the bottom (over time) simply continue to shape the tops and upper crown appropriately, and avoid going in at the bottom. Follow an imaginary line as you would like to see them shaped. By consistently shearing the upper portion of the plant, the lower portion will eventually fill in and catch up. 🙂

  • Kiersten
    3:12 PM, 26 July 2016

    Hi Roger,
    I’m in Washington state and we planted a row of boxwood in our backyard in June. We are aiming for a couple foot hedge as an end result. Should I wait to prune until next spring or do you recommend pruning a bit in August to promote growth? They get full sun (when it’s actually sunny) and are on a drip irrigation system if this has any impact on what to do.

    • Roger
      9:35 AM, 27 July 2016

      Kudos for using drip irrigation on the boxwood. Not only is drip irrigation very efficient, but you also help avoid disease issues with boxwood by not watering the foliage each time.

      In terms of pruning, I’d give them a light pruning just to encourage lateral (side) growth for a fuller, stronger plant.

  • Beth
    6:03 PM, 8 April 2017

    We just purchased four wintergem boxwoods for our patio containers…medium sized urns…
    Shall we just let them have some time to grow naturally, before trimming them into the ultimately desired spherical shapes? Is it ever too soon to trim boxwoods?

    • Roger
      11:03 AM, 9 April 2017

      I think it’s smart to start early with the trimming. Depending on their current form/shape, you’ll maybe want to shape the plant(s) gradually rather than with a too aggressive first cut.

  • Meredith Ramsay
    4:23 PM, 15 April 2017

    I noticed that the scent of boxwood sempervirens is called a “bad” smell in your correspondence here. I was offended, because it is my favorite smell in a garden. Yes, it does smell a bit like horse urine, but being a horse person, I don’t mind that smell either. I think the main appeal of the boxwood scent is that it evokes nostalgia, “…a sentimental or wistful yearning for the happiness felt in a former place, time, or situation” ( In my case, my grandmother’s house.

    • Roger
      10:29 PM, 15 April 2017

      Thank you for your comment and bringing a different perspective to the scent of boxwood. I hadn’t thought about it as something that could bring forth feelings and emotions. And you’re so right. Certain scents do that for me too.

  • Judith Rudge
    8:11 AM, 17 May 2017

    Hello Roger
    We have just taken on a Victorian walled garden in Scotland with about 300 metres plus of overgrown, very old, box hedging that needs renovating and reducing in size to restore it.
    I was advised to take a hedge trimmer to it to do the job. I started on a small length of about 20 metres (using shears) and find that the centre of the hedge seems dead and now it looks very ugly. I have stopped doing anything to it until I find out what to do next. The outside of the hedge seems very healthy without gaps and spring growth is coming through very well on all but the top/middle of the trimmed length. Can you advise me of the best way forward? Thank you.

    • Roger
      9:24 AM, 17 May 2017

      Of course it’s difficult to give specific advice without being on-site seeing the plants.

      Boxwood will rejuvenate from hard pruning, but I’d go about it differently than using a hedge trimmer exclusively. I’d use a combination of hedge trimmer and hand-pruner.

      I’d use the hedge trimmer to do an overall aggressive trimming, but not so aggressive as to expose bare stems. Then, with the hand-pruner I’d begin to thin the plant to get more light and air into the center and lower portions of the plant. This will begin to encourage budding and growth in the interior.

      Each season (early spring) you would repeat this strategy. Gradually you can reduce the overall size while removing more older stems and letting more and more light in as the plant produces more growth at the interior.

      Here is an excellent article on pruning boxwood and describes the general concept I’m suggesting.

      Hope this helps.

  • Marina Heneghan
    4:15 AM, 28 May 2017

    Hi Roger,My neighbour has given me some plants that are about 2ft to make a headge at the front of the house..In his garden they were all bunched I’m trying to get a nice straight hedge with them but they are very bare at the bottom till about a 10 inch up..Also they are very straight so I’ve put sticks in to support them..Should I just leave them alone for a while to get used to being in a different place?or should I trim the tops of now? Although, this would probably leave a lot of bare wood…thank you..Marina

    • Roger
      10:34 PM, 28 May 2017

      At this time I would prune the tops a bit. You still want to leave plenty of foliage so the plants can utilize that foliage to manufacture food for themselves. But simply removing an inch or so at the top sends a message (and energy) to the lower portion of the plant(s) to push buds and growth down there.

      Next early spring (2018), before growth starts, you can prune harder if you wish. The idea is to consistently prune (year to year) to encourage lower growth. In my experience, this can take time — sometimes several seasons. But with persistence you’ll be amazed how they fill in and get stronger/sturdier.

  • Jo Laffey
    1:52 PM, 5 June 2017

    Our boxwood were planted in mid-May and are growing “straight up.” They have grown several inches. I’d like to give them a gumdrop shape. When is the proper time to shape them, and do you have suggestions for the process?We live in southern WI. Thanks.

    • Roger
      11:50 PM, 24 June 2017

      There are quite a few different varieties of boxwood and their “natural” growing habit/shape can be different depending upon the variety. In turn, not all boxwood can be shaped as “gumdrops”. 🙂 Do you know which type of boxwood you have? If you do, then do a Google search for that particular plant and view the images to see how they naturally grow.

      It’s now June, and depending on where you are it may be too hot to prune now. I’d wait till late summer/early fall and do a light trimming. Then, in early spring (2018) I’d prune again — and this time of year you can be more aggressive with your cuts.

      As far as the process goes, follow the tips and suggestions in the article. If you feel you need even more information, here’s an excellent article on boxwood pruning.

  • Janet Priore
    9:53 AM, 3 September 2017

    My mature boxwood plants normally grow in even, bushy patterns a few times per year. This year, they are sprouting new growth in tall, sparse patterns. The plant seems to be healthy overall, but I’m concerned that something isn’t quite right. Any advice?

    I’m trying to include a photo, so hopefully it will explain things better than I can.

    • Roger
      5:22 PM, 3 September 2017

      Of course it’s hard to say why your boxwood have chosen to grow this way this year. There are numerous factors that could be at play here. The fact that the plant appears healthy may indicate that there’s nothing specifically wrong, but that environmental conditions (i.e. weather, temperature… that sort of thing) are the cause.

      I’d keep an eye on them and look for other extraordinary changes. If things continue to look normal my guess is the boxwood will have a more normal growth pattern next season.

  • Lesley
    3:00 PM, 22 October 2017

    Just pruned about 7 large boxwoods. I too use hand shears. I just find it easier. What I want to know is, can I leave the clippings in the beds where perriwinkle grows or should they be raked out? The soil is getting a bit undernourished and I wondered if the clippings might do it well?

    • Roger
      5:05 PM, 22 October 2017

      Whenever I send a boxwood sample down to Rutgers University’s plant diagnostics lab, there’s always a mention in their recommendations to keep the beds clean of boxwood litter. Evidently there’s a potential that within that leaf litter, etc. there could be (or develop) disease pathogens.

      I’d rake out the clippings and alternatively you could mulch and/or fertilize. Of course if you wanted to be sure of the soil’s nutrient levels you could do (or have done) a soil sample.

  • Doris Thompson
    5:29 PM, 13 May 2018

    I have 3 boxwood plants trimmed into rectangles (landscapers hired by the communnity trim them) but the winter has been hard on them leaving large areas of brown leaves. Can those areas be trimmed out and will they fill in with greenery? They are about 2.5 ft. square? Thank you for your advice

    • Roger
      9:28 PM, 13 May 2018

      Yes, you can go ahead and prune out those brown branches. Whether those areas fill back in depends on the general health of the plant(s).

      This is a picture of Dwarf Boxwood with sporadic browning. I sent a sample to Rutgers University for analysis. They did find disease, but also attributed the browning to stress factors including winter weather. This was back in 2015, and after pruning out the brown branches the plants have continued to decline. This spring we’ll be replacing them.

  • Mindi
    9:02 AM, 20 May 2018


    I have several boxwoods that are mature and form a very formal scape around the pool of a home we’ve recently purchased and are renovating. There are miniature boxwoods about 10 inches high by 16 inches wide creating a perimeter around the pool (kidney shaped), as well as six “Christmas tree-shaped” ones that create what I call ‘points’ in the landscaping. Disclaimer: I’m a novice in both interior and exterior but took on a lovely/awesome/terrifying/very large DIY renovation (It’s going really well!).
    I’d say generally the house is stuck in a Dallas/Dynasty circa 80’s/early 90’s feel and I’m trying to make it more rustic/modern/mid-century.. Well, the pool looks pretty much the same way. Very formal, very Dallas/Dynasty, and I’d like it to look more tropical.
    Yesterday, I was hacking at one of the Christmas tree ones, currently almost four feet tall down to 18 inches tall, and once I removed the dead limbs in the middle, I was left with a perfect bowl. I lined it with plastic and filled it with flowers. Will the boxwood die? Do you know of others who use boxwood this way, because I’d like trench out the perimeter ones and use them as planters for canna lilies.

    Am I nuts? Don’t answer that. LOL.

    • Roger
      10:36 AM, 20 May 2018

      Without seeing what you’re doing, but understanding your words, I’d not proceed.

      Without listing all the reasons for not doing what you’re doing… First, the boxwood (or any plant for that matter) will not react well to randomly pruning into the branching framework to create a shape “you” desire. And secondly, then adding plastic (or other material) into the plant with potting soil and other plants — plants are just not able to adjust/tolerate that.

      It might be worth getting a knowledgeable and experienced “plant-person” to come to your house, listen to your ideas, and then advise on a horticultural level.

  • Kathy
    4:32 PM, 23 May 2018

    Roger, we planted five boxwoods last summer. We live outside if Milwaukee, Wi. We had a cold wet winter and they turned yellow. There is green growth coming in at the bottom. Should we trim off the yellow?


    • Roger
      9:25 AM, 24 May 2018

      It’s likely that winter damaged growth will not recover. You could give it more time — perhaps into mid-June to see if any new buds/growth appears. And this transition point, i.e. healthy to winter damaged, is where you’ll ultimately make your pruning cuts.

  • Jenny
    4:59 PM, 18 June 2018


    Thank you for this very helpful article. We are renting a property with a mature boxwood hedge. I recently noticed that there are some gaps in the interior of the hedge into which the neighboring ground cover, Asiatic Jasmine, is growing. If the plant is otherwise healthy and growing well, are the gaps most likely due to the fact that the outer foliage was let grow too long the past year or two, such that a good trim and a bit of thinking now and a timely trim in the future will help them heal? Second, should I devote a lot of effort to removing the jasmine from the interior of the boxwood, even if I risk injuring the hedge, or can I just spot-trim the surface and easy-to-reach places? Thank you in advance.

    Jenny in Dallas

    • Roger
      8:28 AM, 19 June 2018

      It’s always a problem when groundcover commingles with the woody plants. It’s hard to say if the Jasmine is contributing to the “gaps” in the boxwood. If the boxwood are generally healthy, the Jasmine is probably not too big an issue. But I would still trim and “pull” what you can of the groundcover so it’s not overtaking the boxwood. I would not use a cultivator or hoe for this as that would likely damage the shallow boxwood roots.

      And I would use trimming and pruning to encourage the boxwood to fill in the gaps.

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