Pruning The Boxwood

boxwood hedgesThe day that Melissa and her crew comes to prune my boxwood is my favorite day of the gardening year. First and foremost, their pruning is extraordinarily true and square. So precise. It takes a while to set up all of the level lines that will serve at a cutting guide. But beyond the string lines is a skill that is astonishing to watch. The coordination between the eye, and a heavy pair of shears held either horizontally or vertically takes strength, patience, experience, and talent. Loads of talent. I so admire their skill, concentration and resolve. Pruning my boxwood takes the better part of a day.

Secondly, that pruning is a natural extension of the intent of the design. The pleasure I derive from my primarily evergreen landscape is a simple one. I like what weather does to the landscape. Weather acting on the landscape changes the look and experience of it, day after day. The sunny days create shadows that highlight the forms. Overcast days emphasize the contrast of the leaf texture with the volume and mass of the shapes. The random leaves falling from the trees in October provide as much fresh interest as a dusting of new snow. Rain makes all of the evergreen surfaces sparkle.

The boxwood is the most formal element of the landscape, as both the placement and pruning is formal. That hand pruning makes all of the forms clear. That snip snip snip goes on all day long. The sound is regular, and musical. The painstakingly trimmed boxwood is a beautiful contrast to the big wild growing hydrangeas. Boxwood left to its own devices has a beautiful and gently shaggy appearance. That look can work well in a variety of circumstances. But I favor a look that is orderly and defined. I find that clean crisp look relaxing. It is the feeling I want, when I am in the garden.

Melissa and her crew take what I have taken great pains to grow, and prune them into distinct shapes. It is amazing how much they grow out in a year’s time. The pruning timing can be tricky.  I do not like to prune before the spring flush is finished. Pruning too early means it will take another round later on to keep them neat. So later in June, in my zone. I also like to prune before the weather gets too hot.  Pruning on a 90 degree day will insure that the tender growth underneath that has been completely shaded will burn in the blazing hot sun. Pruning is a call to grow, so I try not to prune later in the season.  Evergreen plants should begin the shutting down process in August, so when the winter comes, they are completely dormant.

Most of these boxwood are better than 20 years old. Clearly they cheerfully tolerate this type of pruning. Not all evergreens like this.  Yews especially can die out on the interior if they are pruned into densely formal shapes.  They need some air and light to penetrate to the interior.  All of the spreading yews on my property have a natural look to them, for exactly that reason. A healthy plant is a beautiful plant. If I am looking for a hedging yew with a formal shape, I choose a cultivar that grows that way, naturally. Taxus media “Mooni” is a formal grower, and rarely needs much pruning to keep it in shape.

At days end, I still like the composition decades old. And I know that, as Henry Mitchell once wrote, great gardens are the result of the intensive care of the present. The care my landscape gets might easily be more important than the design. Well cared for is always a good look. Mow the grass, pull the weeds, and prune the shrubs.

I drive Milo and I here every day after work. For several years now, I have parked in front, and ushered my dogs up the front steps. Howard needed help going up even a single step. This was the easiest way in for him. I could lift him over the two sets of two steps. He passed away in late May, but Milo and I still enjoy coming home, and walking up to the front door. How this looks after the trim makes me happy to come home.

I do have a secondary entrance to the side garden. Trimmed boxwood hugs the grass ramp up. The design here makes much of the foreground boxwood, the midground hydrangeas, and the far ground container in the side yard. In the background is a glimpse of the Princeton Gold maple trees. This is a good summer look, but it looks good no matter the season. And no matter the weather.

The side yard boxwood is accompanied by an old hedge of thuja nigra, and a stand of Princeton Gold maple trees to the east on the lower level. I like all of the green. From the trees down to the grass. Peaceful, this.

These side yard boxwoods are at least 20 years old. All trimmed up, they do my head, heart and eye a world of good.  The edger strip enclosing the gravel at their base has been in long enough to go wobbly. But the boxwood is as level straight and true as can be.

See what I mean?

Buck, Milo and I come up here every night to talk over the news of the day. This years news? The boxwood has grown out enough to be flush with the raised steel edger strip. It has taken many years to get to this point, but I am loving the look. The big idea? Those simple pleasures in a landscape can mean so much. Simple is good for the three of us. Well maintained makes every garden maker feel better.

As a designer, I take a good bit of time trying to find out what clients want from their landscapes. That is key to providing them a good design. This client has some big boxwood in her future.



  1. Love this, it is so calming and beautiful! All the shades of green working together is gorgeous!

  2. Barbara Vitanza says

    So sorry to hear of the passing of your dog, Howard. I always enjoyed seeing both dogs in pictures. I volunteer at an animal shelter in Somerset, New Jersey and when the time is right I hope you consider adopting a dog from a shelter. From your posts, your home seems like a wonderful and safe place for animals. Your hedges look amazing!!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Barbara, I bought a desk for my office that was long enough for Howard to be comfortable under. It had a privacy panel, so no one could see him. He was shy. It seems odd and wrong that he is not there every day, as he was for so years. But Milo and I have each other, and that is good. best regards, Deborah

  3. Stunning. Just, stunning.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thank you, Joni. As Barbara said, the evergreens ask for just about nothing, and they provide so much to a landscape year round. all the best, Deborah

  4. Marguerite says

    Dear Deborah,
    I am so so sorry for your loss of Howard. While our love for them is forever, our time with our canine family is never long enough. I have no words for this, so am sending a (((Hug)). Your verdant garden is indeed inspiring and peaceful. Looking at your front door from the street, the well maintained boxwood is truly the foundation for your lovely home.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marguerite, no, one never has them long enough. thanks for your letter. best regards, Deborah

  5. Fun to read this. You know I love boxwood from our earlier conversation. I’m outside looking at mine now, thankful for my pruning husband and the rainbow above them. Thanks for sharing.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Megan, I was thinking about the fact that I had a post about boxwood almost written when we met yesterday. Your wish for a magazine called “Boxwood” is an excellent idea! all the best, Deborah

  6. So sad to read of the loss of your sweet Howard. My condolences.

  7. I am sorry to hear about Howard’s passing. I know you and Milo miss him. He would have approved the shearing this year no doubt.
    Everything looks so neat and tidy. I would be a nervous wreck trying to do this job. You are blessed with such a good crew.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, I too would be out of my league with this job. It is physically and mentally exhausting work. Melissa’s company does such a great job of it – I am lucky to have them. I like the neat and tidy part. I find that relaxing. best, Deborah

  8. Shelley Trunnell says

    I’m so sorry to hear of Howard’s passing. I hope you and Milo are doing ok and your heart is healing. Pets are a blessing and leave us too soon but the memories they gift to us are to be cherished forever. Your landscape is beautiful and tranquil and I too would love to come home to it each evening.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Shelley, Milo was devastated by Howard’s death. He was sick with grief. He has always been a talker-a barker. He has not had much to say until recently.When I saw him barking and playing ball with Sunne on the drive the other day, I was so relieved. A dog is an experience of nature like no other. best regards, Deborah

  9. Nella Miller says

    I so loved this post Deborah! I have been adding boxwood to my garden every year, as I can.
    I am driving 4 1/2 hours from Niagara, Sunday morning to attend the Garden Cruise…so looking forward to it! It has been on my list for several years ! I enjoy your blog and posts very much! Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nella, I am very pleased you are coming to our cruise, and I think you will enjoy it. There are some very good gardens on this year-some big and some small and simple. A good variety. I am always home on tour day-I enjoy meeting the people who come. Please be sure to introduce yourself to me. I am looking forward to meeting you. best regards, Deborah

  10. Barbara Moran says

    I, too, have a green landscape. When I look out of my kitchen window, I see shades of green. It is easy on the eyes, and delightful in winter, when it snows. Holly, boxwood, a dwarf white pine, an upright juniper, hemlock, and a leyland cyprus. The single deciduous plant is a large viburnum that for a week in May, is a fabulous focal point. At the very back of my property are two old black locusts, and their witchy-looking branches look wonderful against the sky at dusk. The evergreens add another layer of privacy, while disguising the area where I keep my compost bins and brush pile. This came about without a plan, but as a solution to years of wrangling with my neighbors over my mature deciduous trees. My insulation layer of evergreens does not drop leaves in their yard, nor do they block their sun, or threaten their house and outbuildings during hurricanes.

    In the summer months, when my flower beds need deadheading, weeding, and I have to swap out plants the provided a meal for the rabbits, I congratulate myself for planting those evergreens. They ask nothing of me, and give so much.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Barbara, your letter is terrific-how I enjoyed reading it. My sentiments exactly, so beautifully written. thank you, Deborah

  11. Judith Fisher says

    Thanks for your continuing generosity in sharing garden concepts and designs, particularly with the added gift of information as to species and cultivars. It is so helpful too to know what has worked for you in your more northerly climate (matches my own) given the unpredictable weather these last five years. I especially enjoy the discussions of late that focus upon the proper maintenance and the skill that takes. It is a pleasure to realize that your constant theme is patience and perseverance which, in hindsight, I came to acquire later in life. Correspondingly, my gardens have evolved and become more beautiful with their maturity. Life mirrored in so many ways. Much appreciation for the ongoing inspiration, Deborah.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Judith, thank you so much for your letter. We share a number of things, it seems. all the best, Deborah

  12. Karen Shannon says

    For the past week or so, I have been searching your blogs, almost obsessively, for recent mention of Howard. I have to admit, I’ve been a bit worried. I’m so very sorry to read today of his passing.
    Two of my favorite photos are of him and his brother… in both, Milo is caught full-figure, while just Howard’s paws can be seen from his “summer house”. My very favorite is of him staring straight into your camera lens, holding tight to that rawhide treat. Such a beautiful face… such a handsome boy! I know the three of you are missing him terribly. Tonight, I am, too. My sincere condolences….

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Karen, I love that picture of him too. He would have been 14 on the 4th of July,and he had been ill and in need of help for a long time-but how I miss him. Thank you for your letter. best regards, Deborah

  13. What a peaceful and beautiful home landscape. Would you share the name of the boxwood used and the yearly care given aside from the pruning?
    Very sorry to hear of your loss.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lynn, my boxwood at home is Green Velvet. The recently planted hedge in front of the black steel planted boxes is Green Gem. I plant Green Gem exclusively now, as its resistance to cold and winter burn is superior to bigger leaved varieties. I did actually have my first significant loss/damage just this past winter. I had to replace several plants at the sidewalk.I water when it is dry-that is all the care I provide. Thanks for your letter. best, Deborah


    I agree, well cared for is always a good look. The lawn, shrubs and trees are extraordinary. The cracks and buckled concrete sidewalk at the front entrance to your paradise must make you crazy when you come home.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Janet, to tell you the truth, I have lived with that for so long I don’t see it anymore. My house is 89 years old-and I would guess the sidewalks are about that old too. The maples that were planted in the tree lawn are most likely responsible for that. all the best, Deborah

  15. lisa naro says

    Oooh, this was a fun post! I love trimming my boxwoods! I have a glorious pair of shears that I guard with my life. The clean, clear, crisp ‘snip’ that it makes as it slices thru the boxwood so precisely is music to my ears. During a bright moon a few weeks back, as I was waiting outdoors around midnight for my cat Cheddar to return home, I picked up my shears and clipped a few straggled strands that I noticed by the moon’s light! The time goes by so quickly as I snip away!

  16. Rob Beebe says

    Howard was, of course, admired by everyone. A very stately and dignified little fellow who we all have been missing.
    I loved reading about the pleasure of Melissa’s arrival for pruning day. There are none better than Melissa and her crew, who have kept my garden and “the boxies” so wonderfully ordered for over a decade – not anywhere that I have seen in all of my travels.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Rob, thank you for your kind words. Stately and dignified, yes he was. Heart wrenching to lose him. Melissa’s group is incredibly skilled and thorough. So lucky to have them. best regards, Deborah

  17. Jennifer Taylor says

    Dear Deborah,

    My heart goes out to you and Buck and Milo, for the loss of your dear Howard. I know that you all miss him terribly. Thank you for this wonderful post. I am so happy to revisit your beautiful garden through your words and photos, especially since I can’t be there in person for the Garden Cruise. All my best to you, Jennifer

  18. Dear Deborah,
    So very sorry to read that Howard passed. He was a wonderful, sweet companion and to you and Milo. We send our deepest sympathies.
    XOX, Gerry and Silvia

    Looking forward to seeing you this Sunday and enjoying your Garden Cruise. best, Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Silvia, thanks for writing. It looks to be a great cruise-with the weather at 78 degrees. So happy about that!!

  19. vikki cox says

    I always envision my mini-estate, formal with boxwoods, and wonderful zinc containers with elevated boxwoods. Your format was my boxwood dream on steroids! Being the trimmer, I am very limited with enough strength of my dreams, but the walk-thru yesterday reinforced my eternal appreciation of the boxwood. I am learning about delaying the first trim, and avoiding a trim in the heat, and the needed dormancy of winter. Thank You.
    Question: how and when to remove a dead boxwood from a line of its members?
    Also loved the fox gracing a woody wreath in your back viewing area.

  20. Mark Ross says

    Do you have a national supplier for the larger boxwood? I’m in western PA and it’s near impossible to find anything larger than a boxwood the size of a basketball at any grower or garden center. I have some additional topiary designs in mind but they require more mature boxwoods.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mark, I am not familiar with your area, perhaps a request at a good sized nursery for a special order would be a way to go. Large material is indeed very scarce. best regards, Deborah

  21. cynthia woodyard says

    Deborah, which kind of boxwood are we looking at here? We in Oregon, use a lot of B. sempervirens which tolerates pruning, but fine with time we have to clean out the center, lighten the outer canopy to let light in to remain healthy. We’ve pretty much given up on B. suffruticosa as it has become susceptible to fungus, etc.

    Thank you for you wonderfully informative posts!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cynthia, buxus sempervirens is not hardy here. My boxwood at home is Green Velvet. I planted them 20 years ago.I rarely plant them now, as they will burn in a bad winter. I lost 2 of mine this year for the first time ever. I usually plant Green Gem for clients. It has a smaller leaf, and seems to be indestructible – Michigan winter proof. best, Deborah

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