THE MODERN MINT BLOG
When to prune boxwood? A question I get asked at just about every talk I ever give!
So below I will explain when to do it, from the traditional time (put this in your diary for a simple life) through to what I believe is the best time to prune your boxwood.
Do note all boxwood pruning times I talk about cover boxwood in any form – from topiary, to hedges whether large or small and around your vegetable patch, and even for boxwood trees.
This photo is from years ago, but I actually worked on this hedge again last week (early March 2020).
Now read on to discover the best time to prune your boxwood…
When To Prune Your Boxwood – The Traditional Answer
The traditional time to prune your boxwood is on Derby Day, around the start of June.
I believe that was because all the Lords and Ladies went wandering off to the races for the day, giving the gardeners and anyone else on the staff who was handy with a pair of shears or snips the chance to go at the boxwood parterres and all the other boxwood plants in the garden.
By the end of a long day, all the box is pruned and looking sharp, the garden is tidy and the Lords and Ladies (drunk on champagne?) could return home and, with a lazy wave of a hand towards the garden, breathe out a contented, cigar stinking sigh and say “I love being rich.”
Then they could pick up an old, age-hardened stick of blackthorn and go find some peasant to beat with it, just for the pure larks…. or something…
I guess that is how they would have behaved, anyway.
I have worked for quite a few Lords and Ladies, making and maintaining their topiary, and they have not (always) been like that. But it does feel like that is how they would be, right….?
Quaff quaff, puff puff….
So I Have To Prune Boxwood In Early June Then?
Uhmm, no, not really.
Pruning on Derby Day is just the traditional day. The big problem with this tradition is that boxwood has two growth spurts through the year – once from April to the end of June, then a slower, smaller growth spurt from July to September (depending on the weather and how encouraging the weather is for growth.)
So if you prune in early June, it will start growing again within the month and then you have to do it all again to keep it looking smart and tidy for winter. Should you choose to keep it looking smart and tidy for winter.
You create twice the work for yourself. And quite frankly, life is too short for that.
- Prune boxwood once.
- Prune boxwood well.
- Go get a gin and tonic.
How is that not a tradition yet?
So I Recommend You Prune Boxwood…
If you decide Derby Day is the daftest day to prune boxwood, then here is my recommendation for you:
Any month with an ‘R’ in.
And that includes ‘Jurly’ and ‘Argust’.
What I’m trying to say is, prune your boxwood when you have a pair of shears in your hand. When you have the time to do it with patience and joy. When you have a chance to do it well.
Because that is the key to all topiary making. Do it well when you do it. And if you get your timing right, by doing it later in the year after the growth has finished, you only have to do it once. Which makes sense to me.
I have been doing a lot of boxwood pruning in January and February in recent years.
This means you don’t get any leaf scorch on the boxwood plants, because the sun won’t burn the newly exposed leaves left after pruning. It also seems to reduce the spread of things like rust, because conditions are colder and so less conducive to the spread of disease.
Another advantage of winter pruning is that there is less to do elsewhere in the garden, meaning I have more time to make it look good.
So I Should Prune Boxwood When I Can?
Absolutely. Prune boxwood at anytime, absolutely anytime you have the energy to do it.
Don’t stress too much over when to prune this plant – it is a brilliant plant to prune and can take a huge amount of clipping.
The real problem with boxwood is not when to prune, but the boxwood caterpillar. So keep an eye out for that, especially from April when the caterpillar begins to munch the leaves.
And of course, if you need more than this handy blog post, you can always ask me for help when it comes time to prune your boxwood. I love doing it.
Brought By Bike is an excellent website I found last month, where businesses offer their services by (of course) bicycle. Modern Mint and my topiary work is now live on the site offering my topiary services, via bike, to the following two postcodes – CM1 CM2 Now I can imagine I will need to borrow a ladder should anyone have a larger shrub, but most town gardens in the Chelmsford area have a need not just for privacy but to let light into the house… so a balance must be struck when shaping hedges and shrubs to cover both needs. …
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …