Tips for Growing and Pruning your Boxwood Topiary

A boxwood topiary has an elegant and sophisticated look. Most of us associate boxwood topiaries with formal classical gardens, but these plants have a wider appeal.

After all, they are low-maintenance plants that are easy to grow and keep their shape. Placed in strategic locations in your outdoor landscaping as part of a stunning front door design, they also increase your home’s curb appeal.

What is a Boxwood Topiary?

Boxwood TopiaryView in gallery

A boxwood topiary is an evergreen broadleaf shrub with dark to medium green small round or oval leaves that grow in close formation along woody stems. These shrubs are a particular favorite with home improvement guru, Martha Stewart. She prizes them for their shape, fragrance, deer resistance, and long lives.

Topiaries are plants that gardeners have trimmed into defined shapes and then maintained over the years. Gardeners have utilized boxwoods for topiaries because they are slow growing and have a uniform leaf pattern.

Boxwood Topiary Types

There are three main types of boxwood topiaries. Live boxwood topiary must be planted in soil and watered to stay alive. Live topiaries will grow, so you need to maintain the shape by trimming the growth.

Preserved boxwood topiary is live stems that have been treated to maintain their look. You do not need to plant or water the preserved topiaries, but you should keep them out of direct sunlight. This will preserve their color.

The dense shape and style of boxwood allows manufacturers to create real-looking faux boxwood topiary. You can use artificial boxwood topiary inside as well as outdoors year round. These faux plants will collect dust and should be cleaned to preserve their sharp look.

Common Topiary Shapes

  • Boxwood Topiary Balls – Gardeners fashion topiary globes in single, double, and triple ball forms.
  • Boxwood Cone Topiary – Boxwood cone topiaries are trees trimmed in the shape of an upside down ice cream cone.
  • Boxwood Spiral Topiary – Spiral boxwood topiary is a tall tree that has been trimmed into a continuous spiral form.
  • Boxwood Obelisk Topiary – An obelisk is similar to a cone shape but with four flat planes that get wider from the top of the tree to the base.

Live Boxwood Topiary Care Details

Botanical nameBuxus
LightEarly hours of direct sun, dappled shade, full shade for some varieties
WaterWater new plants once a week, taper as plants mature
FertilizerAll purpose plant food at the beginning of the growing season
PestsLeafminers, psyllid, boxwood mites, scales, tree moths
DiseasesBoxwood blight, root rot, Volutella stem blight, leaf spot
SoilMoist, well-draining loamy soil
Climate ZonesHardy in Zones 5-9, though some varieties are grow in Zone 4
SizeMost boxwood varieties grow between 2-10 feet tall
FoliageDense small oval or round dark to light green leaves
FlowersToxic for small animals

Live Boxwood Topiary Needs

Boxwood topiary plants are low maintenance, but they thrive best in certain conditions.


Light Needs

Boxwoods are adaptable plants that work well in a variety of light conditions. The best light conditions for boxwoods are direct sunlight in the morning with dappled shade during the hottest part of the day.


Water Needs

Boxwoods thrive with deep waterings once to twice a week. If topiaries are in pots, they need to be watered more often. Make sure the roots do not sit in water as this can cause root rot. You can avoid this with well-draining soil and a pot with good drainage holes.


Soil Conditions

Whether you plant your boxwood topiary in your garden landscape or in pots, remember to use well-draining loamy soil. Use organic mulch around the base of the roots to keep water from pooling around the roots. Make sure that your soil is neutral with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.


Atmospheric Conditions

Boxwoods thrive in moderate climates. In very hot climates, plant boxwood topiaries in dappled light. In climates with extreme weather, protect boxwood topiaries from harsh wind and snow. Place potted topiaries in a covered area like a shed or behind a tall wall.


Fertilizer

Use an all purpose fertilizer once at the beginning of the growing season in the spring. The boxwood topiaries develop yellow leaves. This is an indication that they are deficient in nitrogen. 

Your soil may not have the required nutrients that boxwoods need. You will need to enhance the soil with fertilizer more often. You can also use organic fertilizers like compost to supplement the soil and protect the shallow roots as commercial fertilizer can burn them.


Pests and Diseases

Leafminers are a common pest for some varieties of boxwood plants. If you see blistering and discoloration on the leaves, try to reduce the population of leafminers by pruning. Spider mite eggs attach to the bottom side of boxwood leaves in the winter and hatch around May. Treat with horticultural oil. Apply this to combat psyllids as well.

Root rot is a common disease for boxwoods. Avoid this by not allowing standing water around the roots of boxwoods and mulching in clay based soils. If you notice stem blight, remove dead branches as soon as possible. Do not put them in compost, but burn them or throw them away. According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, an effective fungicide for blight is chlorothalonil or chlorothalonil mixed with thiophanate methyl.


Pruning

Boxwoods are slow growing which makes them ideal for topiary shapes. They grow up to 6 inches or less a year. Trim your topiaries 2-3 times a year to maintain a tight shape or less often for a freer form. Prune in the spring to encourage growth. Avoid pruning in the winter to avoid the bare branches being damaged by the cold. 

Use a tool like sharp clipping shears to cut off any long or ragged growth to improve the shape of the topiary. Do not use tools with long blades as these will not allow you the fine cut movement necessary for trimming topiaries. Before you begin, disinfect the shears with a solution of 70%-100% alcohol.


Pots for Your Topiary

Choosing the right pot for your boxwood topiary is important to maintain a thriving plant. The pot should be at least as wide and tall as the topiary’s root ball. It also needs adequate drainage holes to avoid root rot.

Terracotta pots are a classic choice for topiaries, but make sure the plants have adequate water as terracotta dries out. Lightweight pots are another option, but make sure that the topiaries are not top heavy or they will tip over in strong wind.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What plants look the best with boxwood topiaries?

Choose romantic styles like hydrangeas and roses to create a classic English garden look. Monrovia also recommends spirea, lilac, coneflowers, and Maidengrass as good companion plants.

Where do boxwood topiaries look best?

Boxwood topiaries look beautiful in landscape design, lining a patio, or to welcome guests and neighbors at your entrance.

Where can I find boxwood topiaries for sale?

You can find live boxwood topiaries for sale at garden nurseries and DIY stores like Home Depot and Lowes. Find artificial boxwood topiaries on large home websites like Wayfair and Amazon or more specific sellers like Nearly Natural. Preserved boxwood topiaries are more expensive than most artificial varieties. Large home decor stores like Ballard Designs and Pottery Barn sell preserved plants. Etsy has smaller providers that sell preserved boxwood topiaries.

Conclusion

Boxwood topiaries are one of the most interesting and elegant forms that you can use in your garden or around your home.

Use artificial or preserved boxwood topiaries inside your home to provide more depth and color.

Add live boxwood topiaries to your front porch or patio. Use them in ornate pots by themselves to create a classical look. You can also pair them with cascading plants like variegated English ivy petunias to soften their formal style. These easy maintenance plants will reward your patient cultivation and care for countless years to come.