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smokey847 05-17-2013 01:49 PM

Reviving 100 Year Old Boxwoods
I attend a small white church over 200 years old. The building has two massive boxwoods flanking the front steps that have been mis-cared for. The board of trustees are talking getting the whole place re-landscaped, and I was just curious to see if anyone knew of any measures we could take to get the boxwoods started again and back to health. As you can see, the one on the left is so-so--could stand cleaning up and pruning. The one on the right, however, is almost dead. Suggestions please!

user1007 05-17-2013 01:57 PM

They have been surfaced pruned for most of their life rather than thinned out at all so sun could get to, and encourage inner growth. And now, there is no real branch structure to support it anyhow. Sad, but I think you will best off taking them out and planting new ones.

Even if they did respond to some horticultural, rather than cosmetic, pruning it will take as long or longer to get them looking nice as it will to establish new ones. And new ones will be healthier.

You could rescue cuttings from the old boxwoods as a Sunday school project and sell them to raise money for summer bible school or outreach project if they have some special significance. Donate the established cutting to a Habitat for Humanity project?

I am almost certain your landscape designer will suggest axing them too.

smokey847 05-17-2013 04:11 PM


I feared that would be the best route--thanks for the info anyway. I like the idea of propagating some cuttings to, perhaps, plant in another location at the church. Thanks for the recommendation! I wonder how long we could expect a new plant to reach the size of these old ones? As you can see, it's quite a large bed and I wonder if we would be better off to plant a number of shrubs rather than the single boxwoods.

Enjoy your weekend.

user1007 05-17-2013 05:06 PM

Overplanting to make little plants look like a big one is usually not a good idea. As they mature into the full size shrubs they were meant to be, you have to start sacrificing some. And they just steal nutrients and energy from each other in the meantime.

Plant stock comes in all sizes and what you pick will depend largely on your budget. You should be able to get one gallon container stock fairly inexpensive. You can, of course, buy established and sculpted---ala Edward Scissorhands---topiaries for $$$.

Make sure you plant the new plants the radius of their mature height from structures plus clearance so you can get around them. They may look goofy to start but will fill in and be easier to maintain later.

Many real---not boxstore---nurseries have landscape designers on staff and they often work for no fee to you if you buy nursery stock. You might see if one is availed you.

Xeriscaping is becoming very popular for lots of reasons. Think about how much turf and other high maintenance landscape elements you need. Climate change is real and droughts are to be part of our regular life along with water rationing and resulting dead looking lawns. Why not plant something else more tolerant and adaptive?

Finally, factor in what will be spent in time and money on maintenance and design around those numbers. Disneyland does beautiful landscaping and colorscaping but they have an army to maintain it all.

And this has served me well through the years. I hope your group can resist the temptation: "Nobody builds monuments commemorating the work of committees!" Especially those volunteer. Let a committee approve an overall direction and budget and then let one person navigate the landscaping. Then give him/her cover by starting a rumor the contents of the hymnal are to be changed. The person will be left alone as that hunt begins.

TarheelTerp 05-17-2013 07:18 PM

In James Michener's wonderful book Chesapeake (get it!) there is a section where the "Lady of the Manor" writes to her heirs about her home and gardens describing her design, intent and among other things her wishes for the future.

The most emphatic of these was the admonishment: "No Box"
I think I was in my teens when I first read that and it has stuck.

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