Italian boxwood (Buxus semperivirens) was first brought to North America from Europe in the mid-17th century. There are more than 70 varieties of boxwood, but Italian boxwood is known for its dense, small-leafed growing habit that takes well to regular pruning. Because of this, Italian boxwood, also sometimes known as common boxwood, is well-suited for topiary projects. Boxwood grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 8.
A relatively easy shape to cut a boxwood into, rounded shapes and designs are suggested for those new to boxwood pruning or topiary in general. If you have only a single, fully mature boxwood, a larger spherical or oval shape will help create a point of visual interest and a design statement. However, if you have several boxwoods, either scattered throughout your backyard or individually potted, smaller spheres are recommended; if they are too closely spaced, the individual spheres lose some of their visual impact.
Perhaps the most common of boxwood designs, a squared shape for your boxwood requires more general care and preparation. However, once in place, a squared boxwood design makes for an excellent manicured hedge, delineating different areas of your garden for a formal look or as a natural privacy fence. A long row of square-cut boxwoods also makes for a good border along a walkway. As this clean-cut design looks best when its edges are kept pristine, regular pruning of stray branches is required to maintain a tidy and even appearance.
If you are more familiar with boxwood pruning or topiary in general, you may decide to create more whimsical designs with your boxwood. Larger or more complicated designs will require you to have a more mature boxwood to accommodate the size of the desired shape. Possible design options include animal shapes or abstract designs such as a collection of geometrical shapes.
When left unpruned, a boxwood has a naturally bushy growth habit, trending upward. If left unpruned, the individual stems of the boxwood will not be a uniform height, but the appearance of the plant is still striking due to the density of its foliage. If you are looking for a large, densely foliated bush and your landscape design does not suit an overly manicured look, leave your boxwood unpruned for a visually striking bush that is much easier to maintain. This type of “cutting” is well-suited for country-garden style landscaping.
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