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A Burning Boxwood Question


About This Episode

The Grumpy Gardener addresses a reader’s question about a browning boxwood. Plus, Grumpy’s tips on how to prevent the dreaded boxwood blight.

Question Of The Week

“We have American boxwoods that were severely damaged by the winter freeze in Tennessee. Most of the foliage is brown. Should we cut them back drastically to promote new growth?”

Grumpy’s Answer

Okay. I’m going to say no. I’m going to say be patient. Underneath all that brown foliage, there may still be live twigs and branches, so if you immediately go and hack the thing back you lose all that and you lose any chance of it actually recovering and looking at the size and shape it was before. So just give it a couple of weeks to see if any new green leaves start sprouting out from that boxwood. If after that time, nothing happens, then those branches’ new leaves are dead and you can prune.

Lush green shrub foliage in bright sunlight.

Tip Of The Day: Know What’s Killing Your Boxwood

When it comes to boxwoods, there are two kinds of people. People who love boxwoods and people who hate boxwoods. Now, the boxwood haters hate them because they’re planted everywhere. They’re very, very common and a lot of those people think that they’re just boring, round meatballs. Now, the boxwood lovers love boxwood because they’re evergreen, they have a nice, rounded shape, they’re good for planting around a foundation, or edging a formal garden and they grow slowly, so you don’t have to be out there every Tuesday, trimming them.

So, whether you love them, if you do, they’ve been having a problem with a lot of boxwoods lately, and this is a disease that has shown up and spread quite wildly. It’s called boxwood blight. It hits two most commonly planted kinds of boxwood, which is American boxwood and dwarf English boxwood. And the signs of this are that you’ll start to see brown spots forming on the leaf, and then it will slowly spread until it’s covering a patch, and you’ll see a patch of brown foliage on the plant. And all that foliage and those twigs will die and you’ll have a big hole in the middle of this nice, trimmed shrub of yours and it’ll ruin the appearance. And then if you don’t do anything, eventually it spreads to the rest of the shrub. The funny thing, it only kills the top, it doesn’t kill the roots, but who plants boxwoods to see the roots, right?

So, if you want to prevent getting boxwood blight on your boxwoods, there’s a couple good things that you can do:

  1. Make sure that your boxwoods are nice and healthy, they get enough water, the drainage is good, because plants that are under stress are naturally more disease-prone. 
  2. Don’t prune boxwoods when they’re wet because if you have disease spores on a boxwood and the foliage is wet, you can easily spread it from one part of the plant to another. 
  3. And then if you’re worried about your boxwoods getting this, you can spray them in the spring and early summer with a fungicide called Daconil, D-A-C-O-N-I-L, to help control the disease. so, those are some things you can do.

But what’s really exciting is they’ve come up with a new series of boxwoods called BetterBoxwoods and they are resistant to the blight, so you don’t have to spray or anything. They’re now, should be out at your garden centers, so look for things called Better Boxwoods. There’s four different selections that they have with various sizes and shapes. There’s a little dwarf one, there’s a normal, rounded one and there’s one that grows kinda tall and upright. But when you plant these things, you can plant them with confidence, knowing that they’re not gonna turn brown and die on you.

Lush green shrubbery bathed in sunlight.

About Ask Grumpy 

Ask Grumpy is a podcast featuring Steve Bender, also known as Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener. For more than 20 years, Grumpy has been sharing advice on what to grow, when to plant, and how to manage just about anything in your garden. Tune in for short episodes every Wednesday and Saturday as Grumpy answers reader questions, solves seasonal conundrums, and provides need-to-know advice for gardeners with his very Grumpy sense of humor. Be sure to follow Ask Grumpy on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you listen so you don’t miss an episode.

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors.