Why are the boxwood bushes brown? Can the hedge be saved? Should I cut it back?
He looked perplexed, staring down the curved lines of brown shrubs along his driveway. Last year lush green boxwoods outlined my neighbor's entryway. Now Ray's trying to decide whether to rip them out or hurriedly deploy a can of green spray paint before the weekend graduation party.
Mild winters emboldened growers to introduce new varieties of the emerald green beauties, although many had no track record in volatile zones five and
six. Then Mother Nature decided to get brutal in 2014.
Winter burn is desiccation or complete dehydration of plants stripped of all moisture by winter winds and harsh temps. The leaves dry out, turning gold or a pale beige. This is normal on a small scale every year, but in 2014 the extensive damage was unprecedented.
Those shrubs in sheltered areas or buried beneath snow fared the best. But most hedges sustained sectional injury.
The hopeful (or those of us in denial) waited six to eight weeks for the plants will shake it off. By now, if more than half the shrub remains beige to brown, the prospects are not good.
Mild external trimming may clean it up, but if the damage extends inward more than four to six inches, the prognosis is mixed. Separate the branched and peer into the plant. If the burn is isolated on a few branches, cut back to a live "y" junction. Burned limbs will not bounce back so remove them. Boxwoods will fill in if the end result resembles Swiss cheese. Nitrogen based plant supplements will stimulate growth.
Hard cutting back is not a fix. Boxwoods whacked with deep brush cuts will not regenerate sufficient
thickness to achieve their signature appearance of continuity.
Learn from this winter. It's hard to match up replacement shrubs. When planting a new hedge, purchase a few extra shrubs, tucking them away in a sheltered area of the yard. Never know when a relief pitcher is needed. Otherwise, the entire hedge may need replacement or consolidation.
Keep the hedgerow shrubs well hydrated late into the fall to avoid drying out. Discontinue fertilization in mid summer. Tender new growth is most vulnerable. Shovel snow along hedges, being careful not to overload the flat top with weight.
With a little special care and precaution, boxwoods will bounce back.
After all, last winter was an aberration. Right?????!
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