Q: On each side of my front door I have four boxwoods. For the past couple of years I have continued to lose shrubs on the right side of my door. At first we thought it was due to improper watering. However, after losing three new plants, my husband started giving the rest extra special care. Now another boxwood has completely turned brown and the leaves have dropped off. What can I do to keep them alive?
A: The key to having happy boxwoods is giving them happy roots. Their roots are sensitive to too much or too little water, but in the right spot they thrive! The ancient ones at Barnsley Gardens have survived there close to one hundred years. Before you plant another one, remove half the soil in the planting hole and replace it with ground pine bark. Mix the bark and soil thoroughly together. Since boxwoods dislike acid soil, stir in a cup of garden lime while you’re at it. After planting, irrigate them every week with one to two gallons of water per foot of plant height.
Boxwood roots are very finely divided and are prone to being burned by chemical fertilizers. Many old-timers swear by feeding them with a one-inch thick layer of cottonseed meal spread under fresh pine straw mulch each spring. The nutrients in the cottonseed meal will slowly become available to the shrubs during the summer.