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Boxwood for Fresh Decorations

Break, don’t prune the branches

     Make attractive, long-lasting holiday decorations from boxwood and you’ll be keeping your plants both healthy and good-looking.
     The woody European native here since the mid-17th century is best pruned when near-freezing temperatures make the boxwood branches very brittle.
Before pruning shears were invented, boxwoods were pruned with knives or by snapping the branches. Early English gardeners pruned boxwood during the holiday season, making use of the prunings for decorating. Wearing a heavy leather glove, the pruner reached down into the middle of the plants and sharply bent branches thick as an index finger. Quick bends give clean and nearly flat breaks.
     The gloved method is still your best bet, as boxwood blight, a disease responsible for the loss of many boxwoods in recent years, is easily spread with pruning shears.
     By breaking branches down toward the middle of each plant, you punch holes in the canopy of foliage. This will allow air circulation through the branches and encourage dead leaves to fall to the ground. Allowing damp dead leaves to remain in the crotches of branches can encourage the development of another disease, boxwood canker.
     Boxwoods that are constantly sheared into a dense hedge can also develop cankers because of poor air circulation through the branches.
     If you observe the natural growth of boxwood, you will notice the growth is undulating, especially as the plants approach maturity. By punching holes into the canopy and snapping branches down inside the plant, you will encourage the plants to develop their natural appearance.
     To keep the prunings fresh looking and lasting longer, bring along a plastic pail of warm water and submerge the cuttings as you work. The plastic pail will help keep the water warmer longer than a galvanized pail. The cold prunings will absorb more warm water than cold water. The more water they absorb initially, the longer they will appear freshly cut.
     If you use an Oasis block in making your arrangements, use sharp pruners to make as long a diagonal cut on the stems before inserting them into the saturated block. The long diagonal cut will allow for more water absorption.