This is the best manual for teaching you how to grow and take care of boxwood.
The boxwood shrub is ideal if you’re looking for a plant that’s great for topiaries, great for hedges, and even attractive when left untrimmed.
One of the most popular and widely grown broadleaf evergreen shrubs, boxwood is available in a wide range of shapes and sizes. They can provide a low-maintenance source of lush green beauty in the landscape if planted properly. Because they can withstand harsh and repeated pruning, it is one of the shrubs most frequently chosen for hedges and topiary, but it can also serve as a specimen plant in your landscaping plans. Boxwoods are frequently used for both indoor and outdoor holiday decorating.
Learn how to grow this lovely shrub with gorgeous year-round appeal by reading on.
Table of Contents
What is the Boxwood Shrub?
In traditional landscape designs all over the world, boxwood is a plant that is used.
In most cases, depending on the species and cultivar, it matures at a height of 10 to 15 feet.
But because it can be pruned so easily, it can be grown as a small tree or a wide-spreading shrub. It produces thick, evergreen foliage, usually with dark-green leaves on top and yellow-green underneath.
There are several species that are popular among gardeners, including the common or American boxwood (B. sempervirens), of which the English type is a variant, and the littleleaf or Japanese boxwood (B. microphylla), of which the A variant is Korean type.
As their common names suggest, B. sempervirens is what you will see growing most commonly in the US, while B. microphylla has notably smaller leaves and a smaller stature to match, generally only reaching a mature size of four feet by four feet.
This makes cultivars of B. microphylla a good option for gardeners with limited space. In the section below on cultivars, we’ll discuss a few recommended varieties of both species.
Less than 12 inches of growth are added annually by both species, which have slow growth. American boxwood is frequently preferable for northern growers who live in areas with cold winters because it tends to be more cold-tolerant than Japanese boxwood.
Curious about the term “boxwood?” The name comes from the fact that the wood from these shrubs is suitable for turning and carving, which is a very straightforward explanation.
It is frequently employed in the production of small specialty items like rulers, musical instruments, and chess pieces. Quite literally, the name of the genus – Buxus – simply means “box” in Latin.
In the spring, boxwood shrubs produce tiny, yellow-green flowers, but they are rarely noticeable.
Additionally, they produce tiny fruits with tiny seeds. Although these are appealing to birds, most gardeners don’t find them to be particularly compelling.
Instead of ornamental purposes, these shrubs are typically grown for their glossy, year-round green foliage.
Cultivation and History
Western and southern Europe, parts of Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean are all native habitats for boxwoods.
As stated above, though other species are grown in gardens in other parts of the world, it’s B. microphylla and B. sempervirens that are most commonly cultivated in the United States, as they do not require tropical growing environments to thrive.
The cultivation of these plants dates back many years. Ancient Egyptians planted boxwoods in their gardens and trimmed them down into formal hedges as far back as 4000 BC.
And members of other cultures used the wood for making musical instruments, rulers, and other small objects for which larger types of shrubs and trees were not appropriate.
B. microphylla has been cultivated in Japan since the fourteenth century. Uncertain which specific species may have been used, it is thought to be the product of hybridization between other species in the garden.
B. sempervirens was first introduced into the US in the 1600s after being transported to Long Island, New York, by Anglo-Dutch merchants from Amsterdam.
With its history of use in treating rheumatism, epilepsy, toothaches, and fevers, particularly in its native range in Asia and the Americas, boxwood is unique in that it is an evergreen species.
Interested in learning how to grow these bushes in your backyard? To learn more, continue reading.
A boxwood shrub can be grown from seed, a cutting, or a transplant that has already been started. The three techniques are discussed below.
Although starting from seed is possible, a transplant is by far the simplest option for a beginner gardener.
Both starting these shrubs from seed and rerooting a cutting require some time, but if you’re willing to try them, they can be enjoyable projects!
In order to germinate your seeds, you must first purchase a soilless mix. Plants grown from seed are generally less uniform than those grown from cuttings, and you’ll need to first cold-stratify the seed.
This entails subjecting the seeds to extremely cold temperatures for one to two months.
You can accomplish this by scratching the seeds’ coating with a piece of sandpaper. Soak them overnight in warm water, then drain the seeds and place them in a plastic bag filled with damp peat moss.
Depending on the species, refrigerate them for four to eight weeks at 33 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit, taking care to keep them from drying out completely or becoming waterlogged.
After they have been cold-stratified, you can plant them about 1/16 of an inch deep in a sizable flat of moist seed-starting mixture. Planting distance should be three inches or less.
To create a greenhouse effect, wrap the container in plastic wrap, and periodically mist the soil’s surface with a spray bottle to maintain moisture levels.
Boxwood seeds can take up to six months to germinate.
If you start them indoors towards the end of spring, or in a warm location like under a cold frame or in a greenhouse, plan to care for them there through their first winter.
The following year, late spring, is when they can be planted outside.
When the seedlings appear, you can remove the plastic wrap and place them under grow lights.
You can also put the seedlings next to a sunny window, but a grow light will provide more consistent light and help prevent them from becoming “leggy” as they reach for the light.
Every day, water the soil to keep it moist but not soggy.
The strongest seedlings can be transplanted into individual pots that are roughly six inches wider than each plant’s root ball when they are about four inches tall.
Boxwood shrubs are frequently grown from cuttings. It’s still a simpler option than starting your plants from seed, even though it’s not as straightforward as planting seedlings or small shrubs from the nursery.
You’ll need to get a cutting first in order to do this. The best time to do this is typically some time in the late summer to early fall.
Select a robust, disease-free branch after the spring growth has had time to harden up.
Cut a piece of cloth between four and six inches long. The bottom half of the stem should be stripped of its leaves before being dipped in powdered rooting hormone for half an inch.
In a potting solution made of equal parts compost and sand, plant your cuttings about two inches deep. To maintain the plant’s balance and uprightness, use a pencil or stick.
The container you use should be at least four to six inches wide and equally deep.
Following that, position your cutting in a warm, well-lit area. Maintain the soil at a constant moisture level and mist the foliage once or twice daily with a spray bottle to keep it hydrated.
Verify whether your cuttings have developed roots after four weeks. There are various ways to figure this out. In most cases, roots are likely to be present if the cutting hasn’t already wilted and died by this point.
If you can gently tug on the cutting and it sticks, the roots are strong. You have roots if it continues to be firmly embedded in the ground.
Approximately two weeks later, if that’s the case, you can transplant them into bigger containers. Springtime is a good time to transplant outside.
From Seedlings Or Transplanting
Planting a seedling or nursery transplant is, of course, the quickest and most straightforward way to grow a boxwood shrub.
Boxwood shrubs can grow in almost any lighting situation, tolerating everything from deep shade to direct sunlight. A blend of the two is best, ideally in a location that provides dappled sunlight or light shade with a few hours of morning or early afternoon sun.
In general, plants grown in full shade are less vigorous, while those grown in full sun are more prone to leaf scorch.
Utilizing the container the transplant came in as a reference, dig a hole that is twice as wide and as deep as the root ball.
The plant should be taken out of the pot after its roots have been gently released. Place it there after until the root ball is visible above ground level, which should be about two inches.
Boxwoods root shallowly and should not be planted too deeply; the top eighth of the root ball needs to be set above the soil level.
Water your plant well after planting to aid in the establishment of healthy roots. Include two to three inches of organic mulch to help the roots stay cool and save water.
When to Plant Boxwoods
To ensure a strong foundation before winter, planting shrubs is best done in the spring or summer. The best time to plant is in the spring because extreme weather conditions like heat or drought can put new plants under unnecessary stress as they adapt to their new environment. In the spring, your neighborhood nursery is also likely to have the best selection of boxwoods; however, ask the manager if they’ll be receiving an additional shipment, which might result in a better selection.
Where to Plant Boxwoods
Picking a suitable location for boxwoods is crucial. They require good drainage soil and at least five to six hours of direct sunlight each day. One issue with boxwoods that occasionally bothers gardeners is the yellowing or discoloration of some leaves or sections. There may be a number of causes, but the lack of even sunlight exposure to the shrub is typically one of them. Larger boxwoods are not the best choice for foundation planting because they should not be planted next to your house. Boxwoods that are smaller will be less susceptible to this problem.
Before Getting Started
Make a list of your requirements and preferences before buying your boxwood shrubs. Do you want compact, rounded shrubs that require the least amount of pruning? Do you intend to grow a hedge using boxwoods? If so, get small ones and space them about a foot apart. Do you want larger boxwoods to be foundation plants or showpieces? Check the label’s mature size expectations and do some research on the various varieties to decide which is best for your growing zone. Even though some boxwoods can reach very tall heights, home gardeners today are most likely to find the smaller, more compact hybrids.
What You’ll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Utility knife
- Pruning saw (if needed)
- Spade or trowel
- Boxwood shrub
- Manure and peat moss (if needed)
- Prepare the Boxwood You’ll need to cut the burlap off and check to see if the roots are not root-bound if your nursery sells shrubs that are balled up in the burlap. Avoid severing any of the larger pieces when using a pruning saw to gently loosen them if they are root-bound and make some space between the roots.
- Dig the Hole Dig a hole with a minimum additional circumference and depth of 6 inches. In order to improve drainage, you’ll also need to add some quality topsoil, and if your soil is primarily clay, some manure and peat moss as well.
- Prepare the Hole First, fill the hole with water until it is about 1/4 full. The planting medium (your soil, manure, and peat moss mixture) should then be added in a few inches.
- Place the Shrub Place the shrub into the hole with care, holding it upright while you fill in the sides with more soil to help it stay in place. Check the shrub from a distance to ensure it is upright and at the proper depth (the soil should be raised to the point where the roots start to spread out).
- Tamp Down the Soil and Water the Boxwood Use the back of a spade or a trowel to gently but firmly compact the soil around the boxwood once it has been planted. again from the top, water. Don’t overwater it, but give it a good soak. Additionally, for the first two weeks and if the weather becomes too dry, it’s a good idea to water frequently (every day for the first three days, then every other day).
Growing Boxwoods in Containers
Boxwoods can be grown successfully in containers, but make sure to pick one that will give the root system plenty of room. It is best to only grow boxwoods of smaller sizes in containers. Use as much peat moss and manure as you would for planting in beds, along with a lot of well-draining garden soil. Regularly water them because container plantings dry out more quickly than plantings in beds. Any evergreen shrub grown in a container is potentially dangerous in the winter, and your boxwoods may be susceptible to frozen root systems. In case of freezing temperatures, you can move them to a slightly warmer, protected space (like a sunporch or garage).
Pruning and Maintenance
To promote branch growth and keep the desired shape, these shrubs should be pruned.
Pruning is best done in the early winter. Cutting off no more than a third of the plant at a time, prune sparingly.
If more extensive pruning is required—for instance, if your plant has a disease—start by removing large branches from just one side of the plant, and then take care of the other half the following year.
By doing this, you’ll avoid overstressing the plant at a time when it’s already attempting to recover from another incident or condition.
Additionally, you can thin your boxwood bushes to increase airflow. Any time the temperature is above freezing, this should be carried out once a year.
For the majority of plants, mulching is a wise idea. Adding about one to two inches of organic mulch, like pine needles, composted leaves, or pine bark, out to the drip line will help keep the soil moist and fertile.
To prevent rot, just keep mulch away from the stems.
Species and Cultivars to Select
Remember that your growing zone will influence your choice the most when looking for boxwood species and cultivars.
Here are the top two most popular species, with corresponding recommended variants where applicable, and cultivars to choose as well:
The American boxwood, B. sempervirens, is the most common species found in the The term “common boxwood” is frequently used to describe it in the United States.
When untrimmed, it can reach heights of five feet and a width of four feet, giving it a somewhat squat appearance. It is frequently used in hedges.
Light trimming, however, can be used to shape it while it is dormant in the winter. Zones 5-8 are suitable for growing this species.
The English boxwood cultivar, also known as “Suffruticosa,” was one particular variety that was grown for the first time in America in the 1700s.
It only adds about an inch of growth per year and matures at a height of three feet. Because of its slow growth, it rarely needs to be pruned.
This type, which has a cloud-like habit, is resilient in Zones 5-8.
‘Calgary is a lovely alternative with a manageable habit. Additionally, it is resilient in Zones 3-9. It can withstand both summer heat and humidity as well as freezing temperatures.
There are a few variations of this type, and breeders may decide to describe them in a variety of ways on plant labels because they differ from the common species in terms of both overall stature and leaf size.
B. microphylla var. koreana, aka A good choice for northern growers, Korean boxwood is a littleleaf variety that grows well in Zones 4 through 9.
When fully grown, it has a compact form, is between two and three feet tall, and when its foliage is yellowish green, it is between four and six feet wide.
Unsure of the best cultivar to select? Wintergreen is your only option.’
This dwarf cultivar is incredibly adaptable: It can be sheared into precise shapes and is a preferred option for foundations and formal gardens.
Japanese boxwood is another common type and is closely related to the Korean variety as well as being a member of the same species.
There are a few different cultivars of B. microphylla var. japonica available to home gardeners, but ‘One of the most well-liked is “Winter Gem.”
It serves as a more modest substitute for English boxwood and develops in a compact manner, typically only growing to a height of two to three feet.
This variety, which can withstand heavy pruning and is hardy in Zones 5–9, has deep green foliage.
Managing Pests and Disease
Boxwood is a simple plant to grow and doesn’t have many pest or disease problems to be concerned about. With simple care, the majority can be avoided.
Boxwood shrubs are known to be afflicted by a number of insect pests, many of which are unique to this species.
The boxwood leafminer (Monarthropalpus flavus) is the most dangerous pest that may threaten the health of this plant. It may result in blistered, discolored foliage and cause significant harm.
Technically a small fly, this pest can be controlled by planting resistant varieties, including most using an insecticide, or Japanese types.
Eurytetranychus buxi is technically a spider mite. It produces yellow and white spots by feeding on the underside of leaves.
It usually attacks B. sempervirens, with littleleaf types generally being less susceptible. Utilizing excessive amounts of fertilizer with a high nitrogen content can lead to more mite infestations, so exercise caution.
If they do appear, get rid of them with a harsh blast from the hose or use horticultural oil.
Cacopsylla buxi, sometimes referred to as Psylla buxi, is less serious than the two aforementioned insects, but it can cause cosmetic damage to your plant – like poor twig growth and leaf cupping.
It usually targets American boxwoods, wreaking havoc in the spring after spending the winter in the soil. The only way to get rid of it is with insecticides.
Insecticidal soap or a strong hose blast will effectively get rid of mealybugs, a number of species in the Pseudococcidae family that are difficult to control.
Not only can they weaken your boxwood plants by draining them of their energy reserves as they eat, mealybugs also excrete honeydew, a substance that attracts ants, and can lead to sooty mold.
Nematodes of various species will attack boxwood plants, and they can result in stunted growth.
To prevent them from impacting the health of your plants, grow resistant varieties like B. sempervirens and be consistent with care by watering, mulching, and fertilizing on a regular basis.
Your boxwood shrubs may be infested by a variety of scale species, sucking insects in the Coccoidea family that can leave unsightly leaf scarring.
When you remove the pests from your plants, you will notice green scars that are permanent in their place. The pests have the appearance of tiny white bumps.
Fortunately, aside from minor cosmetic damage, this pest rarely kills plants or has any lasting effects. You can prune the affected areas of your plants if they have an infestation.
Most diseases of plants in the Buxus genus can also be prevented and addressed by following good watering and garden hygiene practices.
Here are some of the most common culprits:
Boxwood blight is caused by the fungal pathogens Neonectria pseudonaviculatum and Cylindrocladium pseudonavitulatum.
Lesions form on the twigs and brown spots appear on the lower leaves of the shrub as a result of the fungi.
Littleleaf boxwoods are particularly vulnerable to blight, which can kill young plants.
By thoroughly cleaning all of your gardening equipment and removing any affected plant parts, you can stop the disease’s spread.
Use a fungicide when required, and make sure your plants are thinned and spaced properly for good airflow.
Your boxwood’s leaves will turn red or yellow from leaf burn, and they will drop off early. Low temperatures and water stress are the main contributors to this physiological disorder.
Make sure to plant your shrubs in a wind-sheltered location and to give them plenty of water during dry spells.
Leaf spot causes leaves to turn yellow and develop black specks.
A fungal disease caused by Macrophoma candollei, it can be prevented by protecting your plants from wind and salt spray.
Boxwood shrubs can be used as specimen plants, but they work best when grouped together in a foundation planting or in a hedge.
You might even consider using them as topiary, bonsai, or knot-garden plants.
Boxwood can even be cut into pieces and used to make holiday decorations like wreaths, kissing balls, garlands, and more.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
|Hardiness (USDA Zone):
|Average to organically rich
|Full sun to partial shade
|2-3 feet (less for a hedge)
|12 inches per year
|Hosta, rosemary, thyme
|Foundation plantings, hedges, topiaries, cut holiday arrangements
|Slightly acidic soil, shade
|Pests & Diseases:
|Boxwood leafminer, mite, psyllid, mealybugs, parasitic nematodes, scale; blight, leaf burn, leaf spot
Summary: Hedge Your Bets With Boxwood
If you’re looking for an ornamental shrub that can be grown as a small tree, a border, or yes, even to form a hedge! – consider growing boxwood.
This hardy plant is simple to grow and adds year-round interest to gardens. Boxwood bushes are great plants for making small or medium-sized hedges and also as specimens in the garden. Since you can shape them into balls, cones, or other interesting shapes to make your garden interesting, they are frequently used as part of the planting around the house.
Have you ever cultivated boxwood shrubs? Do you cultivate them as topiaries, hedges, or in some other way? If you have any questions about growing these classy shrubs, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.
You need to continue honing your green thumb because a good gardener never stops learning!