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Boxwood Shrubs

The epitome of elegance. Easy to care for and stately as Lincoln. We've never met a picturesque manor that wasn't chock full of boxwoods.

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Boxwood Shrubs

Boxwoods (B. sempervirens) are a popular slow-growing shrub for using as hedges, garden borders, topiaries, privacy screens and foundation plantings. As evergreen shrubs, boxwoods add color and vibrancy to gardens all year-round and can be trimmed and pruned into a wide variety of attractive shapes. Whether you’d prefer a clean-cut square hedge or a masterful spiral centerpiece, a boxwood shrub could be the perfect candidate for either use case.

It’s also fairly easy to grow boxwood shrubs, as they don’t require much maintenance and are tolerant to a range of growing conditions. This makes them an ideal choice for many gardeners, regardless of their skill level. Boxwoods prefer well-drained soil, are reasonably drought tolerant and can thrive in both the sun and partial or dappled shade.

Why Choose Boxwoods?

Boxwoods are an ideal choice for ornamental borders or decorative features in a garden. They’re relatively easy to maintain and won’t require excessive pruning due to their slow growth, which means topiaries and other designs will last longer. Boxwoods are also drought tolerant, can be cold hardy depending on the variety you choose, and don’t have too many pests. If you live in an area troubled by deer, boxwoods may also act as a deterrent against them.

Some popular varieties of boxwood include:

English boxwood – Easy to prune and shape
American boxwood – Popular as hedges and borders
Japanese boxwood – Suited to hotter climates
Green velvet boxwood – A unique shade of green
Wintergreen boxwood – Particularly cold hardy

The type of boxwood shrub that’s right for your garden will depend on a range of factors, not limited to just the climate you’re in and how you plan to use the shrubs themselves. For example, you may prefer dwarf boxwoods if you have limited space in your garden, or you could be considering which shrubs are most resistant to pests like the boxwood mite.

How to Plant Boxwood Shrubs

Before planting boxwoods, it’s important to make sure they’re right for your garden. Ideally, they should be located in either full sun or partial shade in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. It’s also best to plant your shrubs in the mid-fall, but early spring is a viable option as well.

Once you know that boxwood plants will be the best fit for your garden and planting schedule, you will need to decide how many shrubs are needed for your project. You can do this by measuring the space you have available and allowing for sufficient space between each shrub. Smaller shrubs will need more space to grow into, but leave smaller gaps if you want your boxwoods to grow together to form a hedge.

You can either dig individual holes for each boxwood plant or a trench that provides enough room for all of them. A trench can be beneficial if your boxwoods will form a long hedge, but individual holes can make it easier to manage the planting process.

Before digging anything, pay attention to the size of your shrub’s root ball, as this will determine the size of the hole you need to dig. Most of the time your hole should be two or three times the width of your root ball, but around the same depth as it to avoid your shrub sinking too far into the ground. Boxwoods typically have short roots that extend sideways, making it all the more important for your hole to be wide enough.

Once you’ve filled in the hole, water your boxwoods and, optionally, mulch and fertilize as well. Avoid using too much mulch and make sure you don’t cover the lowest branches of your shrub.

Caring for Your Boxwoods

Generally, boxwoods don’t require too much intensive care and are easy to maintain. However, it’s important to give your boxwoods the right growing conditions, especially soon after planting, to give them the best chance of achieving healthy growth.

Watering

You should water your boxwoods straight away after planting and then once or twice a week. However, if it has been raining a lot, you may be able to water your shrubs less often. In the summer months when the weather is particularly dry, it’s important to maintain a stricter watering schedule.

After the first season, you won’t need to water your boxwoods as much and you should only need to water once a week in the second season. In subsequent seasons, rainfall should be enough to keep your boxwoods well-watered most of the time.

It’s important that boxwoods aren’t flooded with water or left in waterlogged soil, as this can lead to root rot. If you’ve planted your shrubs in well-draining soil, this shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re consistently over-watering your plants. If you’re worried about root rot or you know your garden’s soil is prone to being water-logged, consider planting your boxwoods in containers of well-draining soil.

Fertilizing

Typically, you won’t need to fertilize your boxwoods unless you soil is lacking in essential minerals. If you do decide to use fertilizers, it’s best to choose urea-based granular fertilizers with a 10-6-4 ratio.

Fertilizers are best tolerated by boxwoods when used in the early spring.
In some circumstances, using mulch can significantly improve the condition of your boxwoods, especially if your soil is of a lower quality. Mulch can help to distribute water throughout your shrub’s roots gradually, as it will hold onto moisture even in drier seasons. It can be advisable to use mulch if your soil doesn’t drain quite as much as you’d like, though it won’t resolve severe drainage issues. Even if you don’t plan to mulch often, many landscapers like to mulch after the initial planting of their boxwoods.

When choosing mulch, it’s best to opt for an organic variety and spread it in a 2 to 3-inch layer in a 3-foot radius around your shrub. You’ll only need to mulch once or twice more in the growing season.

Pruning

Pruning is a key part of boxwood care, but no two pruning schedules will be the same, as this largely depends on your goals for your shrubs. On a basic level, your boxwoods will need to be trimmed and pruned to get rid of dead or diseased branches and encourage new growth. You may also need to thin crowded areas in order to encourage better air flow. Light trimming can be performed throughout the year during the growing season, but it’s mostly best to prune boxwoods in the early spring.

Pruning your boxwood hedge too late, for example in the late summer or fall, will still encourage new growth. However, this new growth will not have enough time to mature before the cold winter months, causing it to die. Pruning in the early spring gives your new growth plenty of time to strengthen and develop during the warmer growing season.

You may need to spend more time on pruning your boxwoods if you want them to keep a specific shape, such as a dome or sphere. Fortunately, as long as you maintain your desired shape, trimming is relatively straightforward as you can use the existing shape to guide you. You can usually trim your boxwoods once a year without any major issues using either hand shears for smaller shrubs or an electric trimmer for larger areas.

FAQs

How big do boxwood shrubs get? Boxwood shrubs can grow up to 20 feet tall and usually remain between 2 and 8 feet in width. The size that your boxwood can grow to will depend on the type you buy, the care it receives and how regularly it is pruned. If you know you’d like your boxwood shrubs to remain particularly small, you could consider planting a dwarf boxwood.

How far apart should I plant boxwood shrubs? Not all boxwoods need the same spacing, with dwarf boxwoods benefitting from around 2 or 3 feet of space and larger boxwoods needing up to 4 feet between each shrub. Spacing will depend on the size of your shrubs at the time of planting as well as the final effect you want to achieve with your hedge i.e. you may need to leave less space if you want your boxwoods to grow together completely. However, all your boxwoods should always have adequate space to discourage problems such as boxwood blight from occurring.

Do deer like boxwood shrubs? In general, deer do not like to eat boxwood shrubs as they have an unpleasant taste. This is because of the alkaloids in their leaves. However, boxwoods also have strong-smelling leaves, which may deter deer from your garden, especially if your hedges act as a barrier at its perimeter.

How fast do boxwood shrubs grow? Boxwoods don’t grow very quickly, averaging between 3 and 6 inches of growth each year. Dwarf boxwoods grow even less and may only grow by ½ inch. Since boxwoods are popular choices for topiaries and ornamental hedging, their slower growth rate is welcomed by most gardeners, as it means less maintenance and pruning is needed.

Where do boxwoods grow best? Most boxwoods prefer to grow in full sun or partial shade. If your garden gets very hot in the afternoons, it’s best to plant your shrubs in an area where they will have more shade during the hottest part of the day. Boxwoods can also be sensitive to winter wind, so it’s worth planting them in an area where they will be shielded from this if possible.

Are boxwoods good hedges? Boxwoods make for excellent hedges. Not only are they easy to prune into a variety of shapes, but they grow slowly making it easy to maintain them. You can use boxwoods as perimeter hedges or even ornamental centerpieces in your garden.

When should you trim boxwoods? Trim boxwoods in the early spring. This will allow new growth to develop and strengthen over the growing season. Trimming boxwoods too late will mean any new growth won’t survive the winter months.

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