How to Grow and Care for Boxwood Shrubs

Boxwood shrubs are a great way to add structure to your garden. A series of boxwood plants can be grown to create hedging. Alternatively single plants can be grown in selected positions to add a sense of definition to a space or area.

Box plants are primarily grown for their foliage. This can vary between varieties, from dark blue-green shades to paler green colors. Some varieties even produce interesting variegated leaves. During the spring months the boxwood shrub also produces small yellow- green flowers.

1 Different sizes shapes and varieties of box can be planted together to help create defenition in a spaceDifferent sizes, shapes  and varieties of boxwood shrub can be planted together to help create definition in a space. Mixing different varieties is a great way to add interest to your space without diluting the effect with too many different plants. 

Depending on the variety and position, boxwood shrubs can reach between 1 ft and 20 ft in height and 2 ft to 8 ft in width. As well as a great way to introduce hedging, structure and definition box can also be grown in pots as part of a container garden. When growing in containers the boxwood can bring drama and elegance to patio gardens and balconies.


Box leaves can be toxic to cats, dogs, horses and humans if ingested. The foliage can also cause digestive problems and skin irritation.

Boxwood Varieties

There are almost a hundred different varieties of boxwood shrubs. These differ in foliage shape and color, growth habit and growing requirements.

The most commonly grown type is Buxus Sempervirens or common boxwood. This variety has a number of different cultivars available. For example the cultivar Buxus Sempervirens ‘Rotondifolia’ produces large dark green leaves. In contrast the foliage of Buxus Sempervirens ‘Aureo-variegata’ is smaller, with a mottled yellow and green pattern.

2 Smaller or dwarf varieties are ideal for edging beds or pathsSmaller or dwarf varieties are ideal for edging beds or paths. Taller varieties are better choices for hedging or creating topiary shapes. These can help to add fun as well as structure to a space. 

Buxus Sempervirens Sufffruticosa is a dwarf variety ideal for edging pathways or garden beds. If you want to shape your box plants, Buxus Sempervirens ‘Pyramidalis’ is a hardy variety which can be grown into a pyramid shape. The mottled leaf Buxus Sempervirens ‘Elegans’ and Buxus Sempervirens ‘Arborescens’ are also good topiary choices.

Gardeners in colder climates should try varieties such as Sinicas or Insularis. Known as Korean boxwoods, these are hardier than other varieties and can survive cold temperatures.

How to Plant Boxwood Shrubs

Boxwood shrub is hardy in USDA zones 5-9. Certain varieties are also hardy in zone 4.

Plant boxwood in either the fall or spring. If you choose to plant in the spring you will need to water the boxwood more regularly than if you plant in fall. Regular watering helps plants to develop a healthy root system and establish themselves in their new position.

Box does best in partial or dappled light positions. The boxwood will also tolerate growing in full sun positions. However box foliage may develop some scorching if it is exposed to the intense heat of the midday sun. Varieties such as Morris Midget are more tolerant of full sun positions.

3 Healthy plants situated in favorable sites produce masses of green foliageHealthy boxwood, situated in favorable sites produce masses of green foliage. During the spring or summer months box also produces delicate flowers. However these are largely insignificant and not the primary reason for growing the plant. 

Always plant boxwood shrubs in well drained soil. Boxwood dislikes soggy soil. They also won’t tolerate being sited in standing water. This causes the foliage to bronze.

The ideal position should also be protected from the harshest winter winds as well as the intense heat of the summer sun. Avoid planting box in a south-westerly position.

How to Plant Boxwood

Box is usually sold by nurseries as bare root plants. These are young boxwood that can be planted straight into their final position.

Before planting dig the soil over breaking up clumps of earth and removing any stones that you find. This process helps to loosen the soil, improving drainage. You can also work in organic matter such as homemade compost. This will help to enrich and improve the soil.

Dig a hole in the soil large enough to hold the crown of the boxwood. Ideally the top of the crown will sit just above the level of the soil. Planting box too deeply can stress the Boxwood, causing it to die.

Mound the soil up to the base of the crown. This slope of earth will help to drain water away from the boxwood, preventing pools of water and soggy soil from developing.

Mulch around the base of the boxwood. An organic mulch will not only help to protect the roots of the plant from exposure to cold weather but will also break down, enriching the soil.

After planting water well. Firm the wet soil down around the boxwood and water again.

If you are planting a hedge or a line of box plants space the boxwood 8-10 inches apart. The further you space the boxwood the taller the hedge is able to grow.

Planting in Containers

Box can also be grown in pots as part of a container garden.

The container should be large enough to comfortably hold the fully grown plant. It should also be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom.

Before filling with soil, place a layer of stones or pebbles into the container. This helps to improve drainage. On top of this layer add fresh general purpose soil.

Plant boxwood in containers as you would in the soil.

Remember you will need to water boxwood growing in containers more regularly than those in the ground.

How to Care for Boxwood Shrubs

Once planted, boxwood requires little regular attention.

During the first year, regularly water the boxwood. This helps them to develop a healthy root system. After the plants have a healthy root system and are established in their position, you will only need to water during dry periods.

Box plants growing in pots need to be watered regularly. This helps to keep them hydrated. If the plant is thirsty its leaves will turn yellow or brittle.

In the spring, as new growth begins to emerge, apply a boxwood or shrub fertilizer. This helps to encourage the production of healthy new growth.

The boxwood will also require regular pruning.

4 Box plants require regular pruning
Box plants require regular pruning. This helps to promote healthy, new growth. It also helps to prevent overcrowding and keeps plants healthy by allowing light and air to reach the center of the plant. 

How to Prune Boxwood Shrubs

Pruning is best done in late spring or summer. As well as encouraging new growth pruning is essential for controlling the spread and shape of the boxwood.

Don’t prune boxwood during the fall or winter months. New growth that emerges following pruning is tender and can die if exposed to a frost.

When pruning remember the more your prune back the more new growth will emerge. While this may look good, too much dense outer foliage will prevent light and air from reaching the center of the plant. This can harm the health of the plant.

At least once a year thin the outer leaves of the boxwood. This allows air and light to reach the center of the plant.

You also need to remove any dead leaves and stems. This helps to prevent fungal disease.

Smaller plants can be kept in check with hand pruners such as the Fiskars Pruning Shears. Larger plants or hedges may require hedge clippers or trimmers. Cordless options such as the Black & Decker Cordless Hedge Trimmer are easy to use on hedges, shrubs and bushes.

Winter Care

Mulching the base of plants helps to keep the roots well insulated from winter temperatures. It also helps the soil to retain moisture. This allows the plants to stay hydrated and healthy.

In cooler climates, or if your plants are young or in an exposed position, cover some form of protection. Burlap wraps are ideal. These help to protect plants from cold temperatures and damaging winds.

If bronzing or leaf damage does occur wait until after your last predicted frost date before pruning away affected foliage. This protects any new growth from potentially harmful frosts.

Boxwood Blight

Boxwood blight is a fungal disease affecting box plants. It has been spreading throughout the United States since 2011.

The blight causes dark brown circles to appear on the foliage of the plants. Soon after plants will drop their leaves. You may also notice dark streaks on the stems of affected plants.

Boxwood blight doesn’t kill the plants, it simply weakens them. This means that the plants are more susceptible to other diseases and pests, which can kill them.

Pruning away or removing affected plants can stop the spread of blight. Allowing air to water the plants, as well as watering only the root system will help to keep the plants healthy. This can prevent blight from developing.

If box blight continues to be a problem try growing other native evergreens in their place.

How to Landscape with Boxwood Shrubs

Box is one of the most versatile landscape plants available. These are just some of the ways box can be used in a garden or outdoor space.

Add Structure to Planting Schemes

In informal planting schemes, box can help to add structure. Planting alongside other perennials and grasses allows for year round color and structure. This soft planting scheme can help to add definition to spaces or ease the transition from one space to another.

Try planting a combination of low growing box, lining the space, and medium sized plants, adding structure to the corner or center of the flower bed. Shaping the larger, central plant also allows you to introduce a natural statement piece.

5 Box can be used to break up large beds or introduce definition to a space
Box can be used to break up large beds or introduce definition to a space. More sympathetic than harder solutions, it can help a space to maintain a natural, softer feel. 

Edging Paths, Beds and Borders

As well as helping to add structure, box plants are great for edging beds and paths. Low growing varieties can be planted along the edge of borders or paths. This looks particularly effective in herb gardens or kitchen gardens.

Low growing boxwood is also a great way to conceal any unsightly foundation lines.

Use Box to Soften or Emphasise Shapes

Planting box is a great way to soften harsh corners. This is a particularly useful way to ensure people stay on the paths and don’t shortcut over your flower beds. Centering a boxwood plant in the corner of a bed or border is a great way to soften the shape.

Alternatively plant a couple of box plants of different heights tightly together. Shape the plants into balls, or allow them to grow loosely.

6 Boxwood can work in both formal and more natural planting schemesBoxwood shrubs can work in both formal and more natural planting schemes. The plants can help to bring definition and shape to spaces. This allows visitors to transition through the different areas of a garden. 

In contrast you can also use boxwood plants to emphasize the edges of a space. Shaping into sharp blocks can help to emphasize hard landscape or the geometry of an area. This can bring definition and drama to a space.

Use Box to Frame a Space

Planting in containers either side of a garden gate or front door can help to mark the entrance to a space. Clipping the plants into balls or another shape adds further definition. While in the darker months wrapping in lights will allow your plants to have a year round presence.

7 Boxwood planting can also be used to frame a door or a path
Boxwood shrubs planting can also be used to frame a door or a path. Drawing visitors in and helping to add grandeur to an entrance with boxwood shrubs.

Boxwood shrubs can also be planted in window boxes. Here the plants are a low maintenance, high drama option. Varieties such as Heuchera, hardy in USDA zones 4-9, produce colorful foliage throughout the fall and winter months.

Topiary Shapes

Learning topiary may seem daunting but once you master a few basic shapes it is a great way to add humour as well as structure to your garden.

Begin with basic shapes such as balls or spirals. Once these are mastered you can set your sights on creating a more adventurous garden sculpture.

Boxwood shrubs are a great way to add year-round interest and color to a garden. Planting alongside plants such as coneflowers, rhododendrons, peonies, roses, spire and ornamental or pampas grass can create particularly effective displays.

8 With regular pruning box plants are a trouble free way to add structure defenition and year round color to your gardenWith regular pruning box plants are a trouble-free way to add structure, definition and year round color to your garden. Versatile enough to work in a range of planting styles and schemes, the variety of plants available means that there is a boxwood plant for every garden. 

Easy to grow and care for boxwood shrubs are a great way to add year round color and definition to a space. The range of varieties on offer means boxwood planting can work just as well in small container gardens or balconies as in large spaces. From simple edging solutions to crafted topiary statement pieces, boxwood plants are an ideal addition to any garden.

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