One of the most popular shrubs in the garden, Boxwood is identified by its attractive green foliage. Also known as Box or Buxus, (Buxus Sempervirens) these plants are a reliable choice for foundation planting or hedging. There is also a wide variety of specimens to choose from. There are over 70 different types of boxwood shrubs currently recorded.
Most types of boxwood shrubs are evergreens. The foliage is usually round or lance shaped with a hard or leathery texture. While the foliage is the primary interest, some types of boxwood shrubs also produce insignificant yellow-green flowers and, in the fall, small, capsule-like fruit may also develop.
These evergreen shrubs are native to various regions, including southern and western Europe, northern and central America, Africa and parts of Asia. A good choice for landscaping in both formal and informal planting schemes, most types of boxwood shrubs are slow growing plants. This makes them ideal for edging paths, creating a living fence or providing a green backdrop to showcase more colorful flowers. Taller varieties are also useful for screening exposed areas.
Buxus plants come in a range of shapes, colors and textures.
This guide to the different types of boxwood shrubs is designed to highlight some of the most versatile and attractive cultivars currently available. As well as explaining why you should try growing box plants in your garden, we will also provide you with care and planting tips, enabling you to start cultivating your own shrubs.
1 English Box
Sometimes known as Dwarf Box, English types of boxwood shrubs are known for their slow growth rate. Stylish and elegant, these reliable evergreens are popular in colonial style gardens common throughout Virginia and Williamsburg.
English Box produces masses of thick, light green foliage. Known for its round shape, in favorable conditions the plant typically reaches a mature height of around 3 ft. However some types can be taller or more compact. While English types of boxwood shrubs naturally keep their shape, regular pruning further helps the plant to maintain this habit.
Dwarf box plants are ideal for low hedging or lining paths.
English Box has a shallow root system. This means that regular watering and mulching is required, particularly during warm periods to protect the roots from heat damage.
The plants are also prone to winter bronzing. This is when the foliage changes from green to a red-brown color and then yellow. Winter bronzing is caused by exposure to sun and wind. It can be cured by spraying an anti-desiccant on the foliage during the winter months. A cover can also be placed around the plants during the winter months. Despite this winter sensitivity, English Box is one of the most resilient types of boxwood shrubs commonly available.
2 American Box
American Box is popular for its dark green foliage which seems to shimmer in the light. Another of the many types of boxwood shrubs that are considered to be evergreen, American Box is a low maintenance plant. It is also largely pest and disease resistant. While issues such as nematodes or root rot can develop, planting in good, balanced soil helps the shrubs to stay healthy.
Sometimes referred to as Common Box, American types of boxwood shrubs can reach a mature height of 10 to 20 ft. An ideal choice for cold or cool areas, these dark green shrubs are resistant to cold temperatures and harsh winds. They are also drought resistant.
The green foliage of the Common Box.
Some of the most common types of American box include:
- Dee Runk is a broad leafed evergreen cultivar. Popular for its narrow, upright form, mature specimens can reach a height of between 10 and 12 ft. Typically oval in shape, the dark green foliage is ideal for planting in enclosed areas in either full or partial shade.
- Fastigiata is a dense evergreen cultivar with dark green, glossy foliage. Forming a pyramid shape as it develops, this particular cultivar is popular with pollinators such as bees. Deer dislike Fastigiata shrubs meaning that it is a good choice for hedging or screening.
- Vardar Valley is a small, rounded tree. Native to rocky hillsides and woodland areas, this reliable evergreen can outgrow its position if it isn’t regularly pruned. Best planted in moist, slightly acidic soil the foliage is either oval or oblong in shape. During the winter months Vardar Valley requires some protection to fend off mite attacks.
3 Japanese Box
Japanese Box, also known as Lillelead Box, is another of the evergreen types of boxwood shrubs with a slow growth rate. Tolerant of pruning, it is a good choice for landscaping or practicing topiary. A hardy variety, Japanese Box flowers in the spring. The blooms are pollinated by flies and bees.
Japanese Box is best planted in well draining, acidic soil. When the soil is wet the foliage can emit a pungent scent. Happy to grow in both partial shade and full sun positions, despite being tolerant of regular pruning, Japanese Box is a low maintenance specimen that rarely requires pruning. To encourage healthy growth, water the plants regularly, allowing the soil to dry between waterings and fertilize a few times a year.
The round, light foliage of the Japanese Box.
Common Japanese Box varieties include:
- Green Beauty is a good choice for small hedges and lining paths. The dark green foliage remains on the plant during even the hottest months of summer. Humidity and drought tolerant, Green Beauty is best planted in a partial or full sun position. Mature specimens can achieve a height and spread of 4 to 6 ft. A popular plant for foundation planting or creating a living fence, the dense foliage can also provide a home for birds and small animals.
- Morris Midget is a compact cultivar with thick, evergreen foliage. Good for low hedges or edging paths, Morris Midget is best planted in a full sun position and watered regularly. Popular for its slow growth rate, mature plants are roughly 12 inches tall and 18 wide. Good companion plants for Morris Midget include Lilac, Coneflower, Spirea and Maiden Grass.
- Morris Dwarf is another slow growing cultivar. Slightly taller than Morris Midget, these types of boxwood shrubs eventually reach a mature height of 1 to 2 ft . A low maintenance specimen, once established Morris Dwarf doesn’t require regular watering unless your garden is experiencing a prolonged dry spell. Like other types of boxwood shrubs it is best planted in full sun and moist, well draining soil. Morris Dwarf is typically hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
- Sprinter is a resilient specimen, resistant to both box blight and winter burn. Displaying a vigorous growth habit, mature Sprinter cultivars can reach a height and spread of between 2 to 4 ft. Like other types of boxwood shrubs, Sprinter is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
4 Korean Box
Korean Box (B. Sinica Insularis) is a broadleaf evergreen plant that can grow up to 2 ft in height. Typically wider than they are tall, Korean types of boxwood shrubs are known for their open-branch structure.
Like other types of boxwood shrubs, Korean Box produces dense evergreen foliage. A striking addition to the garden, during the summer months the foliage is dark green in color. In the winter, the leaves lighten to an attractive shade of bronze. Further adding to the interest, during the spring months small, fragrant, cream flowers emerge. These draw scores of bees to the garden. By the fall the flowers have gone to seed.
A cold hardy variety, suitable for USDA Zones 4 and higher, Korean Box plants do best in partial sun positions, in wet, loamy soil. Like other types of boxwood shrubs you will need to protect these plants from the cold winter winds to prevent winter burn. Korean Box is a reliable choice if you are looking for a hedge or border plant.
Many box shrubs are suitable for planting in containers.
5 Hybrid Box
In addition to the types of boxwood shrubs highlighted above, there are also a number of hybrid cultivars. These are developed with the purpose of combining the best properties of both the parent plants.
One of the most popular hybrids is Green Gem. This broad-leaved evergreen is hardy in USDA Zones 4 and warmer. Growers in Zones 4 and 5 may need to shelter the plants from exposure to the wind, particularly during the winter months. Flowering during the spring and early summer months, Green Gem is best planted in averagely moist, well draining acidic soil. Preferring a partial or full shade position, Green Gem tends to grow in a rounded shape. Mature specimens reach a height and spread of 3 to 4 ft. Be careful when weeding around Green Gem plants, the plants have a shallow root system which is easily damaged.
Glencoe, also known as Chicagoland Green, is another of the many evergreen types of box which maintain their glossy, green foliage throughout the winter months. A cold hardy specimen, the dark green, oval foliage resembles that of English Box. A good choice for low hedging, mature plants rarely exceed 4 inches in height or spread. During the spring white flowers develop providing further interest and attracting pollinators.
Green Mound is another of the hybrid box plants that is suitable for both low hedging or lining paths. The green, oval foliage remains in place throughout the year. Best planted in full or partial shade, Green Mound struggles in full sun positions. Despite this, Green Mound is a resilient specimen which is tolerant of regular pruning and shaping.
Hybrid cultivars aim to combine the best qualities of both parent plants.
Green Velvet is a dense hybrid cultivar which is ideal for low hedging. Like Green Mound it maintains its color throughout the winter months. A low maintenance shrub, Green Velvet does not require regular pruning or watering, unless you are experiencing a prolonged dry spell. A good choice if you are looking for a plant to bring year round texture and color to the garden, Green Mound provides a great backdrop to highlight more colorful plants such as Coneflowers or Lilacs.
Planting and Caring for All Types of Boxwood Shrubs
As we have already noted, box is a classic garden plant. The different types of boxwood shrubs are ideal for hedging, foundation planting, planting in containers or practicing topiary.
When deciding where to plant, try to select a favorable spot. This not only helps the plant to stay healthy it also reduces the amount of maintenance you are required to do. Most types of boxwood shrubs are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Some types are also hardy in Zone 4.
Most types of boxwood shrubs prefer full or partial sun positions. A light spot that is sheltered from the direct glare of the early afternoon sun is ideal. Your chosen site should also have some protection from the wind. Most types of boxwood shrubs struggle if planted in a south-west facing position.
The soil should be well draining. All types of box struggle in soggy soil. Too much moisture can cause the foliage to bronze.
Weed the soil and work in lots of organic matter, such as well-rotted compost, before planting. The ideal soil pH ranges from 6.5 to 7.0. If your soil pH level is too high, work in sulfur to lower it. Conversely working lime into the soil helps to raise the pH level. A soil test kit tells you the pH level of your soil, enabling you to make any necessary amendments.
Weeding and improving the soil before planting helps new plants to settle more quickly.
Plant in either the spring or fall. Specimens planted in the spring require regular watering in the weeks after planting. This helps to establish the plants in their new position. It also helps them to cope with the potentially harmful effects of the summer heat. While fall planted specimens also require regular watering, they are less likely to suffer the effects of transplant shock and heat stress.
Regularly watering specimens transplanted at any time of year helps them to develop a healthy root system. Continue to regularly water your specimens until they are fully established in their new position. It can take up to 2 years for a plant to fully settle in its new position.
To plant your chosen box variety, dig a large hole in the soil. This should be big enough to comfortably hold the root system. When placed in the hole the top of the root system, also known as the crown, should sit just above soil level. Backfill the hole and apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plant. The mulch should not contact the main trunk of the plant. Water well.
Depending on the variety you are growing you should space your plants 8 to 10 inches apart. The further the box specimens are spaced out the taller they are able to grow.
Once planted most types of boxwood shrubs are pleasingly low maintenance.
Water regularly. AS we have already noted, this is particularly important during the summer months. The soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. If you struggle to know when to water your plants, a soil moisture sensor is a great investment.
Mulching the soil, particularly with an organic mulch, helps the soil to retain moisture and reduces the frequency with which you need to water. Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch around the base of the plant extending 12 inches past the foliage. Don’t allow the mulch to contact the trunk, this can draw insects to your plants.
Mulching the soil helps to improve moisture retention.
During the cooler, winter months you may need to protect the plant from the cooler temperatures. In particularly exposed positions shrub jackets such as TRIETree Frost Protection Blankets can be used. The blankets’ drawstring design makes them easy to install and secure in place.
Prune the plants in late spring or early summer. Regularly pruning encourages lots of fresh growth to emerge. Shaping and pruning box plants on a regular basis also helps to control the size and spread of the plants. Thinning out the foliage once a year also encourages lots of light and air to circulate through to the center of the plant, keeping it healthy.
Resilient plants, small issues such as root rot can develop if the soil is too wet. Leaf miner can also be problematic. Infestations can be treated with an application of insecticidal soap.
Box Blight can appear to be a serious issue. Regular pruning and proper care helps to reduce the chances of your plants succumbing to this unsightly disease.
If planted in a favorable position and well cared for, most types of boxwood shrubs are pleasingly pest and disease resistant. Many are also deer resistant.
For more on planting and growing all types of boxwood shrubs, check out our in depth guide here.
Buxus is, despite occasional pruning, a low maintenance addition to the garden.
A slow growing, attractive plant. Select the right types of boxwood shrubs and plant in a favorable position for a pleasingly long lasting green backdrop. Whether you are growing box for a hedge, to screen and secure your garden, to provide a green backdrop for other plants or as a foundation specimen you will soon discover that they are among the most elegant and reliable shrubs in the garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.