How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Boxwood Shrubs

Are you looking for a dependable and beautiful evergreen shrub for your yard? Boxwood shrubs are easy-to-grow, low-maintenance shrubs that can be used in various ways throughout your garden. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago will detail the best ways to grow and care for boxwood shrubs at your home.

Close-up of small round shaped Boxwood shrubs in a sunny garden. The Boxwood shrub is an evergreen plant renowned for its dense, compact nature and small, leathery, glossy green leaves.

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If you have ever seen a perfectly pristine hedge or a dense and attractive topiary, chances are those plants are boxwoods. These shrubs are very tolerant of intense pruning, which has helped secure their prominent place in the world of hedges. 

The boxwood genus is very large, comprised of about 70 varieties. Each variety is a bit different, but they all are dense and beautifully green. 

Boxwoods are surprisingly versatile for an evergreen shrub. These plants grow nicely in your bed or containers and even window boxes. As a bonus, boxwoods are very easy to care for. If you are searching for the perfect evergreen shrub for your garden, boxwood is it!

Boxwood Shrub Overview

Close-up of a Boxwood shrub in a garden. The Boxwood shrub (Buxus) is known for its dense, evergreen foliage and compact, boxy shape. Its small, oval or elliptical leaves are dark green.
Plant Type Shrub, Tree
Family Buxaceae
Genus Buxus
Species Spp.
Native Area Asia, Africa, South and Central America
Exposure Full sun to shade 
Height 1-20 feet 
Watering Requirements Average
Pests & Diseases Boxwood mites, Boxwood psyllid, leafminers. Fungal diseases
Maintenance Low to Moderate
Soil Type Loamy and well-draining 
Hardiness Zone 5-9

What Is It?

Close-up of a row of young round-shaped Boxwood bushes in a garden flower bed. Boxwood shrubs are small, dense, evergreen plants with glossy, dark green leaves that are oval in shape.
These evergreen shrubs adorned villas and were used as offerings on coffins.

Boxwoods have a long and rich history, beginning in about 4000 B.C. in Egypt. The wood from boxwoods was used to fashion small and ornate boxes, which is likely where the plant got its name: Buxus or “box” in Latin. 

As time passed, the evergreen shrubs decorated villas, and their sprigs of leaves were found as offerings on coffins. The boxwood took hold of our gardens during the Tudor period. Grown as ornate topiaries or hedged shrubs, the boxwood earned its reputation early on for being reliable and beautiful. 

Characteristics

Close-up of Boxwood bush branches in the garden. The branches are vertical, covered with small, leathery, dark green leaves of an oblong oval shape. They are arranged opposite each other along the stems.
These versatile evergreen shrubs are valued for their ability to thrive in various garden styles.

Boxwoods are a group of evergreen shrubs. These shrubs are useful in many different garden styles due to their high tolerance for heavy pruning. Boxwoods are prized for their dense and deep green leaves. 

Native Area

Close-up of a Boxwood bush in a sunny garden. The bush is large, tall, lush. It has glossy dark green leaves that are oblong in shape. The leaves are arranged opposite each other along the stems, creating a symmetrical, compact structure.
Boxwoods originate from Asia and Europe, flourishing in loamy or sandy soil with wind protection.

Boxwoods are native to areas of Asia as well as Europe. These shrubs grow best in loamy or sandy soil and require some protection from wind. They are hardy in zones 5-9, with a few more cold or heat-tolerant species. 

Planting

Planting is a pretty straightforward process. Boxwoods grow beautifully in garden beds, while the dwarf varieties will grow with great success in containers. 

Transplanting

Close-up of male hands holding a young boxwood seedling on a blurred garden background. The man is wearing a white T-shirt and gray trousers. The boxwood seedling has a root ball with dry soil, vertical woody stems with small oval leaves of a dark green color.
Plant your boxwood shrubs in spring or fall for cooler temperatures that reduce transplant shock.

The best time of year to plant your purchased shrubs is the spring or fall. The cooler temperatures of these seasons help to prevent any transplant shock.

  • Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the rootball.
  • Situate the plant so that the rootball is level with the soil surface.
  • Backfill with your garden soil.
  • Pat the soil until firm.
  • Water your new boxwood!

Growing from Seed

Close-up of young Boxwood sprouts in a flower bed. The sprouts are small, consisting of vertical thin stems covered with small leathery, oval, glossy, green leaves.
Harden them off outdoors for a week before planting them in your garden.

Starting boxwoods from seeds is possible, although it takes a fair amount of patience and time

  • Gather your seeds and wrap them in a damp paper towel. Leave the seed in the refrigerator for about one month.
  • Next, move the seeds and damp paper towel to a warm area for another month. This area should be around 70 degrees. You will notice the seeds germinating in about one month,
  • Once your seeds have sprouted, it is time to plant them! Using a seed starter kit, plant your seeds sprout-side down in the soil. Keep the pots and soil covered until you see a shoot rising above the soil level.
  • Continue to keep your pots watered and indoors until they outgrow your small pots.
  • Harden your seedlings off by moving the pot outdoors for about one week.
  • At this point, your boxwood is ready to be planted in your garden!

How to Grow

Boxwood has lost some steam in the popularity department because they have gained a reputation for high maintenance. This is mostly due to the endless pruning needed to maintain the most perfect plant. Garden styles today do not require perfection, making room for a happy growing boxwood. 

These shrubs are easy to grow. Let’s take a deeper look. 

Light

Close-up of large ornamental Boxwood bushes in a sunny garden. Four bushes of different sizes from largest to smallest, have oval and round shapes. The bushes have branched stems covered with small oval leaves of dark green color.
Boxwoods can handle full sun to almost full shade.

Boxwoods tolerate various sunlight conditions, including full sun to nearly full shade. In warmer climates, provide some afternoon shade. This will help beat the heat and keep the foliage from burning. The shade from overhead trees will also help keep the root system cool, preventing them from drying out too quickly. 

Water

Close-up of watering a Boxwood bush with a green watering can. The bush has fine-textured, glossy green leaves that are typically oval in shape. A large amount of water flows from the watering can.
Provide deep watering during the first few years of growth.

Boxwoods have extensive root systems and require deep watering for the first few years of growth. They grow best when they receive consistent moisture. The frequency you will need to water your shrubs will change depending on the soil type in your garden. 

Soil

Close-up of a gardener's hand adding soil to a freshly transplanted Boxwood bush in a flowerbed. The bushes are small, round in shape, with vertical stems densely covered with small oval leaves. The leaves are leathery, glossy, dark green.
Choose a site with rich, well-draining soil to prevent root rot.

When selecting a site, seek an area of your yard with rich and well-draining soil. Boxwood shrubs tolerate different soil types but must be well-draining to prevent root rot

Temperature Considerations

Close-up of a Boxwood bush covered with snow in the garden. The bush has vertical branched stems densely covered with small oval leaves. They are arranged opposite each other along the stems, creating a symmetrical, compact structure.
Boxwoods thrive in moderate temperatures and require adequate humidity.

Boxwood is hardy in USDA zones 5-9. If you live in the warmer zones, be sure to up your watering sessions in the summertime.

If you love in a cold area, protect the shrubs from the wintertime cold temperatures and cold winds. This can be done with burlap or plant bags.

Fertilizing

Close-up of a gardener's hand with a spatula adding mineral fertilizer to a Boxwood bush in the garden. The bush is small, has a rounded shape, consists of many branches covered with small oval glossy green leaves.
For healthy boxwood shrubs, use all-purpose fertilizer in spring before new growth.

To keep your boxwood shrubs lush and healthy, apply an all-purpose fertilizer in the spring before the appearance of any new growth. Remember that fertilizer is not required for boxwoods but is recommended if your soil lacks nutrients.

If you notice yellowing leaves on your shrubs, this could indicate nitrogen deficiency. Consider a soil test if you notice this happening, and apply per what the test results state.  

Maintenance

As far as day-to-day maintenance goes, boxwoods are easy to care for. Here are a few tips to keep your boxwoods looking pristine. 

Mulch

Close-up of a row of small Boxwood bushes with a layer of mulch. The bushes are low, have a rounded shape, and densely spaced fine-textured, glossy dark green leaves of an oval shape. Mulch consists of straw.
Mulching around your shrub looks tidy and retains moisture and temperature for shallow roots.

Adding a few inches of mulch around your shrub can help beautify your garden and maintain moisture and temperature levels around the shallow roots of your shrubs. When you are mulching around your boxwoods, leave some room between the mulch and the shrub’s trunk. This can help prevent diseases and other pests from taking hold of your shrubs. 

Pruning

Close-up of a gardener trimming a Boxwood bush using large pruning shears in a sunny garden. The gardener gives the bush a rounded, neat appearance. The man is wearing a blue shirt, a gray apron and gray gloves.
Pruning can be done at any time with sharp shears, but avoid fall pruning to ensure all new growth hardens off before winter.

If you opt for a more natural look, pruning is not required. However, if you desire a tidy hedge or topiary, your boxwoods need regular pruning.

Pruning can be done at nearly any time of the year using sharp shears. However, it is best to avoid pruning in the fall as the shrub will produce new growth after pruning, and this growth may not have enough time to harden off before winter sets in. 

Propagation

Boxwoods are easy to propagate from cuttings. You likely have all the supplies you need at home; all you will need is time and patience. 

Cuttings

Close-up of a black plastic starter tray with Boxwood shrub cuttings planted for propagation, on a wooden table. There is also a white small watering can, a white plant pot and other garden supplies on the table. The cuttings are short and consist of stems covered with small oval dark green leaves.
Easily propagate boxwoods in summer by taking a 4-inch cutting, removing lower leaves, and planting in a sterile medium.

Boxwoods can be easily propagated via cuttings. The best time of the year to do this is in the summer when there is ample new growth for you to select from. 

  1. Snip a cutting from your boxwood shrub. This cutting should be about four inches in length.
  2. Remove the lower inch or two of leaves from the cutting, and gently strip the bark off, exposing growth points.
  3. Stick the cutting into a pot of sterile planting medium. If you choose to use any rooting hormone, dip the cutting into the hormone powder before you stick it into the soil.
  4. Place the pot in a bright area. If it is cooler in this area of your home, put a plastic Ziploc bag over the top of the cutting, taking care not to make any contact between the plastic and the boxwood.
  5. Keep the soil moist. Water gently, and check regularly to ensure the soil does not dry out.
  6. When you feel resistance when tugging on the cutting, your cutting has likely developed roots! Congratulations!
  7. Transplant your boxwood into larger pots as needed. Keep your boxwood indoors throughout the winter and transplant it into your garden in the spring.

While boxwoods all share similarities, it is important to note the differences. These differences can make it easier for you to select the right boxwood for your garden. It can also help you identify any issues or pets you may run across. 

Common Boxwood

Close-up of Buxus sempervirens in the garden. Buxus sempervirens, commonly known as common boxwood, is a versatile evergreen shrub featuring small, oval or elliptical glossy dark green leaves densely packed along slender brown stems.
Buxus sempervirens has dark green leaves and varies in height.

Common boxwood, formally known as Buxus sempervirens, has dark green leaves and can grow up to 30 feet tall, depending on your selected variety. The common boxwood makes a great hedge or even a topiary if that suits your gardening style. 

Dwarf English Boxwood

Close-up of Dwarf English Boxwood in a sunny garden. This is a compact, slow-growing evergreen shrub with small, oval, deep green leaves closely spaced along its branches. The bush has a neat rounded shape.
The dwarf English boxwood is ideal for small garden spaces, reaching a maximum height of two feet.

A variety of the common boxwood, the dwarf English boxwood is the perfect boxwood for smaller spaces in your garden. This petite shrub will max out at two feet tall. Use them in containers or as a low-growing border hedge. 

Japanese Boxwood

Close-up of Japanese Boxwood in black planting bags. The Japanese Boxwood is a versatile evergreen shrub known for its small, elliptical, bright green leaves that densely cover its fine-textured branches. The plant has dense foliage and elegant, symmetrical appearance.
Buxus microphylla japonica is a smaller species with lighter green leaves and better heat and drought tolerance.

Japanese boxwood, also known as littleleaf boxwood, is another small boxwood species growing to about four feet high and wide. Buxus microphylla ssp. japonica has lighter green leaves than the other boxwoods.

It is also more tolerant of hot temperatures and resulting drought. The Japanese boxwood can be used for hedges or topiaries. 

Korean Boxwood

Close-up of Korean Boxwood. The Korean Boxwood is a small, compact evergreen shrub featuring tiny, glossy, dark green leaves that densely cover its fine branches.
This variety features emerald green leaves and mounded growth up to about four feet.

Korean boxwood has emerald green leaves and grows in a nicely mounded form. Low-growing to about four feet high, this evergreen shrub makes a nice hedge or border plant. If you live in colder climates, the Korean boxwood will suit you well as it is more cold tolerant than the other species. 

Common Problems

Even the most resilient plant can run into issues with garden pests and diseases. Let’s look at a few pests and diseases that can cause trouble for your boxwoods. 

Pests

Boxwoods can become hosts to any of the common insects in your area. Good gardening practices such as weeding, watering, and fertilizing appropriately are great ways to keep these insects at a minimum.

Boxwoods also have a few specialized insects that prefer to host on the Buxus genus. Let’s take a look at those. 

Boxwood Mites

Close-up of Boxwood shrub leaves affected by Mites in sunlight. The leaves are oval, glossy green, with small, pinpoint brown lesions due to mites.
Boxwoods are vulnerable to boxwood mites, which damage leaves by feeding on them, causing discoloration and small dots.

Unfortunately for boxwoods, they are the sole host of boxwood mites. You may be familiar with spider mites, and boxwood mites are not much different. We often notice their damage and not the insects because they are so tiny.

These mites will feed from the upper and bottom surfaces of the leaves, which causes an overall discoloration of the plant. You will not see yellowing or bronzing of the leaves. On closer inspection, the discolored leaves will have small dots from the feeding sites. 

Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil will help to clear these insects from your plants. Keep in mind that mites feast on plants that are already under stress. Keep your boxwoods watered and fertilize appropriately to keep these insects at bay.

Boxwood Psyllid

Close-up of Boxwood Psyllid on a Boxwood shrub leaf. The Psylla buxi insect is a tiny, sap-sucking pest with a pear-shaped body. It has a greenish to yellowish coloration and features distinctive wings held in a roof-like position over its body.
Boxwood psyllids can be managed with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Another genus-specific pest, the boxwood psyllid, is a small green insect that sucks the life out of your boxwood leaves. You may not notice these insects, but you may notice their damage. The sure sign that you have boxwood psyllids in your plants is the cupping of new leaves. 

The good news is that these insects do not cause long-term damage to the health of your boxwood. The cupped or curled leaves are purely aesthetic. Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil can aid in getting rid of these pests. These sprays are most effective in mid to late spring. 

Leafminers

Close-up of Boxwood shrub affected by Leafminers. Boxwood shrub exhibits signs of damage in the form of discolored, brownish stippling on their leaves, caused by the larvae tunneling through the leaf tissue.
Boxwood leafminers are destructive insects that feed inside leaves, causing blistering and yellowing.

Leafminers, specifically boxwood leafminers, are one of the most devastating insects that boxwoods can run into. These insects feast on the inside of your boxwood leaves, leaving your leaves blistered and yellow

You can help prevent leadminers by pruning in May when the adults emerge from their eggs. Using a general pesticide will do the trick if it is too late to catch them by early pruning. Follow the labeled instructions to apply at the correct rate and time interval. 

Diseases

Boxwoods can run into issues with typical garden diseases, such as leaf spot, that can be controlled or prevented by good gardening practices. Watering appropriately and keeping your garden free of debris is a great way to keep your plants healthy. Unfortunately, one specialized disease can affect boxwoods: boxwood blight. 

Boxwood Blight

Close-up of Boxwood shrub affected by Boxwood Blight in a sunny garden. The plant has brown dry stems with brown wilted and dry oval leaves.
This fungal disease manifests as leaf spots, leaf drop, and stem lesions, spreading from the inside out.

If your boxwood has spots on leaves, is dropping leaves, and has lesions on the stems, you likely have run into boxwood blight. This relatively new fungal disease can affect any plant in the Buxus genus.

Look for damage beginning on the plant’s interior and moving outward. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for boxwood blight. It spreads rapidly, and it is recommended that all infected plants be removed and destroyed. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I protect boxwood in winter?

A common issue with boxwoods is damage from winter winds and temperatures. Boxwoods are shallow-rooted, and there is often limited available water for them in the winter. This results in minimal water content in the leaves and rest of the plant, making it very important to protect these shrubs from the winter elements.

There are a few different ways to protect your shrubs in the winter. One option is using burlap to cover them. Another option is to use a plant bag. Do not wrap your shrubs too tightly. This can cause friction which will result in damaging the plant.

Is boxwood safe for pets?

The short answer to this question is no. Boxwood is toxic to both humans and animals if it is ingested. To keep yourself and your furry friend safe, plant boxwoods in containers or in areas of your yard where your pets do not roam.

Why does my boxwood smell weird?

Many gardeners complain of an odd odor coming from their boxwood shrubs. The aroma comes from oils within the plant being warmed by the sun. This is most common with English boxwood plants. If this aroma is bothersome, I recommend planting a different type of boxwood in your garden.

Final Thoughts

When we close our eyes, we can imagine rows and rows of perfectly trimmed and very formal boxwoods lining some estate pathway or drive. While that is a beautiful use for these shrubs, do not get caught up in the formality of boxwoods. These shrubs offer a beautiful evergreen color and are truly lovely when they are left to grow in their natural form. 

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