How to Plant Boxwood

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Boxwood shrubs are some of the most versatile plants out there.  They can provide your lawn with a touch of elegance and texture, and also accentuate existing features you already have.  They come in different shapes and sizes and are among the most popular plants in the lawn care professional’s arsenal.

Boxwoods are slow-growing, evergreen shrubs that can make your lawn look alive even as other vegetation goes dormant for the winter.

Planting boxwood appropriately frequently requires a guide
Boxwood require sun, water, and fertilizer to grow appropriately.

There are several considerations and steps you should know about how to plant boxwood shrubs in your soil.  They have an altogether different set of needs and growing conditions than the other vegetation on your property.  So before you rush out and start sculpting your lawn with these bushes, there are a few things you should know about them.

Read on to discover how to provide these boxwoods with exactly what they need to thrive in your lawn.  Then you can go out and show off your ornamental pruning skills to the neighborhood.

growing an organized hedge so there is privacy needs correct spacing

Selecting a Good Location

Boxwoods thrive in soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline (soil pH range of 7.0 – 7.6).  It is a good idea to test your soil pH in any area to ensure it is in ideal condition.

When you decide to plant alongside a structure, you should be mindful of how much light of the full sun the bushes will receive.  They will thrive best on the north side of a structure because of the amount of the light of the full sun it will receive.  This is followed sequentially by the east, west, and south sides of a structure. 

Too much direct sunlight in the summer or winter can kill this shrub.  In short, if you do not have adequate shade from foliage or other sources, you should try to avoid planting on the south side of a home. The direct sunlight the bush will receive on the south side will be too intense for it. .

Boxwood will flourish with a combination of sun and shade. It is best for them to have some shelter from the afternoon’s full sun.

bushes are organized after they are pruned well
Photo credits to Colour your Life

Boxwood bushes should be planted in soil that has adequate drainage.  Growing them in areas of soggy soil will cause the root ball to be over-saturated.  If the root ball finds itself in standing water, the roots will grow weak and fragile.

So when you are looking for an ideal location for your shrubbery, avoid soil in low lying areas and the soil in areas close to the downspouts of your gutter system.

Spacing Between Bushes

Many people fall into the allure of the “instant hedge effect” and plant their shrubs too close together in the soil.  In the long term, this will compromise the bush’s overall health and its root system.

Be patient.  The boxwood hedge is slow-growing and will come together in time.  The exact distance these shrubs should be spaced from each other depends on the mature height and width of your chosen variety.

A good rule of thumb for a tight hedge is to space them out in the soil half the distance of their average growing size.  This is, generally, somewhere between 2 to 3 feet. 

However, different varieties will require different distances.  2 to 3 feet is merely a rough guideline when estimating your space. 

Shrubbery lining road with proper spacing based on its particular variety type

Make sure you know which variety of shrub you are using when planting boxwood.  The main categories are:

  1. Small Leaved Variety (Buxus microphylla)
    • Kingsville Dwarf
    • Grace Hendrick Phillips
  2. Japanese Variety (Buxus microphylla var. japonica)
    • Wintergreen
    • Morris Dwarf
    • Morris Midget
    • Green Beauty
  3. Common or American Variety (Buxus sempervirens)
    • American Boxwood
    • Dee Runk
    • Graham Blandy
    • Fastigiata
    • Jensen
  4. Korean Variety (Buxus sinica var. insularis)
    • Justin Brouwers
    • Nana

There are also some hybrid varieties that have been grown like Glencoe or Green Mound.  These fall under the Buxus genus, but are hybrids that have been selected and formed over time.

Listed above are some of the more popular types within each subcategory, but this list is not exhaustive.  There are around 90 different species and over 365 different cultivars.

Click here to learn the mature size of the variety you are selecting to know the correct distance to space them apart.

Again, 2 to 3 feet is a guideline for most varieties and is a safe bet for most boxwoods.  But do a little research on the type of boxwood you want to plant on your property for the most effective use of the space you have.

Boxwood Care

Boxwoods adds depth, texture, and character to your property.  It is easy to care for, but it does have specific care needs.  Here are a few things that you can do to ensure that your bush grows strong and healthy for many years to come.

Sunlight Requirements

As mentioned earlier, most varieties prefer to grow in partial shade.  This means that the majority of the sunlight it receives is filtered through the overhanging foliage of trees or other tall plants.

If this is not practical for your property, try planting them in areas where they will receive a few hours of direct sunlight each day but will also encounter shade from surrounding structures as the sun moves across the sky.

While the boxwood can handle direct sunlight during milder temperatures, too much exposure to direct sunlight during the hotter months of the year can cause a yellowing of the leaves.

Buxus add a design element in the garden

Provide Adequate Drainage

Providing adequate drainage is essential to maintain optimal health.  When digging your planting hole, you should avoid any area where water stands (around downspouts or low lying areas).

Once you have dug the hole, it is best to amend the surrounding soil with organic matter. Another tip is to create a small berm to place the rootball on in the center of the hole to aid in the drainage capability.

Protect the Root Ball

Boxwoods have a shallow root system that grows out from its root ball.  This system can quickly dry out if not watered adequately.  Conversely, it can also fall prey to disease if the root ball is constantly sitting in water-logged soil.

To protect the root ball, you should plant it ⅛ to ¼ inches off of the soil’s surface.

Once you have filled in the soil, you should keep 2 to 3 inches of mulch extending from the plant’s base up to 1 foot beyond the canopy of the shrub.  This mulch will keep the roots cool, while at the same time conserving moisture in the soil.

In the spring and fall, you should rake away any fallen leaf material and other debris to control any disease organisms that might be present.

Replenish the layer of mulch as needed to ensure proper coverage of all your shrubs.

With a guide, boxwood can be spaced apart appropriately.

Fertilization

We recommend that you feed your boxwood with a granular form fertilizer with an NPK content of 10-6-4.  Stick with this NPK content unless your soil shows a specific deficit. You can check out our recommendations for boxwood fertilizers.

If your boxwood is healthy and the soil provides plenty of nitrogen, you can also use cottonseed meal or aged manure for fertilization.

A well balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer variety will keep these plants a healthy green.

When planting in healthy soil with adequate water and sunlight, fertilizer application will be infrequent. You can fertilize in the spring to promote the green growth of the leaves or late in the fall to preserve the root system’s health through the winter.

While it is important to know when to fertilize, it is just as important for you to know when not to fertilize them.  Avoid fertilizing in the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter.  The fertilizer can burn up the shallow root system in the soil instead of feeding it.

If you notice yellowing or “bronzing” in the leaves, then it may be time to fertilize.

Another key feature to look for is if the leaves of the bushes are falling earlier than usual.  Boxwood leaves generally last about three years, so if they are falling to the soil before this time mark, it is probably a sign of some nutrient deficit and will require fertilization

Buxus planted in a row in a garden

Water Wisely

Overwatering the root system is the leading cause of disease.  On the flip side of that coin, underwatering the root system can cause undue stress. 

So what’s the happy medium?

When first planting your boxwood, you should water the soil slowly and deeply once or twice a week during the first growing season.

During the second growing season after planting, the soil should be watered slowly and deeply once a week.

After that, the bush should be firmly established and can derive all the water it needs from the environment.  The only time you may find it necessary to water is during extended periods of hot, dry weather or if the shrub receives more sun than is recommended.

Protect During the Winter Months

During the winter months, your boxwoods may begin to turn yellowish-orange or reddish-brown.  This “bronzing” occurs during the winter months due to exposure to dry winds, frost, or intense sunlight.

Use burlap wraps or windbreaks during these months to protect the foliage. 

Water the soil in your garden before the winter weather arrives to minimize or avoid this “bronzing” of the leaves.

Remember that this is a natural occurrence during this time of year and is not necessarily a sign of nutrient deficiency in your planting soil.  Do not fertilize during these months. 

If it snows and snow remains on your shrubbery, you can gently knock off the snow. On the other hand, if ice forms on the branches, do not try to knock it off. The branches under the ice are likely weak and brittle. Instead, let the ice melt naturally and once its melted off, you can cut off any dead branches.

If your bushes are near a sidewalk or road, there is a potential that salt may have landed in the soil near or around your shrub. If this is the case, in early spring, give the soil around your bushes a slow and deep soak to flush out any of the remaining salt. You’ll want to water to about 6 inches deep.

Buxus wrapped in burlap for winter protection from the cold.

Pruning and Trimming

One of the main reasons for including boxwoods in your garden is that they can be pruned and sculpted into almost any shape you can imagine.  However, there are some things you should know before you rush to grab your trimming tools and start trimming your boxwood.

Pruning in late spring or early summer is generally considered the best time to sculpt these plants in your garden.  This timing will encourage new and healthy growth.

Avoid trimming and pruning in the fall months as the new growth may be too tender to sustain itself through the cold winter months ahead.  How late in this season you can go is dependent on your geographic region and its climate.

Annual trimming of the outer-growth to allow air and water to circulate through the plants is recommended.

If you encounter any dead or diseased branches, you should trim them away from the plant’s center to remove as much of the compromised growth as possible.

Lastly, try not to overdo it.  By trimming away too much of the shrub, you may unintentionally encourage it to grow more than you intended.

Buxus need to maintained with trimming and pruning.

Design Ideas

A boxwood is perhaps the most versatile plant you can add to your garden.  Whether it be in a formal setting or a casual situation, boxwoods can act as a beautiful backdrop to a flourishing garden.  In the winter, the shrub’s strong color and shape can take center-stage by providing structure and an old-world refinement to your property.

You can greet your guests at the entrance to your home with single or several well-placed and manicured shrubs.  These will add a touch of elegance to your home.

Informal gardens in your yard can use these shrubs to add more structure and definition.  Creating a low lying boundary around these areas will define them and give them a sense of order.

Boxwoods take well to shearing and shaping.  This makes them ideal as a border along a property line or to provide a cover-up to your home’s exposed foundation.  In addition, deer do not care for the taste of their leaves, so using it as a border will also create a natural barrier to keep unwanted wildlife from intruding.

You can select one of the taller growing varieties and sculpt it into various topiary forms.  By creating your own topiary designs, you can distinguish your property from the rest.

Planting these shrubs en masse and shaping them into globes across the landscape can add a unique element of texture and depth to your property.

If you find that the angles of your home or garden are too hard and pronounced for your liking, boxwood can be shaped to soften these edges into something more pleasing to the eye.

Shaped bush that is clearly well cared for with proper sun

These are but a few of the possibilities you open up when you decide to plant these shrubs into your soil.  In truth, your options are only limited by your imagination. 

So let your imagination run wild while at the same time remembering everything you learned here.

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About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants.

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