How to Plant Boxwood


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.  Boxwood shrubs 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 plants that can make your lawn look alive even as other vegetation goes dormant for the winter.

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 plant-life in your lawn.  So before you rush out and start sculpting your lawn with these boxwoods, 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.

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 that you wish to plant boxwood shrubs to ensure it is in ideal condition.

When you decide to plant boxwoods along a structure, you should be mindful of how much light of the full sun the plants will receive.  Too much direct sunlight in the summer or winter can kill this shrub.  Boxwood 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.  In short, if you do not have adequate shade from foliage or other sources, you should try to avoid planting boxwood on the south side of a home if the direct sunlight in your area is prolonged and intense.

Boxwood will flourish with a combination of sun and shade while also requiring decent shelter from the afternoon’s full sun.

Boxwood plants should be planted in soil that has adequate drainage.  Growing boxwood 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 planting boxwood, you should make sure to avoid the soil in low lying areas and the soil in areas close to the downspouts of your gutter system.

How Far Apart to Plant Boxwood

Many people fall into the allure of the “instant hedge effect” and plant their boxwood shrubs too close together in the soil.  In the long term, this will compromise the plant’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 planted from each other depends on the mature height and width of your variety of boxwood.

A good rule of thumb for a tight boxwood 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 boxwood varieties will require different planting distances.  2 to 3 feet is merely a rough guideline when estimating your space. 

Make sure you know which variety of shrub you are using when planting boxwood.  The main categories (that are divided into subcategories of specific plants) are:

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

There are also some hybrid boxwoods 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 boxwoods within each subcategory, but this list is not exhaustive.  There are around 90 different species and over 365 different cultivars.

Use this as a guide to learn the mature size of the plant you are selecting to know the correct distance to plant them apart.

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

Boxwood Care

Boxwood is a beautiful variety of plant that adds depth, texture, and character to your lawn.  As such, it requires it has specific care needs.  Here are a few things that you can do to ensure that your boxwood grows strong and healthy for many years to come.

Sunlight Requirements

Most boxwood 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 taller plants.

If this is not practical for your property, try planting the boxwoods in areas where they will receive a few hours of direct sunlight each day but will also encounter shade from surrounding structures or plant life 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.

Provide Adequate Drainage

This is essential for boxwood cultivation.  When digging your planting hole, you should avoid any area where water stands (around downspouts or low lying areas).

Once you have dug the planting 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 planting hole to aid in the plant’s drainage capability.

Protect Boxwood 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” off of the soil’s surface.

Once you have filled in the soil, you should keep 2″ to 3″ of mulch extending from the plant’s base up to 1′ beyond the canopy of the boxwood.  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 from the boxwood to control any disease organisms that might be present.

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

Fertilizing Your Boxwood

The most common food for boxwood shrubs recommended by lawn care professionals is a granular form urea fertilizer with an NPK content of 10-6-4.  So 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 to your plants, you can also use cottonseed meal or aged manure.

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

When planting boxwood shrubs in healthy soil with adequate water and sunlight, fertilizer application will be infrequent.

Boxwoods benefit from some fertilizing 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 your boxwood plant, it is just as important for you to know when not to fertilize them.  Avoid fertilizing your boxwood 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 of the boxwoods in your garden, then it may be time to fertilize.

Another key feature to look for is if the leaves of the plants 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

Water Wisely

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

So what’s the happy medium?

When first planting, you should water the boxwoods’ 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 plant 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 your boxwood is during periods of hot, dry weather or if the plant receives more sun than is recommended.

Protect During the Winter Months

During the winter months, the boxwoods in your garden 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 of your plants. 

Water the soil in your garden before the winter weather arrives to 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 the soil of the boxwoods during these months. 

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.

Design Ideas for Boxwood

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 clearly and give them a sense of order.

Boxwoods take well to shearing and shaping.  This makes boxwoods ideal as a border along a property line or to provide a cover-up to your home’s exposed foundation.  Deer do not care for the taste of the leaves of the boxwood, so planting this shrub along your property line will not only define it but 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.

Boxwoods make wonderful accents to window boxes.

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.

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.

Happy Planting!

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

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