Types of Boxwood Plants

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Tip

Most boxwood grow well in shade but tolerate some sunshine. Know the sunshine requirements for your cultivars before planting. On the other hand, all boxwood should succeed in well-drained soil. Irrigate the shrubs regularly when they are first planted, and then water only in times of severe drought.

Many gardeners use boxwood for topiary, and almost everyone trims the shrubs from time to time. Trimming helps the plants by allowing additional air to circulate between branches. The best time to clip boxwood is early spring before the flush of new growth. Use sharp tools, and sterilize the cutting blades by wiping them with a rag soaked with denatured alcohol.

Warning

Boxwood roots are shallow, widely spread and sensitive. Avoid cultivating the root area because doing so can cause long-term damage to the plant.

Not every shrub was meant to be Prince Hamlet. To borrow from poet T.S. Eliot, boxwood (Buxus spp.) is more an attendant lord, a broadleaf evergreen shrub gardeners use for structure and texture instead of star power. Boxwood plants are deer-resistant, drought-tolerant and accept pruning without complaint, making these green gems garden workhorses. Select a boxwood cultivar according to its growth pattern to ensure that it works well in your garden plan.

Standalone Boxwood

Although boxwood don't offer showy flowers or crimson autumn leaves, a big shrub makes an imposing block of lacy green foliage. If you need a boxwood to stand alone, look to common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) with its classic, upright shape and dense, shiny, dark-green leaves. The cultivar "Arborescens" grows to 20 or more feet and can spread to 15 feet wide as it matures; it is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. Planted in well-drained soil, common boxwood can stand guard over your garden for 75 to 150 years.

Conical Boxwood for Hedges and Avenues

Boxwood can't compete with popular we-need-a-hedge-yesterday favorites in terms of fast growth, but a hedgerow of the small-leafed, conical evergreens can add an elegance and a sense of permanence to property. Columnar boxwood also work well in an avenue, a procession of tall trees lining a road or walkway. "Fastigiata" (Buxus sempervirens "Fastigiata"), with its tiny, dense, blue-tinged leaves, is an option for hedges and avenues. It naturally grows into a thick pillar, topping out at 12 feet high and 5 feet wide. For an equally tall but slightly narrower plant, choose "Dee Runk" (Buxus sempervirens "Dee Runk"), which spreads to 3 feet. Both cultivars are hardy in USDA zones 6 through 8.

Pyramid Shapes for Foundations

When you want to make your entrance elegant or smooth the transition from lawn to house, consider boxwood as foundation plants to soften edges and boundaries. Shrubs that grow in the shape of teardrops or soft pyramids are naturals for this role, and they include little-leaf boxwood "John Baldwin" (Buxus microphylla "John Baldwin," USDA zones 6 through 8). With fine-textured foliage and tiny leaves, it matures to 6 feet tall with a lower spread of 3 to 4 feet and a gently pointed crown. For colder climates, select "Green Mountain" (Buxus x "Green Mountain," USDA zones 4 through 8).

Boxwood Globes for Hedges

Boxwood spheres are immensely popular, the poster children of the genus. The globe-shaped shrubs work well as foundation plants and line up neatly in small or medium hedges, depending on the cultivar's mature height. "Wintergreen" (Buxus microphylla var. japonica "Wintergreen," USDA zones 6 through 8), for example, grows 2 to 4 inches per year -- faster than the average boxwood -- until it matures into a ball some 5 feet in each direction. Like most boxwood, it readily accepts pruning.

Dwarf Plants for Edging

An edging is like a ribbon of foliage crossing a lawn or garden. Any boxwood cultivar can be clipped tightly, but it's wise to select dwarf shrubs to avoid constant pruning. "Morris Midget" (Buxus microphylla var. japonica "Morris Midget," USDA zones 6 through 8) never gets much taller than 1 foot, produces dense foliage and grows 1 inch or less each year. Those traits make it perfect for edging or parterre in formal gardens, where boxwood are planted in symmetrical patterns and kept short and neat by clipping.

references & resources

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.

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