Boxwood shrubs or “Man’s Oldest Garden Ornamental” are relatively low maintenance evergreen shrubs that were brought to the United States from Amsterdam in the mid 1600’s. There are over 90 different species and 365 cultivators of boxwoods that differ in variations of leaves, size, growth rates, foliage and hardiness.
Boxwood care is fairly simple, but there are a couple of practices to keep them healthy. The fall season is the recommended time for planting but spring is also acceptable. Keep in mind that spring is the most important time for monitoring the growth, watering and weed control.
Choosing a location:
Growing zones 5-9 are most recommended for boxwoods and the best planting locations should have full to partial sun-light. For the best results and most nutrients for your plants your soil pH should be between 6.5 and 7.2
Direct summer and winter sun can scorch and possibly kill your boxwood so it’s a good rule of “green thumb” to plant on the north side of your home. Some varieties of boxwood are smaller and can be potted but this will not change the manner of planting and care very much, just the mobility. The pH of your soil is important so using a home testing kit before planting is always a good idea.
1) If you live in a colder area of the U.S. plant your boxwood where it will receive a lot more sun, but position it to where it will be protected from winter winds. In warmer areas you’ll need to place your boxwood in a more partially shaded spot.
2) Dig a hole the same width and depth of the boxwood’s root ball and loosen the roots by gently combing them with your hand so that they are mostly spread out. If you are potting the shrub, plant the root ball about 2-3 inches deep using a shrub potting mix to cover the root system.
3) Place your boxwood into the hole and back-fill it with water and fertile, well draining soil.
4) Put about 3 inches of mulch around the base of your shrubs and gently pack it down. Keep the mulch from directly touching the trunk as this can promote rot and fungus.
Good drainage and moist soil are the best conditions for your boxwood shrubs. They aren’t very drought tolerant so monitoring their soil for the first two years of growth will be necessary since they will be more susceptible to damage.
If there is a lack of rainfall in your area then you’ll need to add about an inch of water (equal to about 4-4 1/2 gallons) every 9-10 days. A 2-inch layer of “bark nugget” mulch is good for retaining moisture as well as impeding weed growth around your shrub.
Yellowing leaves on your boxwood is an early indication that there isn’t enough nitrogen getting to the shrub. For the best results apply a granular fertilizer like formula 10-6-4 to promote root growth. Spread the fertilizer around the base of your boxwood just past the drip line to avoid burning the roots.
If you notice your foliage turning brown and some of the branches are dying back, then your adding too much fertilizer. Deep fertilizing techniques aren’t really an option, because the roots of your boxwood will stay relatively close to the surface.
There is no real set schedule when it comes to fertilizing your boxwood. The best and most reliable way to know if you need to apply fertilizer is by testing the soil with a pH tester.
You can prune your boxwood almost any time of the year but spring is the best season before the new growth starts. Avoid pruning in the late fall because the new growth that appears may not have enough time to harden off before frosts begin. The best time to form your boxwood’s shape is in the earlier years because this encourages new growth. Also, the branches will grow into a more defined shape with denser growth. Be careful not to over prune the shrub since excessive trimming will result in growth that is so dense that light will not be able to reach the center leaving the more inner branches bare.
Mature boxwoods benefit from pruning that removes larger dying, diseased branches in stages. Be cautious! Over-pruning the shrub can lead to killing it, so instead of drastically pruning your boxwood, prune it in stages over many years for best chance of survival.
Boxwoods have very dense growth habits causing them to be a great option for use in hedges and accent plantings. Besides their yearly “hair cut,” the care for them is fairly low, meaning you can have beautiful evergreen shrubs without the need for constant attention.
For the gardening enthusiast, adding boxwoods to your landscape is like putting an elegant frame/border around a masterful piece of art. They’re also very effective border shrubs for properties.
If left unpruned, some varieties such as the American Boxwood will mature to about 12 feet tall making them a decent choice for a dense privacy screen. Planted alone, a boxwood can be formed into designs, much like animal shaped hedges in elite gardens.
Whatever your needs may be for your garden or landscape, boxwoods are a fantastic addition for their low maintenance and design properties.