Boxwood shrubs are a versatile way to add year-round color and interest to your yard. When planted in a suitable spot, they are low-maintenance, and their natural growth pattern is attractive enough to require very little pruning. If you are looking for something more high-maintenance, boxwood shrubs are a great choice to train as topiaries. While most often seen creating hedges, borders, and other boundary details, they can also be grown in pots to add visual interest to your front porch.
Plant boxwood shrubs anytime from fall to early spring. Dig a hole deep enough to position the crown of the shrub slightly above soil level. Create a mound around the base of the plant to direct water away and prevent pooling. You may not see immediate results from planting boxwoods too deeply, but it stresses the plant and can eventually kill them.
The ideal soil for boxwood shrubs is sandy loam, although they are not overly picky. One thing that they do not like is for their roots to stay wet. Planting in well-draining soil ensures the roots remain healthy and strong, enabling them to resist root rot and other diseases that may attack if they are stressed.
Boxwoods do best in areas where they receive full sun to partial shade. In hot climates, plant in a spot that offers protection from the afternoon sun. While boxwoods will tolerate partial shade, less than six hours of direct sunlight each day may lead to thinning foliage. Protect the shrub from prevailing winds when considering a planting location,too. High winds can cause the foliage to turn yellow or brown.
During the boxwood shrub's first year, regular watering helps it become established. The following year, the boxwood may need supplemental watering during dry periods. By the third year, the shrub will have an established root system and can tolerate dry periods. When watering, aim the spray at the base of the plant, and avoid splashing water on the foliage.
Boxwood shrubs are susceptible to a range of pests, including mites, caterpillars, scale, boxwood leaf miners, and lesion nematodes. The boxwood leaf miner causes the most damage. The adult lays her eggs in the leaf tissue. Once they hatch, the larvae feed on the boxwood from inside the leaf. Control is difficult and requires heavily pruning the plant to remove affected branches. Some varieties of boxwood are more resistant to leaf miners than others. Treat other pests with insecticidal spray.
Boxwood shrubs may develop root rot, powdery mildew, and canker. Root rot is the result of a microorganism that causes the foliage to wilt. Eventually, the foliage will transition to light green, then tan, before dropping entirely. Under the soil, the roots are sloughing off, making it impossible for the plant to get water and nutrients.
White blotches on the leaves are often due to powdery mildew, which can deform the leaves as well. Canker is the result of a fungus. It creates lesions on the stem and poor growth and vigor in the plant. Leaves of the affected plant transition from healthy, to light green, then bronze, before becoming straw-colored.
Provide fertilizer with a 10-6-4 ratio of nutrients. Fertilize late in the fall and sprinkle the product around the base of the plant. Follow the recommendations on the packaging, as over-fertilizing can create more problems than under-fertilizing.
Aside from late in the fall, prune boxwood shrubs whenever you notice they need it. Their naturally compact growth pattern doesn't require much shaping. Use a pair of sharp hand shears to clean up any branches growing toward the center of the bush or that are crossing another branch. Remove dead branches as well. Use a gentle touch, as heavy pruning can kill the boxwood.
Propagate boxwood shrubs in the middle of the summer. Take cuttings about 4-inches long, using a clean, sharp knife. Choose healthy stems with no evidence of insect damage or disease. Scrape the bark off one side of the stem and dip it in rooting hormone. Place the cutting in a small pot, and place the entire pot in a plastic bag, closing the top. This increases the humidity around the cutting, which improves the cutting's ability to develop roots. Mist the plant daily, and after several weeks, give it a gentle tug. If you feel resistance, it has developed roots and can be removed from the bag.
Planting boxwood shrubs is an excellent way to increase privacy in an area. Plant these shrubs along an area you want to shield. As they mature, they grow so closely they resemble a solid wall. Strategically placing boxwoods around your garden can direct the flow of traffic and protect fragile areas. If your desire for a garden has been thwarted by animals, boxwood shrubs are a viable solution. Their leaves and branches are unpalatable to most wildlife, including deer.
There are many boxwood shrub varieties to choose from. For single plantings in rock gardens, or as a groundcover, dwarf varieties work well. Dwarf English boxwoods are slow growers with a dense structure, making them a low-maintenance option. If you are interested in increasing privacy, choose a fast-growing variety such as Green Beauty or Winter Gem. Planting these shrubs slightly closer together than generally recommendations allows you to create the appearance of a hedge without devoting years to the process.
Living in a colder climate does not mean you can't grow boxwoods. Korean varieties are hardy to zone 5.