- Care For Container Grown Boxwood Shrubs – How To Plant Boxwoods In Containers
- How to Plant Boxwoods in Containers
- Care for Container Grown Boxwood Shrubs
- Boxwood 101
- Global Thinking
- 1+1 Equation
- Go Shaggy
- Scatter Pattern
- Choose Wisely
- Clipping Service
- Cloud Pruning
- Growing Shrubs in Clay Soil
- HELP!!! Problem with newly planted boxwoods
- Planting Trees and Shrubs in Clay or Sandy Soil
- Planting Instructions for Sandy Soil or Gravel
- Watering and Maintenance
- Growing Boxwood in Containers
- Choosing a Container For Boxwoods
- Caring For Boxwood in Planters
- 5 Steps for Preparing Boxwoods for Winter
- Overwintering Evergreens in Containers
- Boxwoods: Perfect for Pots
- Developing Your Spring Fertilization Program
- Designing With Boxwoods
Care For Container Grown Boxwood Shrubs – How To Plant Boxwoods In Containers
Can boxwoods be planted in pots? Absolutely! They’re the perfect container plant. Needing hardly any maintenance, growing very slowly, and looking green and healthy all through winter, boxwood shrubs in containers are great for keeping some color around your house during the cold, bleak months. Keep reading to learn about care for boxwood in pots and how to plant boxwoods in containers.
How to Plant Boxwoods in Containers
Plant your boxwood shrubs in containers that are fast draining and big. You want your pot to be as wide as the plant is tall, and even wider if you can manage it. Boxwoods have wide-reaching, shallow roots.
Also, any plant that stays outside through the winter winds is going to fare better if it’s closer to the ground. Plant your boxwood in fertile potting mix and water thoroughly. Plant in the spring if you can, to give it as much time as possible to establish itself before the temperatures drop.
Care for Container Grown Boxwood Shrubs
Care for boxwood in pots is very low maintenance. When your container grown boxwood shrubs are still young, water them frequently to keep the soil from drying out. Established plants need less water – about once a week in the spring and summer, and less often in the winter. If the weather’s especially hot or dry, water them more.
Boxwood needs very little fertilization, and a feeding once or twice a year should be enough. Boxwood does very well in cold weather, but since all that’s keeping the cold out is a thin plastic or clay wall, boxwood shrubs in containers are a little more at risk in the winter. Mulch with wood chips or leaves, and wrap young plants in burlap. Don’t let snow accumulate on top, and try to avoid placing them under the eaves of buildings where snow will fall down frequently.
With a little care and pruning, boxwood will usually come back from winter damage, but it may look a little weird for a season or two. If you’re using container grown boxwood shrubs as a border or in a tight arrangement, it’s a good idea to grow a couple extra that can be switched in if one gets unsightly.
We’re welcoming a bounty of boxwoods in the nursery this season, and we recently caught up with our plant experts for a crash course in Boxwood 101. Senior Plant Buyer Steve H. says, “While there are many, many varieties of boxwood (around 217 cultivars!), four groups are especially popular in North America: English, Korean, Japanese, and American. Boxwoods offer lots of diversity in mature size, habit and leaf appearance, so you can find options that are suitable for screening, hedging, container gardens, mixed plantings, and formal designs. Incredibly versatile, they’re adaptable to shearing, evergreen, able to grow in sun or shade, and generally deer-resistant. Boxwoods are also fairly easy to grow, thriving in well-drained, slightly acidic soils and offering a long life span with proper care.” With new varieties (including the gorgeous greenery above!) arriving in our stores for spring, our experts shared their tips on thinking outside the boxwood.
Boxwood is man’s oldest garden ornamental, and was introduced to North America in the mid-seventeenth century. It was extremely popular in gardens during the early nineteenth century, and again during the Colonial Revival era. The first boxwood planting in America occurred around 1653 at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, New York. The garden featured boxwoods brought across the Atlantic from Amsterdam. Today, the largest collection of cultivars can be found at the Virginia State Arboretum.
Pruning: Boxwoods are very tolerant to pruning, which makes them ideal as hedges or even topiaries. Winter is the best time to trim your boxwoods using hand shears or electric clippers. Younger plants should be sheared more often; the best time to establish a shape is during the first few years. Frequent trimming encourages branching and new growth, which will create a denser, more defined shape over time. Avoid excessive pruning, which can make the branches too dense and prevent light from reaching the center of the plant. If you’d like to make a drastic change, prune in stages over several years.
Winter Care: Many boxwoods will remain evergreen throughout the winter, but some may develop brown leaves during the colder months. Don’t worry, the leaves will regain their color when spring arrives! For container gardens, make sure to plant your boxwood in a frostproof planter, or bring the entire container indoors or into the garage over winter. Avoid letting boxwoods rest under heavy snow, which can split the stems.
Fertilizer: Uniform yellowing of the lower foliage or leaf loss can be a sign of nitrogen deficiency, and indicates that fertilizer may be needed. A granular urea fertilizer with a 10-6-4 ratio is suitable in most cases, and should be applied in late fall for best results. We recommend using Dr. Earth Life, Dr. Earth Liquid All-Purpose, or NutriRoot for new plantings. Broadcast fertilizer around the base of the plant, just beyond the drip line, being careful to avoid direct contact with the roots. Surface application is best, while deep root fertilization should be avoided.
Pest Control: Common pests that may affect boxwoods include leafminers, mites, and psyllids. Nematodes and fungi are not a threat to most varieties. Check for insects in the spring, and treat as needed with EcoPM and EcoMite, or Azasol Systemic. If your garden is often damaged by deer, boxwoods make an excellent, deer-resistant planting.
Boxwoods can be used as individual specimens, container plantings, topiary, bonsai, hedges and screens, pairings, or groups in the landscape. Their compact-growing leaf structure makes them especially suited for pruning and shaping as a formal hedge. Many varieties offer a naturally rounded shape, which makes them well-suited to spherical pruning.
Container Gardens: American and English boxwoods are ideal for container gardens since they’re slow-growing, drought-tolerant, and need minimal fertilizer. For best growth, choose a fast-draining pot that is at least as wide and tall as the plant, and preferably bigger; the larger the container, the less you’ll need to repot or water. Fill the pot with compost to within ½” of the rim, leaving space so water won’t spill out. Make sure the soil is moist from top to bottom, watering around once a week during the hot summer months and significantly less in winter. Each spring, add about an inch of compost to the top of the pot.
Classics: European or Southern boxwood is a lush variety that can easily adapt to any pruned shape. Reaching up to 20’ tall, it grows rapidly in mild climates from Zones 6-8. In colder regions, it’s best planted in containers that can be overwintered in an interior space. A favorite at terrain, “Franklin’s Gem” is a small, hardy Korean boxwood that turns from glossy green to rich olive in winter. The variety takes its name from J. Franklin Styer—founder of the Pennsylvania nursery that’s now home to terrain at Styer’s. His son, Jacob, acquired a boxwood seedling from Korea around 1970 and introduced this remarkable plant to American gardeners.
Rounded: Varieties with a naturally rounded shape include “Green Mountain” and “Green Velvet.” Hardy and dense, “Green Mountain” can reach up to 5’ in height. With especially vivid foliage throughout the seasons, “Green Velvet” will grow at a moderate rate up to 4’ tall, making it ideal for border hedging.
Colorful: Variegated English boxwood offers dark green foliage with creamy, white marbling at the edge of each leaf. Growing up to 8’ tall and equally wide, it’s a show-stopping addition to the garden. “Green Beauty,” a Japanese variety, transforms from green to vibrant bronze during the colder months.
Dwarf: For smaller spaces or containers, “Dwarf English” boxwood will grow 1-2’ tall with tidy, compact green foliage. Another variety, “Wee Willie,” is excellent for compact borders and requires minimal pruning.
Some container plants are too much trouble. Not boxwood. It’s easy to create curb appeal with this evergreen shrub because well-behaved box won’t lose its leaves, outgrow its pot, or clash with other colors. Here are nine of our favorite ways to use boxwood as a container plant:
Above: Architect Barbara Chambers flanks an entryway at her house in Mill Valley, California with identical terra cotta planters and boxwood topiaries. Photograph by David Livingston courtesy of Chambers + Chambers.
Emphasize the geometry of a round boxwood ball by planting it in a round or square pot. If you’re looking for simple wooden planters to complement the round shape of boxwood balls, see 10 Easy Pieces: Wooden Planters.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Janice Parker Landscape Architects. For more of this garden, see Ask the Expert: 8 Ways to Create Pattern in a Landscape.
Above: A loose topiary look can also work, as shown by the slightly shaggy boxwood hedges at Dan Pearson’s Old Rectory, in the heart of a Cotswolds village. Photograph by Nicola Browne and Dan Pearson Studio.
For more garden design ideas using boxwood, see Gardenista Roundup: For the Love of Boxwood.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Franchesca Watson. For more of this garden, see Garden Designer Visit: A Study in Green by Franchesca Watson.
Asymmetrical groupings of planters work well because they all repeat a single theme: boxwood.
Above: Clipped boxwood adds structure to an informal garden. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: Boxwood ‘Green Velvet’ is a hardy hybrid that holds a clipped shape easily; available seasonally from Wayside Gardens.
There are more than 70 species of boxwood, of which the most common in Europe and the US is Buxus sempervirens.
Varieties of Buxus sempervirens have widely different characteristics. For instance, ‘Green Gem’ is a slow grower and tolerates cold well. ‘Green Mountain’, which grows quickly and in a rounded cone shape, is a good choice for a hedge. ‘Fastigiata’ is tall and skinny with blue-tinged leaves. ‘Suffruticosa’ is the classic English box with soft, rounded leaves.
In containers, consider planting miniature box. Varieties of Buxus microphylla include ‘John Baldwin’, which grows in a conical shape; ‘Green Beauty’, a good substitute for English box if you have full sun; and ‘Green Pillow’, with a dense and low growth pattern.
Above: Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
For our boxwood growing guide, see Field Guide: Boxwood.
Boxwood is extremely easy going; you can clip it into balls–or into spheres, cones, or more fanciful shapes–and it will hold its shape for months.
Feeling whimsical? To see how to shape a shrub into a boxwood bear or boxwood bird, visit a reader’s Secret Garden: Fanciful Topiary in the Berkshires.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Niwaki.
For visual interest, place a planter with a tightly clipped boxwood ball in the foreground against a backdrop of cloud pruned shrubs. For more on cloud pruning techniques, see 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Japan.
For more instant curb appeal, read 11 Ways to Add Curb Appeal for Under $100.
See more tips for care and pruning at Boxwood: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design and some of our favorite evergreen alternatives to box in our curated design guide to Shrubs 101, including Yew, Rosemary, and Privet. Read more about boxwood:
- English Boxwood: Is It Worth It?
- Gardening 101: Boxwood
- The English Gardener: Just a Little Off the Sides, Please
Growing Shrubs in Clay Soil
In fact, clay soils offer plants two major advantages over other soil types: they hold water well, minimizing drought stress, and are abundant in nutrients essential for plant growth. So, if you’ve been struggling to achieve your dream garden or landscape in clay soil, cheer up! Here are six tips to make it easier on yourself and ensure a healthy, long life for everything you take the time to plant.
- Check drainage. While clay soils’ ability to retain water usually benefits plants, in some cases, this can be too much of a good thing. Before planting anything, check how well your soil drains by digging a hole about the size of the plant (a minimum of 10”/25cm wide and deep) and fill it to the top with water. Come back and check on it every 30 minutes or so. The faster it disappears, the better your drainage is. If there is still water in the hole after four hours, you have poorly drained soil and will need to select species that can tolerate these conditions, like itea, dogwood, winterberry holly, and summersweet, to name a few.
- Start small. The worst part of clay soil is digging in it. Its weight makes planting an exhausting task, especially coupled with the need to clean soil off your shovel after every stroke. The easy way to minimize these challenges is to start with small plants so you can dig smaller holes. Look for perennials and shrubs in one and two gallon containers. With proper care and a little patience, they will grow quickly, saving you time (and money!).
- Don’t amend clay soil. Lots of people think they need to add “good” soil when they plant in their clay soil to make a happy home for their new plant. As well intentioned as this may be, it can actually increase the risk of root rot. It works like this: when you water your new plant, the water infiltrates that soft, fluffy soil in the hole very quickly, so you end up applying a fairly large volume of water. However, once the water reaches the dense clay soil around the hole, it slows to a halt. As a result, all that water sits around the roots while it waits its turn to percolate through the clay, which can lead to root rot. For this reason and more, we do not recommend that you add anything to the soil when you plant. There are a few extreme cases of clay soil, like caliche, where it is not possible to grow anything without some amendment. However, unless you know this to be the case for your area, it’s best to use only your natural clay soil. For a more in-depth look at the complications that arise from amending soil, and particularly clay soil, we recommend this article (download PDF).
- Mulch your clay soil. Mulch has myriad benefits for plants and soil: it helps regulate the temperature around the roots, minimizes water loss, minimizes soil erosion, and improves the soil as it breaks down into a top dressing of organic matter. Clay soils especially benefit from mulch because during hot, dry weather, the sun can bake exposed clay surfaces to a hard sheet. This makes re-wetting them very difficult, as the water will simply bead and splash off instead of slowly seeping into the soil. Mulch will eliminate this possibility. A good 2-3” (5-7 cm) layer of shredded bark mulch will do the trick.
- Pick the right plants. Some shrubs are especially well-suited to the challenges that clay soils can present – others, not so much. Butterfly bush, for example, is not usually a great choice for planting in clay soil because it cannot stand up to cold, wet conditions. To ensure that the effort you spend digging pays landscape dividends, look for these flowering shrubs and evergreens that happily grow and bloom in clay soils: (https://www.provenwinners.com/retailers/locate)
(well drained clay only)
Rose of Sharon
All That Glitters®
All That Glows®
Top 10 Shrubs for Clay Soil
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HELP!!! Problem with newly planted boxwoods
Don’t know your zone but, Box is normally trouble free especially the size you have planted, it’s good that you know you have clay soil and this is inclined to stay colder well into spring then all of a sudden, it gets baked hard by summer sun, so as Ecrane has said, you need to learn how and when to water or when to feed.
As a quick answer to the problem and it may be as suggested, transplant shock, but I would scrape away some of the mulch around the root area (planting hole), then trowel out just a little soil and use the palm of your hand to check your soil, place a little onto the palm and curl it up to make a fist, open hand and look at the ball of soil, is it wet and sticky (if yes then the soil is too wet) has it formed a hard clump, (soil too dry and the roots need water) also when planting all shrubs, I normally make the hole twice / three times bigger than the pot and 2 times deeper, this allows me to add either well rotted compost with a good fertilizer (multi purpose) or chicken pellets or fish bone and blood, all are good and are quite slow releasing, this is for dryish soil, for your clay soil Id do the exact same BUT, add some small grit /gravel you buy a small bag at garden center, adding this allows plenty of air, the gravel / grit helps warn up the soil in spring and it also prevents the roots sitting in cold over wet clay soil.
I would wait another few weeks before I decided the plants were in trouble, they have been removed from the comfortable pot they have been in for ages, dug into probably cold soil in a different sun / shade situation and they just need time to get used to the new situation, however after a few weeks, Id then worry IF they don’t PerK up a bit.
For a hedge by the way, you need to snip off all the TIP’S of the branches to encourage the shrubs to send out new side shoots to thicken the shrubs up to make them really bushy, DON’T nip out the tips up the top as you want them to grow to the required hight before you trim them, be patient and remember a hedge is like our children, they take a while to reach a good hight and require T.L.C. while they get going.
Good luck WeeNel.
Planting Trees and Shrubs in Clay or Sandy Soil
Are you curious about planting trees and shrubs in clay or sandy soil? Read on for instructions on how to plant in various soil conditions.
Planting Instructions for Clay Soil
1. Dig hole 12″ wider than container or root ball, leaving 6″ of space on all sides.
2. In heavy or clay-based soils that drain poorly, dig hole shallower than root ball – so that root ball sits about 3-6″ above grade. Before planting tree or shrub, loosen 3-6″ of soil in bottom of hole. Do not amend loosened soil. Remove container by laying plant on side and sliding container off of plant. Apply Mykes Tree & Shrub to the root ball and in the hole before planting your tree or shrub.
3. GENTLY guide plant into hole, making sure to set tree or shrub in good upright position.
4. Backfill the space around the root ball with existing soil that has been amended with about one cubic foot (per tree) of peat moss, compost or topsoil. Liquid or granular upstart may be added at this time as well. Now is the time to add Root Stimulator.
Proper planting is the most important step in a tree’s life. Giving a tree the proper space and water is important when planting in adverse soils.
Planting Instructions for Sandy Soil or Gravel
1. Dig hole 12″ wider than container or root ball, leaving 6″ of space on all sides.
2. In gravel or sand-based soils that drain rapidly, dig the hole deep enough to accommodate the entire root ball or container. Do not amend soil at bottom of hole. After planting, root ball should be flush with surrounding grade. Remove container by laying plant on side and sliding container off plant.
3. GENTLY guide plant into hole, making sure to set tree or shrub in good upright position.
4. Backfill the space around the root ball with existing soil that has been amended with about one cubic foot (per tree) of peat moss, compost, or topsoil. Liquid granular upstart may be added at this time as well. Now is the time to add Root Stimulator or Mykes Tree & Shrub.
For both sandy and clay soils, the trees bud graft should be ABOVE THE SOIL LINE. Shrubs should be planted at the same depth as grown at the nursery.
Finish the planting by placing three to six inches of mulch over the exposed soil around the base of the tree.
Watering and Maintenance
After the tree or shrub has been properly planting, it is important to water the plant, unless soils are already saturated with recent heavy rains. In this case it is advisable to wait a day or two before watering. To water a newly planted shrub or tree, insert a garden hose into the backfilled soil and slowly allow water to completely fill hole. Water should be administered to all newly-planted shrubs and trees on an “as-needed” basis throughout their entire first season. This is necessary because the plant’s root system is not yet capable of support the plant. However, do not overwater. Always check the moisture content of the surrounding soil before watering.
The most common causes of tree failure are over watering and damage from lawn mowers.
All trees and shrubs perform best with regular fertilization like Gertens Shrub, Tree, and Perennial Controlloed Release Plant Food, beginning in early spring. It is generally best to stop fertilizing shrubs and trees in August. This gives the plant time to slow down and harden before winter.
Growing Boxwood in Containers
Evergreen boxwoods give you year-round color, and what better place to have a live this pretty green shrub than in a featured pot? Even better, a trimmed boxwood in one or more containers gives your garden a living sculpture to enjoy all year. And boxwoods are easy to care for, even when you grow them in containers.
Plenty of boxwood varieties make great potted plants. For example, Sprinter Boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Bulthouse’) is a perfect container boxwood, growing to about 2 to 4 feet tall and wide. Wedding Ring (B. microphylla var. koreana) has glossy foliage that grows no higher or wider than about 3 feet. Green Mound is hybrid with a natural rounded shape for your large containers.
Boxwoods look great as the sole plant in a container or providing height and a backdrop for flowering annuals. These flexible little shrubs look beautiful in single decorative pots, but even better when paired or teamed up to frame an entryway or line an area of your garden or patio. Plant multiple matching pots filled with matching boxwoods in an evenly spaced line to mark your walkway or driveway. Line the patio edge with evergreen boxwoods you can see from your kitchen window when the winter lawn is bare. Use taller containers for height or add an accent color while keeping an ordered appearance in a formal area.
Choosing a Container For Boxwoods
You can grow boxwoods in nearly any container, provided the pots have two features: First, the container must be larger in diameter than the root ball of the boxwood you choose. That is easy to tell by measuring the container your boxwood comes in or setting it down into your decorative pot. In general, go with a width and height at least the size of the mature boxwood, and preferably a little larger. This gives the shrub’s roots some room to grow. Just tuck loose potting mix around the root ball to fill the container.
The other consideration is good drainage. Any container you choose needs an excellent drainage hole – or you need to carefully drill a few. Boxwoods do not like to sit in wet roots, so this step is critical.
Other than making sure you have enough room and good drainage, get creative with your containers. If you want a particular height, add the expected mature size of the boxwood you choose to that of your container. Go with a formal look or a bright color, maybe a unique shape.
Caring For Boxwood in Planters
Pots dry out more quickly than the ground, especially if they are made of clay (terracotta). So, even though a mature boxwood is drought tolerant, the ones you grow in pots likely need more frequent watering than any you grow in the ground. Don’t try to catch up all at once on your watering; a heavy, strong flow of water can wash many of the soil’s nutrients out with the extra water. Try to water moderately, just until you see dripping at the bottom of the container, about once a week in summer.
In addition, containers can get colder than the ground in winter, so make sure you select a boxwood hardy to your zone or a little colder, just to be sure. Cut back on watering in the winter but give your boxwood some water if it does not receive snow or rain.
Each spring, when you prune, add an inch-thick layer of compost to the top of the soil and work it in gently. This replaces nutrients that might have washed out of the container. Eventually, you might have to repot a boxwood, but it depends on the variety you choose and size of the container. A rule of thumb is three years if you notice its growth slowing. Loosen or trim the roots before potting your boxwood into a new container.
5 Steps for Preparing Boxwoods for Winter
It might seem early to be thinking about winter yard and garden prep, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned here in the volatile climate of the Berserkshires Berkshires, it’s that you can never plan too far ahead. Today we’re taking a look at boxwoods, one of our all-time favorite garden plants for its versatility, its ease of maintenance, and its ease of adaptation and shaping to all sorts of garden spaces.
While some varieties, like Buxus ‘Winter Gem,’ are pretty weather-resistant, most boxwoods are susceptible to cold winds and winter sunscald and can use extra protection during the coldest seasons. To start prepping our boxwoods for winter, we called on Eric Ruquist, gardening guru for Bunny Williams (that’s her drool-worthy garden shown here), and got the low-down on his top tips.
1. If the boxwoods are young or just a few individual plantings, dig them up and transplant them loosely in big terracotta pots. You can give them a minor haircut, but don’t go crazy with the pruning.
2. Place potted boxwoods in an area that’s protected from high winds, such as beside a shed, garage, or greenhouse. If you can, dig a shallow hole to anchor the pots. Then cover the roots entirely with a couple of layers of compost and mulch.
3. If the boxwoods are already established in a planting bed or otherwise too large to move, again, you can prune them a bit, but not too much. Cover with a heavy layer of compost and mulch. Then you have a few options for protecting them from high winds and deep snowfall:
- Tie cut evergreen branches or burlap sacks around them.
- Create a hinged wooden “sandwich board,” or a teepee of bamboo supports and burlap over the plants.
- Craft a tall cage of chicken wire around the plantings, then fill it with leaves or hay for insulation.
4. Continue to water your boxwoods through fall, albeit less frequently than in the summer; basically, you want to keep them from drying out. Once the ground has experienced a hard freeze, the boxwoods will begin to go dormant and you can stop watering.
5. When winter arrives, in all its bitter, blowhard-y glory, resist the urge to brush minor snowfall off your boxwoods; this can actually help insulate the plants during a cold spell. However, anything more than a couple inches of snow is game for removal and will help prevent branch breakage.
Overwintering Evergreens in Containers
Q. I grew two small evergreens in containers this summer. Can they remain outside in winter?
A. Expecting a hardy woody plant to survive an unpredictable Midwestern winter in a container is risky business. When planted in the ground, an evergreen’s vulnerable roots are insulated from frigid temperatures. When planted in a container, the roots are now above ground, exposed on all sides to temperatures than can drop well below zero. Plants are not “hardened” below ground, and the cold tolerance of roots is between 10 and 15 degrees. Temperatures colder than that will freeze tissue and kill the roots. There are several methods for overwintering small, hardy woody plants. If you have an unheated garage, stairwell or basement space where the temperature remains consistently between 20 and 30 degrees, you can store the plants there once there have been several hard freezes.
You can also transplant your small evergreens directly into the garden or bury them in their pots into the garden in early September. Choose a sunny location where they will be sheltered from strong winds. Water the plants well now, throughout autumn and even during winter thaws. Another option is to wait for several freezes and then move the containers close to the house where they will be protected from direct sun and wind. Water well and wrap the plants and containers in a chicken wire cage or in several layers of bubble wrap stuffed with enough leaves to completely cover the small trees. Make sure the containers are not resting on cement or stone since those surfaces will quickly conduct cold to the plants. As the weather warms in spring, gradually remove the protection, resume normal watering and then move the plants back to their preferred locations.
Boxwoods: Perfect for Pots
(Buxus sempervirens) Did you know that the English boxwood variety just happens to smell like a liter box? While boxwood takes any garden from shabby to chic in the blink of an eye, you better choose wisely. English boxwood is quite the looker, but it shouldn’t be used to flank your front door if you want to welcome guests without making them pinch their noses. It’s known to smell a little—or a lot—like cat pee. When in doubt, American or Japanese boxwood will cover your bases with style and without stench. Photo: Van Chaplin/Styling: Scott Martin
Susanne Hudson knows boxwoods like Rod Blagojevich knows hair. More than 400 of these venerable shrubs decorate her garden in Douglasville, Georgia, and she says you’re missing the boat if you don’t try growing them in pots. Here are just a few of her reasons.
Why Boxwoods are Perfect for Pots
Boxwoods in pots are living sculptures. These evergreen shrubs combine rich green foliage with a dense, rounded, formal shape that changes little over time. “A boxwood looks just as good in January as it does in May,” Susanne notes.
Boxwoods are the nearest thing to no maintenance. They tolerate drought and need little fertilizer. Plus the American boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) and dwarf English boxwoods (B. sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) she favors grow so slowly that they hardly ever need trimming. “I’ve never trimmed mine,” she says.
Growing boxwoods in containers raises them to new heights. The same-size shrubs planted in pots look twice as large as those in the ground, giving more impact.
- Choose a fast-draining pot that is at least as wide and tall as the plant itself and preferably bigger. The larger the container, the more soil it holds and the less often you have to repot or water. When planting, use tree and shrub soil, not heavy topsoil. Fill with soil around the root-ball to within a half-inch of the rim. Leaving space at the top keeps water from spilling out.
- Hand-water each boxwood so that water runs from the drainage hole. Then repeat just to make sure the soil is moist from top to bottom. How often should you do this? “I water about once a week in the hot summer,” says Susanne. “In winter I hardly ever do it.”
- As long as boxwoods have fertile soil, they need little feeding. All she does is add about an inch of compost to the top of each pot in spring. (Soil washes from the container over time to provide the space.)
Developing Your Spring Fertilization Program
Choosing your boxwood. All boxwoods are in the Buxus genus, with around 70 different species and hundreds of cultivars. Common, or English, boxwood (B. sempervirens, USDA zones 5 to 8) gets bigger, grows faster and has more pointed leaves than dwarf English boxwood (B. sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, zones 5 to 8). Dwarf English boxwood is particularly prized for topiary and edging, as its slow-growing habit and dense form requires less pruning.
Both littleleaf boxwood (B. microphylla, zones 6 to 9) and Korean boxwood (B. sinica var. insularis, zones 4 to 9) have narrow leaves and a compact form. Of all the Buxus species, Korean boxwood can survive in the lowest temperatures (down to Zone 4), making it the best choice for cold-winter regions.
Designing With Boxwoods
Photo: PAGE | DUKE Landscape Architects
1. Accentuate a garden gate. The gate may officially mark the entryway to this garden, but a pair of large boxwoods gives the arrival real presence. Clipped into sculptural balls, the boxwood looks good year-round and could be wrapped with twinkling white lights in winter.
Photo: Premier Service
2. Add structure to informal gardens. Looser gardens can benefit from the addition of boxwoods to add structure to free-form beds of perennials and billowing grasses. Boxwoods look attractive year-round, which can help ease transitions in the garden as flowers fade and perennials die back, or if beds are left bare in winter.
Photo: Andrew Renn
3. Edge a garden bed. The top choices for low-growing hedges are boxwood varieties that have been cultivated to stay compact, such as dwarf English ( sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’), Wee Willie (B. sinica var. insularis ‘Wee Willie’) and ‘Morris Midget’ (B. microphylla var. japonica ‘Morris Midget’). Plant along garden borders to define planting beds or edge the beds of a kitchen garden.
Photo: Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC
4. Make a stately entrance. Place a potted boxwood on either side of the front door for a welcoming entrance display that takes far less effort to maintain than seasonal annuals. Plant the boxwoods in a well-drained potting mix and keep the soil moist but not too damp.
Photo: A Blade of Grass
5. Soften corners. Shaped into tightly clipped spheres or left as looser mounds, boxwoods can help round out the corners of garden beds. Center a single boxwood on the corner of a bed or arrange a trio of boxwoods with staggered heights in a tight grouping. Softening corners can be particularly useful in small gardens or tight intersections where you might be tempted to clip a corner moving from one space to the next.
Photo: Laara Copley-Smith Garden & Landscape Design
6. Plant en masse. For maximum sculptural impact, plant many boxwoods together and keep them all clipped into globes. The repetitive curved shapes have a peaceful, almost hypnotic, quality as sunlight moves over them. To plan for pruning, space the boxwoods with small gaps between them to allow someone to step into the bed to access plants in the center.
Photo: The Association of Professional Landscapers
7. Plant a room divider. A row of boxwood orbs separates an upper terrace from a lower courtyard in this garden in Berkshire, England. Kept to about 2½ feet tall and wide, the boxwood balls help define the two areas without blocking the view from one to the other.
Photo: Le jardinet
8. Dissuade deer. In gardens that are prone to hungry four-legged visitors, boxwoods can be used in place of other shrubs, such as azalea, arborvitae, roses and yew, that are frequently nibbled. Deer avoid boxwoods thanks to their bitter alkaloid-rich foliage — the same compound that gives boxwood leaves their slightly astringent smell.
Photo: Harrington Porter Landscapes Ltd
9. Emphasize edges. While we usually see boxwoods sheared as hedges or grown into globes, shaping them into rectangular blocks can be surprisingly effective in emphasizing hardscape geometry. In this London garden, boxwoods clipped into low rectangles mimic the form of the stairs, while larger boxwood cubes highlight the geometry of the water feature to the right.
Photo: JLF & Associates, Inc.
10. Gussy up a parking area. Potted boxwoods placed equidistant along the side of a parking area help soften an expanse of cobblestones. Using potted containers in an open parking area can also help direct guests where to park — keeping cars well away from the post of an awning or the living room windows, for example.
Photo: Bosworth Hoedemaker
11. Tuck into window boxes. Boxwoods are great plants for window boxes, as they require little tending and their dark green leaves complement flowers of any hue. In spring, plant edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus, zones 10 and 11) below the boxwood for a profusion of blooms through summer. Once the flowers begin to look tired, replace them with bronze- or purple-leaved coral bells (Heuchera spp., zones 4 to 9) for fall and winter interest.
Photo: Zeterre Landscape Architecture