Types of boxwood shrubs

Boxwood Shrubs – varieties & characteristics

There are four basic varieties of boxwoods:

English Boxwood

English boxwood, B. sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa,’ is the most commonly grown cultivar, and it was first cultivated in the early 1700’s in the United States. It can reach 3 feet in height and usually grows about 1 inch per year.

English boxwood is rounded, and the overall shape of the plant is similar to a cloud. English boxwood is an evergreen and blooms during the spring.

American Boxwood

American boxwood, also known as common boxwood, is a small tree that grows to 10 feet in height, although some older plants can grow up to 20 feet.

American boxwood is an evergreen, slight blooms in spring and is very tolerant of cold weather, making it a good choice for cooler, northern regions. The leaves are waxy and dark green in color, with pale undersides.

Korean boxwood is a variety that grows in an open habit, as opposed to the dense foliage common in other species of boxwood. This increases the circulation and the amount of light that reaches the inner portions of the plant, making it more disease resistant. It is winter hardy, but during periods of extremely low temperatures, the leaves may brown. However, in the spring the green will return and the plant will resume growth as usual.

Korean boxwood forms oval-shaped leaves that usually only grow to about ½ inch in length. The spring flowers are small and green or yellow in color. Korean boxwood grows to about 4 feet in height.

Japanese Boxwood

Japanese boxwood was first grown in the United States in 1890 and is considered one of the most adaptable species of boxwood available. It can grow up to 8 feet in height with a spread of about 6 feet if grown in the proper environment.

Japanese Boxwood foliage is dark green and grows to about 1 inch in length. It is evergreen, though in cooler climates the leaves may adopt a yellow or brown tinge. Commonly grown as a low hedge; it forms an excellent border when maintained. The flowers bloom in April, but are not showy.

Here are specific boxwoods with characteristics:

Small-Leaved Boxwood ~ (Buxus microphylla)

  • Grace Hendrick Phillips: very dwarf; 1 × 2 foot; zones 6–8
  • Compacta (Kingsville Dwarf): the smallest of them all, tiny leaves, dense, very slow; 1 × 1.5 foot; zones 6–8

Japanese Boxwood ~ (Buxus microphylla var. japonica )

  • Green Beauty: deep green, responds well to pruning, a good substitute for English box; 3 × 3 feet; zones 6–8
  • Morris Dwarf: slow, formal hedge for sun; 1 × 1 foot; zones 6–8
  • Morris Midget: very dwarf, small leaves, sun tolerant; 1 x 1 foot; zones 6–8

Common or American Boxwood ~ (Buxus sempervirens)

  • B. sempervirens: called American boxwood, tall, tried and true species; 5 × 4 feet; zones 5–8
  • Dee Runk: upright fast growth; 8 x 2 feet; zones 6–8
  • Elegantissima: best variegated gray-green and cream, disease-resistant; 3 × 2.5 feet; zones 6–8
  • Fastigiata: bluish-green upright growth for hedge; 8 × 3 feet; zones 6–8
  • Graham Blandy: most narrow columnar, better in cold climates, may need tying or pruning; 7 × 1 feet; zones 5–6

  • Jensen: similar to English; 2 × 2 feet; zones 6–8
  • Newport Blue: globular, quite blue-green foliage; 4 × 3 feet; zones 6–8
  • Pyramidalis: upright cone; 8 × 4 feet; zones 6–8
  • Rotundifolia: fast growing, largest leaves, shade tolerant; 5 × 4 feet; zone 6
  • Vardar Valley: disease-resistant, bluish new growth, hardy; 1 × 3 feet; zones 5–8
  • Wanford Page: long-lasting chartreuse new growth then leaves mottled green and yellow, dwarf; 2 × 1.5 feet; zones 6–8

Korean Boxwood ~ (Buxus sinica var. insularis)

  • Justin Brouwers: sun to shade, natural globe; 2 × 2 feet; zones 6–8
  • Nana: spreading dwarf with narrow leaves, chartreuse in spring, slow; 1 × 3 feet; zones 6–8
  • Wintergreen: cold-hardy, good for hedge, fast-growing; 4 × 4 feet; zones 5–8

Hybrid Boxwood ~ (Buxus hybrids)

  • Glencoe: selected at Chicago Botanic Garden, container plant, edging, hardy; 4 × 5 feet; zones 4–8
  • Green Mound: sun to shade, globular, hardy; 2 × 2 feet; zones 4–8
  • Green Mountain: upright, conical, hardy; 4 × 3 feet; zones 4–8
  • Green Velvet: lime green spring growth, mounding, hardy, 2 × 2.5 feet; zones 4–8

According to a survey of 4,000 landscape professionals, boxwood (Buxus) is the most popular shrub in America. And yet, about a decade ago it was nearly impossible to find boxwoods at home-improvement stores. Why the sea change? Boxwoods were probably unpopular because the foliage’s odor can be off-putting, but as deer populations have increased, this predator-resisting attribute has become an advantage.

A tip to keep boxwood healthy is to avoid planting them too deeply. If anything, plant the crown — the spot where the roots flare from the stems — an inch higher than it grew in the nursery. They prefer well-drained soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline. Mulchwith an inch or so of chopped leaves to help keep soil cool (but don’t heap mulch against the stems).

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Once established, boxwood shrubs are very drought-tolerant. Most cultivars will grow in full sun to a half day of shade. And many, despite their malodorous reputation, have delightfully fragrant little flowers.

The plants we hoped would be all-round problem solvers have a new problem, however: a fungal disease called boxwood blight (Cylindrocladium buxicola), which has been found in an increasing number of states and for which there is no cure. Symptoms appear initially as brown spots on leaves that enlarge until the entire leaf turns dead and dry. Nearly black vertical lesions appear on the stems. Trimmed plants may attempt to push new growth, but that too is soon attacked.

“I think the problem is cultural,” says Andrea Filippone, owner of AJF Design in Pottersville, New Jersey. “Growers are using too much nitrogen, fungicide, and overhead watering.” She has talked to several nurseries, but they are reluctant to respond. “They are just using more fungicides.”

And she knows, having been a director of the American Boxwood Society. Filippone grows and tests dozens of boxwood cultivars in her gardens and in a large nursery area, learning as much as she can about the performance, habit, and ruggedness of Buxus species.

Justin Brouwers Boxwood DAS Farms amazon.com $23.95

To prevent any plants she buys from spreading the fungus to her garden, Filippone quarantines new plants in a nursery bed — although not the most practical thing for home gardeners. She uses compost tea and drip irrigation to help maintain their health.

For centuries, the most popular cultivar grown has been the so-called English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens Suffruticosa), a slow-growing dwarf with small leaves. This cultivar is actually a poor choice, since it is incredibly susceptible to a host of diseases. Filippone recommends Buxus sinicavar insularis Justin Brouwers as an alternative.

Often, plants in the big-box stores labeled “English Box” are not Suffruticosa. The word English sells. These plants often seem to be Buxus sempervirens. “English” and “American” are misnomers — the species originated in Eurasia.

Here is a list of some boxwood cultivars and their characteristics. Height and spread are approximate for plants at maturity, about 15 years of age. The American Boxwood Society has more information on growing boxwood.

Small-Leaved Boxwood

Peter Savage/getty

Buxus microphylla

  • Grace Hendrick Phillips: very dwarf; 1 × 2 foot; zones 6–8
  • Compacta (Kingsville Dwarf): the smallest of them all, tiny leaves, dense, very slow; 1 × 1.5 foot; zones 6–8

Japanese Boxwood

Auscape/getty

Buxus microphylla var. japonica

  • Green Beauty: deep green, responds well to pruning, a good substitute for English box; 3 × 3 feet; zones 6–8
  • Morris Dwarf: slow, formal hedge for sun; 1 × 1 foot; zones 6–8
  • Morris Midget: very dwarf, small leaves, sun tolerant; 1 x 1 foot; zones 6–8
  • Wintergreen: cold-hardy, good for hedge, fast-growing; 4 × 4 feet; zones 5–8

Common or American Boxwood

Ron Evans/getty

Buxus sempervirens

  • B. sempervirens: called American boxwood, tall, tried and true species; 5 × 4 feet; zones 5–8
  • Dee Runk: upright fast growth; 8 x 2 feet; zones 6–8
  • Elegantissima: best variegated gray-green and cream, disease-resistant; 3 × 2.5 feet; zones 6–8
  • Fastigiata: bluish-green upright growth for hedge; 8 × 3 feet; zones 6–8
  • Graham Blandy: most narrow columnar, better in cold climates, may need tying or pruning; 7 × 1 feet; zones 5–6
  • Jensen: similar to English; 2 × 2 feet; zones 6–8
  • Newport Blue: globular, quite blue-green foliage; 4 × 3 feet; zones 6–8
  • Pyramidalis: upright cone; 8 × 4 feet; zones 6–8
  • Rotundifolia: fast growing, largest leaves, shade tolerant; 5 × 4 feet; zone 6
  • Vardar Valley: disease-resistant, bluish new growth, hardy; 1 × 3 feet; zones 5–8
  • Wanford Page: long-lasting chartreuse new growth then leaves mottled green and yellow, dwarf; 2 × 1.5 feet; zones 6–8

Korean Boxwood

DEA / RANDOM/getty

Buxus sinica var. insularis (B. microphylla var. koreana)

  • Justin Brouwers: sun to shade, natural globe; 2 × 2 feet; zones 6–8
  • Nana: spreading dwarf with narrow leaves, chartreuse in spring, slow; 1 × 3 feet; zones 6–8

Hybrid Boxwood

Tanchic/getty

Buxus hybrids

  • Glencoe: selected at Chicago Botanic Garden, container plant, edging, hardy; 4 × 5 feet; zones 4–8
  • Green Mound: sun to shade, globular, hardy; 2 × 2 feet; zones 4–8
  • Green Mountain: upright, conical, hardy; 4 × 3 feet; zones 4–8
  • Green Velvet: lime green spring growth, mounding, hardy, 2 × 2.5 feet; zones 4–8

Boxwood Shrubs

Lush green foliage in a manicured silhouette.

From plant beds to borders and beyond, Boxwood Shrubs impart a sleek, classic look that can be personalized to your needs. Whether you select the timeless American Boxwood or an English Boxwood, you’ll get easy care, rich green growth and a well-manicured landscape.

How to Plant Boxwood Shrubs

Though specific directions will vary, knowing your growing zone is vital. After you’ve determined your growing zone for your Boxwoods, keep sunlight and watering needs in mind. Most will prefer full sun (anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day) and well-drained soil, but make sure you check your tree’s specific directions.

Your fertilizing and pruning needs will vary as well, but most should be pruned to your desired shape.

When you’re ready to plant, select an area with well-drained soil, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the shrub’s root ball (along with some extra width for mature growth), place your shrub and back fill the hole. Finish by watering the surrounding soil near your Boxwoods and mulching to conserve moisture.

When to Plant Boxwood Shrubs

Generally, we recommend planting in early spring or in fall. Either season is fine, though, provided the ground is not frozen.

How to Prune Boxwood Shrubs

Simply prune or shear during dormancy to your desired size and shape. And as always, ensure you remove dead, damaged or diseased areas throughout the year.

Common boxwood

Size & form

A broadly rounded evergreen shrub reaching 3 to 4 feet high and wide

Tree & Plant Care

Best in part shade, but tolerant of full sun with adequate soil moisture. Plants in deep shade will be more open and loose.
Avoid windy sites.
Prune as needed, can be sheared and shaped in early spring. Avoid late summer pruning. New growth will not harden off for winter.
Remove heavy snow cover to avoid winter damage.

Disease, pests, and problems

Winter frost cracking during sudden temperature drop, volutella, phytophthora, boxwood psyllid, leafminer, mites.
All plant parts are poisonous.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Deer and rabbit resistant

Native geographic location and habitat

Europe, Asia, and Africa

Bark color and texture

New growth is angular and green. Mature stems is tan to light brown.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite. Small, 1/2 inches to 1 /12 inches oval to oblong leaves with smooth-margins.
Leaves are dark glossy green above and yellowish-green below. Leaves have a malodorous fragrance.
Winter sun can cause bronzing.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Early spring, pale green to yellow to creamy white flowers are inconspicuous in auxiliary clusters.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit is a 1/3 inch, dehiscent capsule that matures to brown.

Cultivars and their differences

North Star® common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Katerberg’): A densely globe-shaped habit reaching 2 to 2 1/2 feet high. requires little pruning to retain shape.

Schmidt common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Schmidt’): An upright evergreen reaching 5-7 feet high and 4 feet wide.

Vardar Valley common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Vardar Valley’): Low-growing, flat-topped mound reaching 2-3 feet high and 4 to 5 feet wide. Excellent dark bluish-green foliage.

Landscape ShrubsCommon Boxwood(Buxus sempervirens)

Most of the landscapes in Arkansas focus on using hollies (Ilex) as the primary broadleaf evergreen but gardeners may want to take a look at boxwoods (Buxus) as an alternative. In Arkansas, we seem to have two ‘flavors’ of boxwood and the choice of one over the other seems to be linked to geography. There is a tendency to see more littleleaf boxwood (B. microphylla) in the Northwest corner of the state and more common boxwood (B. sempervirens) in Central and South Arkansas.

For those that have traveled in the Midwest or East you have observed littleleaf boxwood (B. microphylla) used extensively. This is especially true if you have ever seen formal or English gardens. Littleleaf boxwood is a very clean, soft textured plant. The small (5/8” long by 1/3” wide) medium green leaves have a semi-gloss appearance. Many gardeners often confuse boxwood with holly but the two are very easy to separate. Leaf arrangement on boxwood is opposite, and alternate on holly. One warning with littleleaf boxwood, be prepared for the leaves to turn a soft orange in February. This is especially evident on exterior leaves and plants that are located in full sun. Many of you will think that your boxwood is dying but in fact this is a normal event. By April the foliage will return to an attractive green again.

Unlike hollies, boxwood is a single season plant. The yellow-white flowers are very small and insignificant. The fruit capsule is also insignificant. Just for fun, you might want to split the horned woody capsule in half and your imagination will let you see what looks like the face of an owl.

The typical size on littleleaf boxwood is 4’ by 4’. This is one reason this plant is so favored for foundations or for low sheared hedges. From a cultural standpoint, littleleaf boxwood is ideally suited for partial shade. In Arkansas, plants located in full sun will likely be more susceptible to winter injury. The most common reason boxwood decline in a landscape is their intolerance of heavy, poorly aerated soils. Boxwood planted in heavily compacted soils in new landscapes or in soils with standing water will likely die quickly. Cultivars with the name ‘winter’ in them (‘Winter Gem’, ‘Wintergreen’) are common in the trade and have greater cold hardiness than the species although this is not a critical issue in Arkansas. Selections from the botanical variety japonica are supposedly better suited for the heat associated with Central and South Arkansas.

In Central and South Arkansas it is more common to see common boxwood (B. sempervirens) in landscapes. Common boxwood can be easily separated from littleleaf boxwood by differences in the leaf tip, leaf color (leaves on common boxwood are typically a darker green; new growth has a distinctive flat bluish/waxy green color), and plant size (common is often 15’ tall by the same in spread).

There are a large number of cultivars of common boxwood available ranging from variegated leaf cultivars (‘Argenteo-variegata’), weeping (‘Pendula’), and plant size (‘Vardar Valley’, ‘Suffruticosa’). ‘Suffruticosa’ is the gold standard as a dense, compact form for edging.

In 2011 a new fungal disease (Cylindrocladium pseudonaviculatum ) called ‘boxwood blight’ was reported in Connecticut and North Carolina. As of 2013, this disease had not been observed in Arkansas. Boxwood blight causes premature defoliation of plants and repeated defoliation and dieback can predispose plants to other pathogens.

  • Common Name: Boxwood
  • Varieties to look for: many
  • Flower Color: NS
  • Blooming period: spring
  • Type: broadleaf evergreen shrub
  • Size: littleleaf 4’ tall by 4’ wide; common 15’ x 15’
  • Exposure: partial sun to shade
  • Soil: good drainage and organic matter
  • Watering: moist best
  • When to prune: as needed
  • Suggested use: edging, low hedge

Boxwoods are a classic garden shrub, first planted in America in the mid-1600s. They’re equally at home as accents, hedges, topiaries, or in containers. They’re also deer-resistant, so their popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.

Unfortunately, many kinds of boxwoods are susceptible to an incurable fungal disease called boxwood blight. The fungus appears as brown spots on leaves until all foliage dries up and drops. Warm, humid conditions help it spread—and plants die within months!

To improve your odds of keeping your landscape healthy, buy boxwoods that are more disease-resistant like the ones featured here, and don’t plant them too close together so air can circulate. And even if you never pay attention to those mile-long scientific names, it’s essential now so you get the specific variety, size, and form you want.

Here’s which boxwoods—and a few lookalikes—to consider for your garden.

Dwarf, or Low-Growing, Boxwoods

Sprinter (Buxus microphylla ‘Sprinter’)
This Japanese boxwood is a fast-grower and resists boxwood blight, as well as winter burn (that singed look that shrubs get in spring after a particularly hard winter).

  • Size: 2 to 4 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Sprinter Boxwood Live Plant homedepot.com $14.05

Northstar (Buxus sempervirens ‘North Star’)
This boxwood has a dense globe-like form, good winter color, and good resistance to boxwood blight.

  • Size: 2 to 2.5 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Wedding Ring (Buxus microphylla var. koreana)
This plant has glossy, variegated foliage with lime edges that become golden in late summer. It’s a nice low hedge or container plant.

  • Size: 1 to 3 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Nana (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Nana’)
This low-spreading variety has lime green new growth that fades to light green. It has good resistance to boxwood blight.

  • Size: 2 feet tall, 3 feet wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 to 8

Cold-Hardy Boxwoods

Green Velvet (Buxus hybrid ‘Green Velvet’)
This plant has a rounded form if not pruned. It’s also suited for dense, low hedges.

  • Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9

Green Velvet Boxwood Live Plant amazon.com $9.95

Green Mountain (Buxus hybrid ‘Green Mountain’)
Bright green foliage retains its color all winter long. The upright, natural cone shape makes it nice for topiary or accent use.

  • Size: 5 feet tall, 3 feet wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9

Green Gem (Buxus hybrid ‘Green Gem’)
This slow-growing type has emerald green summer foliage that bronzes in winter. It’s a good foundation planting or informal hedge.

  • Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9

Glencoe (Buxus hybrid ‘Glencoe’)

This boxwood holds its green color well through the coldest months of the year. It has a nice oval habit, but it is more susceptible to boxwood blight than some other varieties.

  • Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9

Upright Boxwoods

Fastigiata (Buxus sempervirens ‘Fastigiata’)
Bluish-green upright growth makes this a nice hedge plant. It’s somewhat tolerant to boxwood blight.

  • Size: 6 feet tall, 2 feet wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 to 8

Fastigiata Boxwood Live Plant amazon.com $23.95

Graham Blandy (Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’)
This boxwood boasts a dense branching columnar form that makes a striking specimen planting. Good resistance to boxwood blight.

  • Size: 6 to 9 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Dee Runk (Buxus sempervirens ‘Dee Runk’)
This upright, fast-grower makes a neat, narrow hedge or accent with its columnar shape.

  • Size: 8 feet tall, 2 feet wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 to 8

John Baldwin (Buxus microphylla ‘John Baldwin’)
This boxwood has a nice, fat bottom and broad cone shape. New foliage has a blue-ish tint.

  • Size: 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 to 8

Rounded or Sphere-Shaped Boxwoods

Winter Gem (Buxus microphylla japonica ‘Winter Gem’)
This boxwood makes a nice hedge and takes shearing well. It’s a fast grower and is tolerant to boxwood blight.

  • Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Winter Gem Boxwood Live Plant homedepot.com $19.98

Golden Dream (Buxus microphylla ‘Golden Dream’)
With its lime coloring, this plant is a pretty contrast to the other deep greens in your landscape.

  • Size: 3 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 to 9

Green Beauty (Buxus microphylla japonica ‘Green Beauty’)
This plant retains its dark green foliage in even the hottest summers. It stands up to heat, humidity, and drought better than many types.

  • Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Green Mound (Buxus hybrid ‘Green Mound’)
This plant has a natural rounded shape. It’s good for hedges, foundation plantings, and containers.

  • Size: 3 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8

Boxwood Lookalikes

Gem Box Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra ‘Gem Box’)
Here’s a holly that resembles a boxwood! It looks similar, but isn’t susceptible to blight. The dense ball-shaped plant is nice as a hedge or in a container.

  • Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Gem Box Inkberry Holly Live Plant amazon.com $12.99 $4.99 (62% off)

Strongbox Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra ‘Strongbox’)
Upright branches and a mostly round shape make this lesser-known native holly a good planting up against foundations or along walks. And it won’t get boxwood blight!

  • Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

Juke Box Pyracomeles (x. Pyracomeles)
This brand-new little evergreen has shiny leaves and fine branches. It works well as a hedge or specimen and takes to shearing just fine.

  • Size: 1 to 3 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 7 to 9

Little Ollie Montra Dwarf Olive (Olea europaea ‘Montra’)
This dwarf evergreen has deep green leaves with silvery undersides and can be potted or sheared into a hedge. It’s heat-tolerant.

  • Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and wide
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 8 to 11

Arricca SanSone Arricca SanSone writes for CountryLiving.com, WomansDay.com, Family Circle, MarthaStewart.com, Cooking Light, Parents.com, and many others.

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