Caring for Boxwood Shrubs

By Jill Gardiner , last updated February 16, 2011

With proper planting and care, your boxwood will reward you for years to come. Boxwoods are classic additions to the garden, holding their own in any garden style. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, you’re sure to fall in love with this versatile and attractive plant. Over the lifetime of your boxwood, you'll have to address many topics, among them planting, watering, fertilizing, and pruning your shrub.

Ideal Site Conditions

Boxwoods, like most of us, don’t care to have wet feet, so be sure to choose a site that has well-drained soil. Boxwoods also prefer neutral to alkaline soil, so if yours tends towards the acidic, add a little lime when planting. Gardeners in the north should plant boxwoods in full sun; light exposure should be lessened to part sun/shade in southern climates, as strong sun will dull the luster of boxwood’s leaves. Northern gardeners should also consider conditions during the winter season, as boxwood will suffer from excessive sun or wind exposure during these months.

Planting

Remove nursery pot, wire, or artificial burlap from the root ball. Gently loosen soil and any exposed roots. Dig a hole slightly wider than the root ball and equally deep. Thoroughly mix any amendments, such as compost or other organic material (or lime if soil pH is acidic) into the removed soil. Place shrub in the center of the hole and fill in with the amended dirt so that soil level is even with the top of the shrub’s root ball. Firm soil around the base of the plant, water well, and then cover with two to four inches of mulch to retain moisture and regulate soil temperatures.

Maintenance

Water boxwoods regularly throughout their first year in your garden and during any times of drought even as the plant matures. Boxwoods have shallow root systems, so they will not be able to tap into subsoil’s moisture reserves. Special attention should be paid to boxwoods in containers, as a thoroughly dried out boxwood is most likely a dead boxwood. Boxwoods are fairly heavy feeders, so fertilize your shrub in early spring. Boxwoods will also benefit from additional snacks two or three times during the growing season. If your soil tends to be acidic, adding lime every few years is also a good idea.

Pruning

How you prune your boxwood will depend on your gardening style. Boxwoods left to their own devices will form a pleasing shape, although formal gardeners may wish to take a more drastic approach, shearing the plant annually. Shearing is best done in spring, from top to bottom and back to front to help keep lines even. Keep in mind, you should never remove more than one third of a shrub in one go, and shearing is best reserved for more mature plants. For young boxwoods, pinch back tips to encourage bushiness. After pruning boxwoods of any age, be sure to clear away any branches or leaves from the interior and the base of the plant to prevent any disease.

Winter Considerations

Give your boxwoods a deep watering before your first annual frost date to prepare them for the drier winter months. Thicken mulch by an inch or two, and use burlap to form a screen against wind and sun if these are a problem. In areas that get heavy snows, loosely tie branches together to prevent any breakage.

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