Thanks to its versatility, boxwood can fit into any landscape, whether a formal or casual design. In winter’s sparse garden, this shrub’s strong shape, rich green color and air of old-world formality can dominate the scene. In summer, when the garden is in full bloom, it blends into the lushness, providing shape and structure. There are about 90 species and over 365 different kinds of boxwood. They vary tremendously in size, shape, leaf characteristics, growth rates and hardiness. The secret to working with these evergreens is in choosing the varieties that best fit the growing conditions where you are creating your landscape. Here are our top picks and some ways to use them.
Hedges – Boxwoods take well to shearing, which makes them likely candidates for hedges. They are suitable for defining different spaces in the garden, as a border along a property line or for a tidy foundation cover-up.
If you want a tight, close hedge, place your plants half as far away from one another as the mature width listed on the plant tag and they will fill in exactly the way you want. Here are three of the hardiest mountain varieties ready for planting now:
Winter Gem Boxwood
Variegated English Boxwood
Green Mountain Boxwood
Edgers and low hedges – Gardeners have been clipping boxwood shrubs into tight formations since 4,000 BC when some Egyptians picked up a pair of shears and went to work. From parterres and knot gardens to defined borders along walkways or beds, low-growing boxwoods such as these three varieties lend themselves to a structured look:
Dwarf English Boxwood
Morris Midget Boxwood
Wee Willie Boxwood
Green Accents – Enhance your front door area with a single boxwood or with several of these shapely plants (we love three staggered heights packed into a tight grouping). Use them to define corners in a border or add to billowing borders for structure. These cultivars make it easy:
Chicagoland Green Boxwood
Green Velvet Boxwood
Topiary – Select taller varieties for swooping spiral or tiered ball topiary forms. Smaller varieties can be sheared into whatever shape you fancy, from a classic orb to whimsical whatevers. Take clippers and shape these varieties:
Green Tower Boxwood
Green Mountain Boxwood
Golden Triumph Boxwood
Containers and Raised beds – Almost all boxwoods are candidates for containers because they look just as good in January as they do in June. 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 water. This one’s a great container candidate:
Petite Pillar Dwarf Boxwood
Keeping Boxwoods Happy
Provide excellent drainage – Boxwoods are highly adaptable to various soil types, including average or poor soils and acidic or alkaline conditions provided the soil is well drained. Boxwoods can’t take standing water and heavy wet soil which can lead to root rot. Prevent this problem by amending your garden soil to a 50 percent blend of Watters Premium Mulch and native garden soil; then plant on a slight mound in the yard. For containers and raised beds plant directly into Watters Potting Soil.
Keep them clean – When a boxwood is sheared to produce denser outer foliage, air circulation is inhibited and light is prevented from reaching the inner sections of the plant. The resulting dead leaves and stems that accumulate in the center can promote fungal diseases that can be fatal. Prune back all dying branches to healthy wood, remove all debris from the center of the plant, and thin out some of the outside growth so that air and light can reach into and maintain a healthy center.
Sun exposure – Boxwoods thrive in either full sun or light shade. But if exposed to extreme winds and full sun, boxwoods can struggle the first years in a garden, especially in winter. These conditions are especially common on mountain ridgelines. Protect boxwoods by keeping them vigorous and healthy; water as needed and apply a fresh layer of mulch in fall to help prevent winter damage. Spray with Watters “Wilt Stop” to withstand extreme exposure.
Fertilizing – Apply Watters 7-4-4 All Purpose Food in spring, summer, and fall for the greenest plants. Gardeners who plan around holidays use Easter, Independence Day, and Halloween as reminders to feed their healthy boxwoods.
Until next issue, I’ll be here at Watters Garden Center helping local gardeners care for their boxwoods. QCBN
By Ken Lain