How to Plant and Grow Boxwood

This evergreen shrub is so versatile in the landscape.

What makes boxwood so appealing is this plant's ability to be shaped into different formal structures. It's difficult for most plants (that are constantly growing) to be constrained in such a formal matter, but not with boxwood. Typically, boxwood, hardy in Zones 4-8, has one major flush of growth in the spring but usually won't outgrow its shape because of its dense branching. Their glossy green leaves are a good addition to almost any garden space.

Boxwood Overview

Genus Name Buxus
Common Name Boxwood
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 2 to 20 feet
Width 2 to 20 feet
Flower Color Green
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Winter Interest
Special Features Good for Containers
Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Good For Privacy, Groundcover

Where to Plant Boxwood

In general, boxwood grows best in a full-sun location but not in extreme heat. In warm climates, a little dappled shade is appreciated. It requires evenly moist soil that drains well. It's best to avoid planting most boxwood varieties in southwestern exposures. These plants benefit from some protection against high winds.

Assess the planned site and purpose for your boxwood before choosing a variety. There are hundreds of cultivars on the market, and they have varying growth habits and site requirements.

Boxwoods are frequently used as hedges, but they can also be specimen plants or trimmed as topiaries. They work well in mass plantings or when used to edge beds and borders in formal gardens.

How and When to Plant Boxwood

Plant boxwood in spring or summer to give it time to become established during the cool winter months. Select a planting area and test the soil. Boxwood requires a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Amend the soil to fall within this pH range.

Dig a hole no greater than the depth of the boxwood root ball and two or three times as wide. Slide the plant out of the nursery container and gently loosen the roots before putting the boxwood in the hole with the crown of the plant sitting slightly above soil level. Backfill the hole with garden soil, pressing down lightly with your hands to compress it and remove air pockets. Water the plant thoroughly. Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch around the boxwood, taking care to keep it away from the trunk of the plant.

When planting multiple boxwoods, the spacing depends on both the variety and its planned use. In general, plant dwarf or small boxwoods about 2 to 3 feet apart for hedges or foundation plantings; somewhat larger ones should be spaced about 3 to 4 feet apart. The largest boxwoods can grow up to 20 feet wide (but it takes them years to do so). If the boxwoods are being planted as ornamental specimens, 5- to 8-foot spacing is usually sufficient.

Boxwood Care Tips

In general, boxwoods are fairly forgiving plants.


Many varieties are versatile in their sunlight needs and can take full sun to full shade, while others thrive in more shade and suffer burning and bronzing in too much sun. Consult your plant's information tag before you purchase and plant to ensure you're siting it correctly.

Soil and Water

Boxwoods like good drainage and don't appreciate standing water. Plant them slightly above soil level and mound extra soil so water will not pool right at the crown. Once established, boxwood can handle drought very well (but they enjoy a little water now and then to help prevent long-term problems).

It's also essential that boxwoods are well-watered as winter approaches. Watering them before a hard freeze helps fill any air space around the roots and acts as insulation.

Temperature and Humidity

Boxwoods are hardy in Zones 4 to 8, although even this varies by variety; relatively few varieties can handle the cold temperatures in Zone 4.

In the hottest climates, boxwoods require extra water and some shade. In cold climates, stem tips may die back unless the plant is protected by being wrapped loosely in burlap tied with twine. Snow serves as an insulator, but the weight of a lot of snow can damage the plants, so brush it off regularly.

In general, boxwood tolerates a wide range of humidity. It grows in 10 percent humidity and 90 percent humidity, and everything in between.


Use an all-purpose fertilizer once each spring, following the manufacturer's directions.


Regular annual trimming allows you to maintain a shaped plant with little fuss. Trimming is best done during late winter or early spring, just before the big annual flush of new growth. This prevents too much tender growth in the fall that may burn come winter and promotes good branching of the new growth for a nice, full shrub.

When choosing a boxwood for topiary purposes, the particular variety dictates what shape the plant will be best for, so check the growth habit of your specific type. For example, some boxwoods are naturally rounded, some are low and spreading, some are more conical, and some are upright. The growth rate is also important to consider. Many dwarf varieties are slow-growing, so if you plan on making a hedge, you'll need to plan to space accordingly. Others may be fast-growing, and if you plan on making intricate-shaped topiaries, they may outgrow their shape too quickly and require additional maintenance.

Potting and Repotting Boxwood

Plant boxwood in a ceramic or terra-cotta container that's as wide as the plant is tall and offers excellent drainage. An 18-inch container is the right size for many dwarf boxwood varieties. Boxwoods in containers—especially those in terra-cotta containers—dry out more quickly than boxwoods planted in garden soil, so monitor container plants closely.

The root system of boxwood is shallow, and the plant is slow growing, so it won't need repotting for 2 or 3 years. If you notice it has stopped growing, it's time to repot. When it's ready for transplanting, choose a new container that's one size larger and fill it with fresh soil that has been amended to be well-draining and in the preferred pH range of 6.0-7.0.

Pests and Problems

Bronzing is the most common problem seen in boxwood and is generally due to too much sun and wind exposure during winter. There are varieties more resistant to bronzing, so by choosing the correct variety in the beginning, you can prevent many potential boxwood problems.

Leaf spot and root rot are the results of poor drainage. Treat pests like leafminer, boxwood mite, and boxwood psyllid with horticultural oil.

How to Propagate Boxwood

Boxwood can be propagated with stem cuttings or seed, but either method requires patience.

Cuttings: Propagate boxwood from stem cuttings in spring. Take 4- to 6-inch cuttings from fresh light-green growth. Remove all foliage from the bottom half of the cuttings and dip them into rooting hormone. Fill a 4-inch pot with good-quality potting soil and poke a hole in it for each cutting using a pencil or other similar object. Insert one cutting into each hole, trying not to rub off the rooting hormone. This size pot can root up to four cuttings at one time, spaced equally apart. Water the cuttings, enclose the entire pot inside a clear plastic bag, and place it in a warm, bright area (not full sun). Open the bag occasionally to make sure the potting medium remains moist. The cuttings should root in four to six weeks. To test whether rooting has occurred, tug gently on a leaf at the top of the cutting. Any resistance indicates rooting. When rooting has started, remove the plastic bag permanently and wait a couple of weeks for the cuttings to further develop their root systems. Then transplant each rooted cutting to its own pot, where it can continue to develop until spring planting.

Seed: Boxwood can also be propagated from seed, but it takes up to six months for the seeds to germinate. Fill a small container with moist seed-starting mix. Press two or three seeds into each container at a depth of twice the longest side of the seed. Cover the seeds with the seed-starting mix. Put a lid on the container or place it inside a sealed plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator for two months for stratification. Check the seed-starting mix weekly to make sure it is still moist and return the container to the refrigerator.

After a couple of months, take the container out of the refrigerator and uncover it. Put it in a cool area, not a sunny window—the ideal temperature is about 60°F—until the seeds germinate. As soon as a seedling appears, move the container to an area with bright sunlight. When the seedling is 4 inches tall and has a robust root system, it is ready to move to the garden.

Types of Boxwood

'Greenmound' Boxwood

Boxwood shrubs
Peter Krumhardt

Buxus 'Greenmound' retains its bright green color through the darkest winter days. It's compact (to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide), slow-growing, and extra cold hardy. Zones 4-8

'Morris Midget' Boxwood

'Morris Midget' Boxwood
Denny Schrock

Buxus 'Morris Midget' is a truly tiny cultivar and only grows about half an inch a year. This variety may bronze in full sun during the winter but will typically grow out of it. Zones 6-8

'Northern Beauty' English Boxwood

'Northern Beauty' English Boxwood
Carol Freeman

Buxus sempervirens 'Northern Beauty' is one of the hardiest English boxwood varieties. It grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

Garden Plans for Boxwood

Front-Yard Rose Garden Plan

Front-Yard Rose Garden Plan
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

Dress up your front yard—and front door—with this garden plan full of beautiful roses.

Summer Cottage Garden Plan

Summer Cottage Garden Plan
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

Stately delphiniums are the backbone of this colorful cottage garden plan.

Dooryard Garden Plan

Walk to front door garden 
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

First impressions are important! This entry garden greets your guests with beauty in all four seasons.

Foundation Garden Plan

Foundation Garden
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

A colorful alternative to the standard all-green landscape, this foundation planting mixes broad-leafed evergreen shrubs and a sculptural tree with flowering perennials and groundcovers.

Fence-Obscuring Garden Plan

Garden Plan to Soften a Fence
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

The exciting plants included in this design will provide long-lasting color, fragrance, and texture that will leave you saying, "What fence?"

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do boxwood shrubs grow well indoors?

    Dwarf boxwoods are able to be shaped and kept smaller, so they make good indoor plants, as long as they're given the right sunlight and water.

  • What is boxwood used for?

    Boxwood is a strong and dense type of wood. Historically, it's been used to make chess pieces, woodblock prints, and musical instruments, among other items.

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