Boxwood has been used in gardens for generations. It is considered one of the oldest ornamental plants, having been featured as a hedge by the Egyptians and then used in gardens built by Romans and Greeks. Over 80 species of this plant exist worldwide. Some varieties are small and compact while some of the newer ones, including American boxwood, grow 12 to 15 feet high. It is generally sheared to keep a compact shape. The wood is dense and heavy and is often featured in making carvings. Boxwood is most often seen as a separation between areas of a garden, and it has traditionally been a part of herbal knot gardens.
Boxwood is an evergreen plant. It has small to medium dark green leaves that sit oppositely on the stems or branches. Some species have a fragrant flower, which looks somewhat like a mimosa that blooms in the spring. Other species have flowers that are barely visible. The branches are very dense, making it good for borders or hedges. Boxwood is also used in many topiaries because it keeps a good shape once clipped.
Boxwood likes shade but will tolerate sun. Plant after all danger of frost has passed. The leaves may turn a bronze color if it's frequently in the sun. The area in which it is planted should be well-drained yet moist. The pH of the soil should run about 6.2. Boxwood loves lime, so that can be added during the planting. Dig a hole two times the size of the root ball and as deep as the roots. Leave the existing stem above ground because deep planting can kill the plant. Fill the hole with a mixture of soil blended with peat moss and compost. Boxwood has shallow roots, so water and mulch immediately.
Always water boxwood thoroughly, especially during dry spells. The roots are shallow and need frequent watering. Fertilize boxwood two times a year during the spring and summer. Prune the branches to keep the bush in shape. The first few years, the growth will not be upward. Instead, the bush will get thicker and will start to spread up and out. Do not prune in late summer or early fall, because the plant will not have enough time to recover before cold weather takes over.
Diseases and Pests
Winter winds can burn boxwood and cause branches to die. Protect boxwood by wrapping with burlap during the winter months. It is susceptible to root rot if it is sitting in water constantly. It can also be affected by leaf spot and canker. Go to your local garden center for fungicides that will work to protect boxwood. Pests include root knot nematode, caterpillars, leaf miners and mites. All can be controlled by using an insecticide.
Older specimens need to be pruned inside out. The denseness of the branches inside must be thinned occasionally, or they will prevent the sun from getting to the inside of the plant and all the leaves will fall. Boxwood has shallow roots, so avoid planting anything nearby that would require the soil to be disturbed for any reason. Many people have allergic reactions to boxwood. Some people get itchy eyes and hay fever symptoms, while others get contact dermatitis if they touch the plant.