Shrubs

Buxus sempervirens Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Common Boxwood”

Guide to Buxus sempervirens - everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing and caring for “Common Boxwood” shrubs.
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Evergreen shrubs are the foundation of any garden. They are most popular in French garden styles, but they are also very common in British garden styles. In fact, due to their neutral appearance, they can integrate into any type of garden. Furthermore, their flexible appearance makes them suitable for a wide range of functions such as living fences or topiaries.

Common Boxwood has been cultivated since ancient times and it is a key plant in many formal landscapes. Each region claims it as its own, so do not be surprised if you find this plant to be referred to as English Boxwood or the Persian Boxwood.

Nonetheless, no matter how you call it, this plant is very versatile, and it can add a touch of elegance to any garden. Moreover, as you are about to discover, it is quite easy to grow and it is not too fussy about its environment.

About the Common Boxwood

  • The common boxwood is native to southern and western Europe, Africa, and southeastern Asia. Some varieties have also been naturalized in Northern America, where it is sometimes referred to as the American Box. In the USA, it can be found in Florida, Georgia, Delaware, and Maryland.
  • There are over 30 Buxus species. The Sempervirens is not the hardiest of them all, but it is the tallest one and the most versatile, which in turn makes it the most popular. The species differ in size, leaf color, and shape.
  • The Common Boxwood is not prone to diseases and pests except for the Boxwood psyllid. This is a nymph pest that is active in the spring. It survives by feeding on the developing buds, causing cupping of the leaves. The pest is usually enclosed in the cupped leaves, which makes it rather difficult to get rid of. The best way to get rid of it is to prune the infected tips or use insecticidal soap on the affected areas. In cases of extreme infections, you can use chemical treatments.
  • The trunk of the Boxwood shrub has a light cream color, and it is sometimes used in various wood projects. Since it is cheap, it has a high density and it is resistant to chipping, it is great for carving, and it is often used for chess pieces or small musical instruments such as flutes. It is also used to make parts for various string instruments.
  • Buxus plants have been used for medicinal purposes for a very long time. It is usually the leaves that are used to obtain various extracts. The extracts are used to treat malaria, arthritis, and even AIDS. However, the leaf itself is not to be used in alternative medicine since it can be toxic without proper dosage and it can even cause death.
  • This shrub is also toxic for pets, especially for cats, dogs, and horses. Ingesting the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats and dogs, which can lead to various dehydration complications. In horses, it can cause diarrhea, colic, seizures, and respiratory problems.
  • The common boxwood is the oldest known ornamental plant used in western gardens.
Buxus sempervirens
Buxus sempervirens

Common Boxwood Features: An Overview

  • A mature Buxus Sempervirens has an average height of 1,8-2,4 meters. In perfect growing conditions, it can grow as tall as 9 meters, and its trunk can reach a diameter of 20 cm and it is covered with brown, wrinkled bark.
  • It has glossy foliage that maintains its bright green color all year long. The leaves are leathery, and they have an elliptical shade. They are about 1-5 cm long. Their green shade is darker on the top side and lighter on the lower side. The shrub has a very intense crown which is not affected by pruning, so the plant can be cut frequently to control its growth and its shape.
  • This plant blooms in the middle of the spring. The flowers are yellow-green, and they are mostly unnoticeable except for their intense fragrance. The flowers have both sexes, and they are pollinated by insects. They develop into a 3-lobbed fruit capsule that contains up to 6 seeds.
  • If you want to plant this shrub outdoors, you should know that it is suitable for USDA zones 6a, 6b, 7a,7b, 8a, and 8b. In its native environment, this plant prefers limestone foundations. It grows best in neutral soil, but it can also handle mild alkaline or acidic fluctuations. The soil needs to be well-drained
  • Common boxwood grows well in full sun but also in partial shade. Its sun exposure needs will be greatly affected by the climate. Contrary to popular belief, shade is more important in colder regions with harsh winters. This is owed to the fact that the leaves are more likely to be scorched in the winter sun.
  • If you want to combine this shrub with other plants in your garden, you must consider the overall effect that you want to achieve. The most interesting combination is with other shrubs with contrasting foliage colors. If you want to create a formal garden design, you can use the boxwood to create knot gardens where you can grow flowering grasses or other plants. In a natural setting, you can combine this shrub with lilac trees, ninebark, or potentilla.
  • Occasional mulching is required to protect the roots, to improve the health of the soil, and to reduce weeds.
Common Boxwood
Common Boxwood

Watering the Common Boxwood

This plant grows best when it is watered regularly, although it is resistant to drought, so it will survive in extreme heat conditions, especially if you also provide it with a little bit of shade.

A young, newly planted shrub will require a deep watering session to saturate the roots. After that, it needs to be watered twice a week until it matures, which happens after about one year. During its second year, you only need to water it once a week. Once it fully matures, it will no longer require watering since its strong root system will provide it with all the water and nutrients that it needs from the soil.

Nonetheless, try to help it out with occasional watering during hot and dry seasons. It also helps if you water the shrub deeply before the ground freezes in late winter to alleviate possible cold damages that may occur in winter. If you are unsure of whether you need to water your Boxwood, use a trowel to dig about 10 cm under the shrub’s outer branches. If the soil is dry there, your boxwood will need watering. Avoid overwatering as the plant can easily drown and its roots are prone to rotting.

buxus sempervirens hedge
Buxus sempervirens hedge

Propagating the Common Boxwood

The easiest way to propagate this shrub is through cuttings. You can use softwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings, or even hardwood cuttings.

If you choose to propagate with softwood, use 10-15 cm cuttings. Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting, or as much as you think necessary for the leaves not to meet the growing medium. Use a growing gel or powder to dip your cuttings, and plant them in propagating sand or a basic seed raising mix. You can also use honey instead of a growth hormone.

The cuttings can be planted close together as they lean on each other and grow better, but it is best if they all have individual containers. Use either a plastic cover or a plastic bag to create a heat chamber and place them in a partially sunny location. They do not need a lot of watering or nutrients at this stage, but they do need a warm and humid environment. After about six weeks, you can move them to the garden. Planting should be done during the time of vegetative rest, which is during fall and spring.

When it comes to hardwood cuttings, it is important to allow them a few days to dry until the cut surface develops a callous. Keep in mind that this shrub can grow to have a rather wide diameter, so it is best to allow about 2 meters of space between two boxwoods.

You can also propagate from seeds, although this is a more time-consuming option. If you choose this method of propagation, only bread the seed pods open once they have already dried on the plant. Keep in mind that no matter how well you clean them, these seeds do not store well, so it is best to sow them as quickly as possible.

Boxwood topiary balls
Boxwood topiary balls

In Conclusion

As you can see, this evergreen shrub is not very picky. If you offer it a little shelter from intense heat and you give it some basic care, it will grow without problems and it will be a nice addition to any garden.

Even though the Buxus sempervirens is a very common bush that can be found in most gardens, its basic nature makes it suitable for the most extravagant gardening projects. You can use it for a lush labyrinth garden, a minimalist garden, or an eccentric garden with lush green sculptures. You can also use it to create a margin around a garden fountain or to create privacy around your pool or another garden space.

Are you growing Buxus sempervirens? Share your experience in the comments!

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Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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