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What are Boxwood Shrubs?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2016
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Boxwood shrubs are shrubs in the box family, a very diverse family of trees and shrubs which have been used for centuries by gardeners. Classically, boxwood is used to make hedges and garden borders, especially in traditional English gardens, and it can also be used as an accent plant in the garden. Many garden suppliers stock boxwood shrubs, usually with several species and cultivars on offer to satisfy specific needs, and they can also be ordered directly from nurseries which specialize in ornamental shrubs.

One of the most famous boxwood cultivars is English Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, a dwarf variety of boxwood which tops out at around three feet (one meter) in height. Other boxwood shrubs can get much larger, especially if they are allowed to grow unchecked. All boxwoods are evergreens, with glossy green leaves and small flowers which often go unnoticed amid the thick greenery. Boxwood stems are thick and woody, making the plant very stout and hardy.

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When used as a hedge or garden border, boxwood shrubs need to be routinely pruned to hold their shape. Boxwoods are very forgiving of even the most aggressive pruning, and plants which are pruned regularly will develop a dense, sturdy growth habit. Most gardeners make a habit of trimming their boxwood shrubs once a month in the growing season during the spring and summer to keep their hedges looking trim and crisp. In radical cases, gardeners have cut overgrown boxwoods back almost to the roots, and the plants have bounced back within a few years.

Boxwood can also be used to make topiaries, decorative garden accents created by trimming hedges into fanciful shapes. Boxwood is especially well suited to topiary work because it takes shaping very well, and its evergreen nature ensures that the topiary always looks crisp, clean, and green, even in the depth of winter.

The climate zones suitable for boxwood vary, depending on the species. English Boxwood, for example, grows in USDA zones six through eight, but other boxwood shrubs can be grown outside this zone. Most boxwoods are very hardy, withstanding poor soil conditions fairly well, but sometimes they develop a condition known as winter bronzing, in which the leaves turn yellow or orange due to stress. Winter bronzing is caused by exposure to sunlight and lack of water, and it can be reduced by mulching well, protecting the plants from frost by wrapping them on cold nights, and using an anti-desiccant spray designed for boxwoods during the winter months.

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anon112743
Post 8

these plants smell because it's a plant that the deer will not eat.

anon91957
Post 7

I have boxwoods and they do not smell bad. Sometimes a stray cat actually does spray on them and that is probably what you are smelling. Do you have stray cats around?

anon84570
Post 6

did anyone come up with something that reduces that cat urine odor from boxwoods. i recently bought a house that is nearly surrounded by them and they are nice evergreen shrubs. However,I could not stand to open the windows in the spring for the smell. Surely, these haven't been planted so vigorously across the country with this smell coming from them. any suggestions, anyone? Thanks vw

anon51627
Post 5

I have several boxwoods that are turning brown. Do you think by adding acid to lower the PH this will help?

anon50123
Post 4

jg - I forgot about solving the problem. I actually had the offending shrub removed, and planted it far, far away from the house, where I could see, but not smell, it. You might ask in a gardening shop if they have something to stop the odor, or at ecological sites.

anon50122
Post 3

jg - I don't know if this odor problem is common, but I have had it as well, with boxwoods. There is also a particularly nasty smelling, low, spreading, evergreen.

anon38478
Post 2

We also have English boxwood planted near the front door and the smell is much like a cat spray or urine. I'm thinking of pulling them out and putting in a different area of the yard. When is the best time to move them?

anon32554
Post 1

I recently bought 2 boxwood shrubs and noticed they give off a strong, unpleasant odor. This is quite obnoxious as they are planted at the foundation, and often this odor enters the house.

Is this common? If so, how can we help this problem.

Thank you..jg

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