Boxwoods add color and structure to winter garden

  • Homeowners can use ideas found at botanic gardens in a smaller scale for their own gardens.

    Homeowners can use ideas found at botanic gardens in a smaller scale for their own gardens.

By Diana Stoll
Posted12/16/2018 6:00 AM

Boxwoods are valuable in the garden all year long, but their evergreen leaves of rich green and dense shapes -- whether trimmed in formal designs or left to grow naturally -- take center stage in winter. Botanic gardens rely on boxwoods and other evergreens to keep their gardens beautiful in winter. There are many ways homeowners can take advantage of the beauty of boxwoods, too.

Edge pathways with small boxwoods. In summer, they provide a backdrop for flowering annuals that accompany guests as they walk to the front door. In winter, they become the greeters. Prune them into formal globes or let them grow into their naturally rounded forms. North Star is an ideal choice for edging a pathway. It grows slowly up to 32 inches tall.

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Small boxwoods also frame perennial borders beautifully, adding structure while containing billowing blossoms. Chicagoland Green grows up to 3 feet tall and wide at maturity and was selected by the Chicago Botanic Garden for its excellent cold hardiness.

Soften corners or harsh edges in the landscape. A tall flowering shrub may have more appeal when it is in bloom, but a boxwood planted at a corner softens its sharp edge year round. Green Mountain grows 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, short enough to remain under eaves, but tall and wide enough to offer dramatic impact.

Create more theatrics in the landscape when Green Mountain boxwoods are planted as punctuation marks. One planted at the front door or the garden gate commands attention, or plant one to draw the eye to a corner of the landscape. Three planted in a staggered line invite exploration.

Boxwoods are one of the best options for hedges, from small, boundary-suggesting enclosures to tall, privacy-providing barriers. To grow in hedges, boxwoods should be planted closer together than their labels suggest. They are easily sheared to a desired height or left to grow to their ultimate height.


For folks without the patience required for slow-growing boxwoods, I discovered an innovative new idea called InstantHedge®. Plants are trimmed and root pruned as they grow into 40-inch panels sold in heights of 18 to 24 inches, 3 to 4 feet and 5 to 6 feet.

Plant boxwoods in shrub borders. Not flashy, like lilacs that celebrate the arrival of spring or hydrangeas that throw a party in summer, they remain in the winter not only for gardeners, but for birds and other wildlife looking for shelter. Gardeners with landscapes frequented by deer love boxwoods because deer do not.

Fashion a creative grouping of boxwood. Imagine how pretty a variety of different sizes and shapes of boxwoods would be -- upright varieties left to grow tall and straight like soldiers while others are pruned in globes in an assortment of sizes. Now picture them dusted with snow.

Boxwoods are long-lived and easy to grow as long as they are planted in the right location. First, they must be planted in well-drained soils. Plant them at, or an inch above, the level they were growing in their pots in a spot with full sun or light shade (morning sunshine and afternoon shade is ideal) and protection from harsh winter winds.

They are slow to settle in, taking up to two years for their roots to establish, so supplemental watering is important if Mother Nature doesn't supply it. Mulching will help keep the soil evenly moist longer but remember to keep it a couple inches away from the base of shrubs.

• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at

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