Plants to Know and Grow: Boxwood

Common box (Buxus sempervirens) is one of my favourite shrubs, both in my garden and also to use in designing. I’d never call it a showstopper, but it does give bones and structure to my landscape, even in winter.

An evergreen known for its small rounded, cupped leaves, I was delighted to discover how easily boxwood grows on PEI. In the wild, boxwood will grow to a height of 15 feet and has a unattractive shape best described as loose, gangly and drooping. But when clipped……..WOW!!! Box becomes a thick, vibrant and lustrous mass of rich green in any shape you choose.

Clipped boxwood is the basis of the traditional French garden, based on the creations of garden designer Andre Le Nostre. He used boxwood as short narrow hedges to create geometric edging that masses of flowers were planted in.

Today, box still makes a statement as a formal hedge. It’s great along walkways or as foundation plantings; it will even grow well on the north side of the house. It is slow growing and easy to keep in bounds with twice a year shearing. My 15 year-old shrubs have been pruned into 3’ x 3’ (1m x 1m).

As soon as box appear in the garden centre they can be planted in the ground. I always amend my soil with compost and fleck it with some bone meal, water it in well and then water it heavily every other day for the first 3 weeks. I also recommend wrapping them in burlap for the first two winters to prevent them from browning off.

The shrub itself will tell you when it’s time for a haircut. When it starts to look ratty, shear it back to just above the darker green old growth. Always leave a `fuzz’ of bright new growth on the plant for health and vitality.

Boxwood is a versatile, long-lived, easily maintained shrub that offers balance, structure and control in the garden. And best of all, they’re easy to grow on PEI!

Common Boxwood
Zone 5-9
Full sun to full shade

Garth Davey, April 2021

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