Boxwood (Buxus spp.) is one of the most versatile shrubs in the plant kingdom and a popular pick among savvy landscape designers. It’s hard to pass up that lush, evergreen look, especially in severe winter regions.
The dexterity of this genus starts with its range of subtle color variations. From sage to jade to blue-green, with some cultivars presenting the most stunning variegation.
If you’re looking to add a few boxwood plants to your landscape, you may be finding it difficult to narrow down the numerous choices.
I’m glad you’re here because I’m going to introduce you to 15 different types of boxwood that are easy to grow and maintain in distinct hardiness zones. Let’s get started.
Types of Boxwood Shrubs
The reliability of boxwood stems from its ability to anchor your landscape, providing a solid structure upon which you can build a gorgeous garden, by adding complementary companion plants.
Thriving in both full and partial sun, the most commonly grown boxwood varieties are receptive to heavy pruning. Allowing you to shape several into a singular hedge or individual globes, depending on the natural growth habits of each. These are:
- American boxwoods
- English boxwoods
- Japanese boxwoods
- Korean boxwoods
- Dwarf cultivars
While perusing the following options, keep in mind your hardiness zone, the available light in your intended planting location, and the maturity size of each.
Whichever ones you find are your favorite, they’re guaranteed to add beauty and sublime sophistication to your landscape.
Tall boxwood Shrubs
Tall boxwoods are defined as those that reach 4 – 9ft tall, at maturity and grow in an upward-reaching habit, at a rate of 3-5”, per year. Making them ideal for topiaries or privacy hedges.
The following three options do just that and can be paired with smaller varieties for added dimension and structure in your landscape design.
What sets each apart is leaf size, cultivation method, and tolerance for adverse weather conditions
Despite its name, this boxwood type is original to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Its affinity for cold climates fueled its migration west, distinguishing itself from English boxwood with its narrow, spear-tipped foliage.
Leaves grow in close-knit pairs along short branches. Emerging in bright chartreuse before maturing to dark green, giving the shrub a dynamic, two-toned appearance throughout the growing season.
The American boxwood is long-lived and matures to a potential 10-12ft in height, in zones 5-9. Preferring full sun to partial shade and well-draining soil, this cultivar is highly sought-after for its hardiness and resistance to pests and disease.
Occupying the top position in the dwarf category is the Titan. While typically grown as a low hedge or small topiary, this boxwood can grow to 6ft, in height. It’s also incredibly robust. Staying green and resilient through sub-zero temperatures and excessive heat, in zones 4-9.
With a spherical growing habit, the Titan prefers full to partial sun and well-drained soil. This cultivar can brown in prolonged sun exposure, though. In warmer climates, afternoon shade is ideal.
To add to its already impressive resume, the Titan boxwood also emits a subtle fragrance that repels deer and rabbits.
Presents larger leaves that are often tinged with red edges, and more pronounced flowers than the American or Titan varieties. The Japanese family of boxwoods shine a more vibrant shade of green and can mature to a much larger 6ft tall and wide, in zones 6-9. Expect a show of delicate creamy flowers with a delightful fragrance in late spring.
While perfect for privacy hedges, these will tolerate heavy pruning when grown as potted topiaries or foundation plantings.
New plants are quick to establish and become relatively low-maintenance, drought-tolerant and repellent of wildlife.
These are adaptable to a range of soil types that are well-draining. Yet, prefer partial sun positioning. Full winter sun will result in brown foliage.
Dee Runk Boxwood
The Dee Runk boxwood is unique in its class for its tall, conical and relaxed growth habit. Young leaves emerge pale green, then develop to a deeper shade. In time, adult leaves take on shadows of blue and grey-green.
Growing to a mature size of 8ft by 3ft, this narrow, tree-like shrub beautifully complements other plants in borders and around entranceways. It’s also sought after for privacy hedges in tight spaces, as it thrives in the shade of nearby buildings.
Slow-growing, this unusual type of boxwood requires very little pruning but prefers consistently moist soil, in zones 6-8.
Imagine strolling through an elegant garden. A flowing ribbon of green entices you around each curve. We’ve all seen these enchanting places on the glossy pages of gardening magazines. Those ebbing and flowing streams of green? That’s usually boxwood.
In recent years, different types of boxwood have experienced the scourge of blight. But, some very clever horticulturalists have developed new cultivars with a focused resistance to diseases like blight, as well as beneficial features like drought and cold tolerance.
The vibrant Baby Gem matures to a compact 3ft tall and wide, which generates a slower growth rate of just 1.5” per year. Offering the benefit of lower maintenance than other cultivars, in zones 5-9.
Thickset leaflets blanket a network of stout, sturdy branches. Adaptable to most soil types, the Baby Gem will maintain its bright color through winter, provided that it receives partial shade and well-draining soil.
Inconspicuous flowers emit a pleasant fragrance that signals the plant’s toxicity to deer and rabbits. Popular uses include dense, low-growing hedges, individual border plantings, and rounded topiaries.
The Green Mountain boxwood matures to double the height of the Baby Gem and grows in a conical shape that makes sculpting and shaping a snap. Quaint topiaries and undulating hedges add an element of refinement and sophistication to contemporary and cottage gardens, alike.
This cold-hardy cultivar grows at an impressive rate of 4” per year and can easily tolerate full summer sun. However, partial winter shade will prevent foliage “bronzing” and frost burn.
Given their growth habits, Green Mountain boxwoods also make stunning privacy hedges when planted 5-6 feet apart, or as complementary border plantings.
Cold Hardy Boxwood
Picking the best boxwood variety for your region is key to their success and longevity. American and Korean cultivars and hybrids are bred to withstand temperatures down to -23°F (-13°C). Green Mountain boxwood (developed in Canada) is recommended for zone 4 and Calgary boxwood is labeled for zone 3 (-38°F!)
While no plant is impervious to frost burn, if you live in a cold weather region, these and the below examples will survive and thrive with adequate snow cover protecting the roots.
Cultivated with increased drought and pest tolerance, the Wintergreen presents lush, two-toned growth, with slightly larger leaves than other varieties, for a softer appearance.
Considered a slow but vigorous grower, this is an ideal boxwood for companion planting just like the one shown here in the image above. The Wintergreen increases its annual size by just 2-3”, reaching a modest 4ft by 3ft, at maturity.
These shrubs prefer full summer sun to stimulate growth and vivid color. Yet, will benefit from partial shade, in winter, to further protect from frost burning on exposed foliage, in zones 4-9.
Wintergreen boxwoods tend to grow best when planted in groupings, making this one of the most successful options for hedge plantings.
Vardar Valley Boxwood
A small boxwood variety with an increased tolerance for cold winters is the Vardar Valley. Seasonal pruning stimulates sage and blue leaves that bud in alternating pairs on new growth.
This 2-3’ tall shrub can spread 6ft across, at a rate of 2” per year, in zones 5-8. Unassuming florets exude a delicate scent that attracts bees and other pollinators while repelling deer and rabbits.
According to Peter del Tredic, an American botanist at the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, since its introduction in 1957, the Vardar Valley has shown impressive resistance to pests and devastating boxwood blight.
Since the 1700s, rounded boxwood shrubs, like the following examples, have been a stately staple in landscape design. Their naturally mounding habit and tolerance for heavy pruning increase their versatility in a range of applications.
- Framing a garden gate
- Creating a gracious entrance to your property
- Softening corners of your home or other structure
- Adding structure to another otherwise unanchored garden space
- Constructing organic, outdoor room dividers
- Planting en masse for sculptural impact
Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ is well-known as a textural boxwood. Also cultivated in Ontario, Canada, thick, velvety leaves insulate it against -30°F (-34°C) temperatures.
In summer, its compact growing habit is softened by open-form leaf clusters on wide-spreading branches, Together, reaching a mature size of 2-4ft tall and wide, at a rate of 6-12” per year, in optimal conditions.
In zones 4-9, these conditions include full sun to partial shade and an array of well-draining soils.
For added protection against frost damage, these can be securely wrapped in burlap and well-mulched prior to the first heavy snowfall.
Standing 5ft tall and wide, at maturity, this striking boxwood presents dainty, green leaves with pale yellow and white trim. In small gardens, visual drama is created with a single plant. Low maintenance is also a prime feature of this type of boxwood, with a slow growth rate of 1-2” per year.
Tolerant of different soil structures, this variegated beauty prefers full to partial sun. Once established, it’s also quite drought and cold-tolerant (down to -10°F), in zones 6-8.
Typical of boxwoods, this variety has a natural deer and rabbit repellent and has been cultivated for increased pest and disease resistance.
Dwarf Boxwood Plants
Dwarf boxwoods vary in size and growth habits. As we’ve seen, the Titan boxwood can grow to 6ft tall. Conversely, there are some, like the North Star and Wedding ring boxwoods, that only grow 1-2ft high. With their high tolerance for pruning, these can easily be grown as hardy groundcovers.
Let’s take an in-depth look at three more cultivars that are flexible enough to grow as both effective foundation plants and delicate, potted topiaries.
In need of a fast-growing boxwood? Consider this robust offshoot of the Winter Gem. As the name implies, the sprinter is the fastest-growing boxwood available. Reaching a mature size of 4ft tall and wide, at a rate of 24”, per year, in zones 5-8.
With a rounded, growing habit, this evergreen maintains its rich color, right through winter. Extending new, outward-reaching branches, in spring. These can be left unpruned for a natural look or sheared back for a manicured appearance.
While loose, loamy soil is preferred, the Sprinter boxwood is unique in its ability to thrive in salty, sandy, coastal environments.
This dwarf variety (Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa) is a favorite in warm climates. Yet, being native to high-precipitation areas, it requires more shade than others.
Maturing to an average size of 2ft x 2ft, glossy green leaves grow with flat sides facing outward, creating a smooth appearance. Which lasts for quite some time, without maintenance, given its slow growth rate of .05-1”, per year, in zones 5-8.
Buxus sempervirens ‘Nana Variegata’ is the ornate version of this cultivar. Presenting showy leaves, similar to those of a common variegated boxwood. Yet, with a more petite profile.
Morris Midget Boxwood
Despite its petite profile, the Morris midget presents leaves that are twice as wide as those on larger specimens. When left unpruned, the cold-hardy Morris can even grow to 4ft tall and wide, in zones 4-9.
The texture and sheen of this cultivar make it a great choice for planting around kitchen gardens or as accents against the weathered tones of rock gardens.
While resistant to pests, this dense growing habit of this boxwood may increase its susceptibility to fungal diseases, like blight. A seasonal thinning of internal branches will improve air circulation and reduce the risk of infection.
Alternatives to Boxwood
We’ve seen some gorgeous, low-maintenance boxwoods, in different sizes and growing habits, that would look fabulous in any garden setting. But, if you live in an area where blight or other fungal infections on plants are prevalent and you’d like to widen your options, allow me to share a few alternatives.
The following examples are just as beautiful and versatile as boxwood and even offer a bit more color variation.
This pretty, copper-tinged shrub is actually a member of the witch hazel family, yet closely resembles a boxwood. Warming winter temperatures prompt small red flowers to bud on a rounded form, along with new leaves that emerge in a “Coppertone” hue, before maturing to a rich, blue-green.
In zones 7-9, this multi-colored shrub reaches a maximum size of 4ft tall by 4ft wide and grows quite happily in the ground or in containers. Thriving in full sun or part shade, this sturdy shrub also shows remarkable resistance to disease and insect infestations.
Another great option is this cold-hardy Japanese holly. With equally dense growth, this shrub matures to 8ft by 4ft, at a rate of 6-12” per year.
Its natural, pyramid shape means very little pruning is needed to maintain an interesting, evergreen appearance. Adding to its interest are tiny white flowers that develop into ornamental berries. Providing food for birds and other wildlife, in zones 5-9.
This holly prefers at least four hours of full sun per day and is adaptive to various, well-draining soil types. Famously disease resistant, its spiky foliage is a deterrent against deer and rabbits.
Boxwood Spacing and Growth Rate
Effective foundation plantings and flourishing boxwood hedges start with proper spacing. It’s tempting to place plants closer together, to encourage a faster-forming hedge. But, this only invites disease and inhibits healthy growth.
For a solid hedge, position new plants half as far apart as their mature size (ie. A 4ft mature width = 2ft plant spacing).
How long it will take for these to merge into a solid hedge will depend on the growth rate of the cultivar you’re planting. Which is typically between .05” – 6”, per year.
Shaping and Pruning Boxwood
Boxwood can handle occasional heavy pruning when it becomes unruly. Light pruning is only needed to maintain the desired shape (such as squared hedges and globe topiaries) or to remove damaged material.
In these cases, early spring trimming will result in lush, new growth with perhaps some light, summer touch ups. Beyond this, pruning should be left until the following spring.
Cuts made late in the year may leave the plant prone to winter damage. Tender, new growth that has formed from that cut will be susceptible to the same.