What is an English Boxwood?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 July 2019
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English boxwood or Buxus sempervirens is an evergreen shrub widely cultivated in ornamental gardens, particularly formal gardens. Dwarf cultivars, as well as full-sized plants, are available through garden supply stores and nurseries. In an area where people have difficulty obtaining this plant, specimens can be ordered from a nursery with shipping options. The larger the shrubs, the more expensive they tend to be, although mature plants can be used to make landscaping look more finished.

This shrub is an evergreen with small, rounded leaves. It tends to grow slowly and is very dense, producing a thick, even shrub with a pleasing appearance. English boxwood takes readily to pruning and shaping, making it popular with people who want to create ornamental hedges, borders, and barriers. It can be clipped into a variety of shapes ranging from a plain square hedge to one with a more fantastical shape. Regular pruning will help the hedge keep its shape and dense appearance.

English boxwood grows in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones five through eight, generally preferring partial shade. Full sun can damage the foliage, and full shade may be too cold and dark for the plant to thrive. The roots tend to be shallow and need to be established in well-fertilized soil with a layer of mulch for protection. Mulch will also limit competition from weeds, ensuring that the roots get adequate nutrition. The soil should be kept moist, but not wet.


A common problem with English boxwood is an issue known as winter bronzing, where the foliage browns and darkens. This happens when the plants are exposed to very cold temperatures and high winds. People can limit the risk of bronzing by planting in a sheltered area and covering plants at night when the weather is going to be extremely cold and windy. The damaged foliage can be pruned away in the spring to make room for new growth and the plant should recover, as long as it isn't frost damaged again.

Some nurseries sell “boxwood,” not specifying the cultivar. Another varietal, American boxwood, is prized because it grows quickly. The rapid growth generates a looser, more leggy appearance that some gardeners find undesirable. For people who want very compact shrubs and hedges, English boxwood should be requested by name. People can check the leaves to make sure they have the right plant; English boxwood has more rounded leaves while American boxwood has pointier leaves.



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