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Boxwood Care

Buxus or boxwood, a genus of more than 70 plant species in the Buxaceae family, is indigenous to Europe and some areas of both Americas, Asia, and Africa. These plants have been cultivated since 4,000 BC when Ancient Egyptians grew them as hedges and in gardens only the European and a handful of Asian species are frost-hardy.

These slow-growing evergreen small trees and shrubs grow to 6–40 feet (rarely 50 feet) tall. The leathery leaves are rounded or lanceolate and are mostly small, with tiny insignificant yellow-green flowers that bloom in April – May. The fruits are small capsules that contain small seeds.

Overall growth is 12 inches every year and the branches of larger cultivars often measure 6 to 10 inches or just a few inches with dwarfs. These plants are usually cultivated for hedges and topiary.

The genus is split into three distinct genetic sections, with each section belonging to different regions. The Eurasian varieties are grouped in one section, with the African and Madagascan varieties in another and the American varieties belonging to the third. The American and African groupings are closer genetically than the Eurasian section.

The wood of these plants was often used (and is still used) to create different things like woodblock printing, woodcut blocks, musical instruments, wooden spoons, rulers, and decorative/storage boxes including intricate rosary beads. The wood was also used for making the handles of daggers and dirks. It was formerly also used for making wooden combs.

The fine grain and resistance to splitting or chopping of the wood make it good for intricate decorative miniature carvings despite the small sizes of lumber available that limit the size of the carvings. This high-density wood makes it very suitable for making chess pieces, unstained wood for white and stained for black pieces, instead of ebony.

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Sunlight

These plants prefer growing under full sun with some shade or under a partial shade that receives a few hours of early afternoon or morning sun. This depends on the intensity of sunlight as plants growing under the sharper sun near the tropics will suffer from leaf burn. However, plants grown under full shade will be weak.

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Water

This plant needs to be watered every week and maybe a bit more often in hot summers. It needs more watering when first planted to get its roots well-established. However, you should let the roots dry a bit before the next watering for a strong root system to develop. This depends on the soil type, weather conditions, and rainfall.

Never let the plant dry out too much as it might not recover and die. This plant has shallow roots and mulching with organic material is very helpful to keep moisture consistent. Don’t allow the mulch to touch the stems.

Constantly wet soil will create ideal conditions for diseases and pests to flourish. The roots also need good circulation together with water. Saturated soil will smother the roots and lead to problems such as Root rot, Boxwood Blight and Phytophthora.

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Humidity

The plant can thrive in moderate to high humidity. Use a humidifier if necessary and don’t keep it near air conditioners and vents.

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Temperature

This plant isn’t very tolerant to cold temperatures and will die in temperatures below 50°F. It prefers temperatures between 65-85°F.

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Soil

It prefers growing in regular soil amended with organic compost the drains well, adding compost also helps to loosen compacted soil. Avoid planting acid-loving plants like azalea and others near it, as soil pH should be kept between 6.5 – 7.2. Test the soil and apply calcium to maintain this pH.  

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Repotting

While it’s simple to repot this plant, a few factors should be considered. Repot the plant in fall, after summer is over and the weather gets cooler but not very cold. This helps ease transplant shock and help the roots grow well.

Prepare a container that is capable of housing the root ball and partially fills it with fresh soil. Remove the plant from the old container, shake as much soil as possible and transfer it to the new container. Fill up the empty spaces with soil and water thoroughly. 

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Propagation

Cuttings

Choose a strong and healthy branch and take a 4-6 inch long cutting. Then, after clipping off the lower leaves, dust the end with rooting powder and transfer it to a pot of equal portions of sand and compost. Place it where it can receive adequate sunlight and warmth and mist the leaves twice a day. Roots should form in four weeks or so. Two weeks after the roots form, the cutting can be transplanted in the garden or to a bigger container.

Seeds

Begin by purchasing a soilless mix to germinate the seeds. Scratch the seeds with sandpaper and soak them in tepid water for one night.

Use sandpaper to lightly scratch the seed coating and then soak the seeds in tepid water, allowing them to soak for a night. Take the seeds out the next day and place them into a Ziploc bag of moist soilless mix. Seal the bag and keep it in a refrigerator for one month or more while making sure the mix isn’t waterlogged or dry. 

After they have adjusted to the cold, transfer them to a tray of soil and compost, burying them 3 inches from each other and frequently misting the soil. The seeds will germinate in about six months.

Once they start sprouting, place the tray under grow lights or near a sun-lit window. Grow lights will provide reliable light and stop the seedlings from getting leggy water regularly to dampen the soil, but not too soggy. Transplant the seedlings into the individual container when they are about 4 inches tall.

Additional Care

This plant isn’t a heavy feeder and doesn’t need plenty of fertilizer, but a soil test will determine if it lacks nutrients. If necessary, feed it in early spring or late fall.

It will benefit from proper pruning with sterilized tools. Prune the plant in spring or late winter when dormancy is going to end to help it grow uniformly and strong. Pruning also boosts air circulation and sunlight exposure into the inner areas of dwarf cultivars.

Common Problems

Mite infestation can cause light patches on the lower areas of the plant, this usually happens when the plant is overexposed to the sun. Use a horticultural oil spray to treat the plant. 

Psyllids can announce their presence by making the leaves start to cup. Prune off damaged foliage and spray the plant with horticultural soap.

Boxwood blight creates round brown spots with brown-purple borders on leaves. The spots might also have yellow borders. The leaves can turn brown and start dropping rapidly. There is no cure/treatment for blight – just dispose of the plant immediately. 

Nematodes can make the plant become bronze and weak along with stunted growth and loss of strength. Maintaining proper pH levels will help prevent the nematode spread. Spray horticultural oil over the plant during winter to treat these pests. This will also help in protecting the plant against frost.

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