What is a Japanese Boxwood?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

A Japanese boxwood is an easy to grow, evergreen shrub in the Buxus family of plants. Also known as little leaf boxwood, it is more compact than the more common English boxwood, with smaller, bright green leaves. The tiny flowers of this landscaping plant are white or pale yellow and insignificant, since boxwoods are grown primarily for their form. They are frequently used in formal landscapes where they are pruned into many different topiary shapes.

This type of boxwood shrub is very versatile and can be pruned into mounds, spirals, and even animal shapes. These topiary shapes are often seen growing in the gardens and courtyards of large, old English estates, where they were looked upon as status symbols. When left to grow unpruned, the Japanese boxwood will mature into a small tree, reaching about 8 feet (2.4 m) tall and spreading to 6 feet (1.8 m) wide or more.

This hedge boxwood requires nutrient rich, alkaline soil and direct sunlight for at least part of the day. These plants benefit from frequent deep watering during dry weather because overly dry soil will cause the leaves to turn brown. Keeping the roots well covered with mulch will also help the soil remain moist and cool. Japanese boxwood will tolerate temperatures near freezing, and a thick winter mulch will protect the roots. Covering the plants with fabric is a good idea in areas where winters are extremely cold; this also prevents them from being eaten by hungry deer.

Japanese boxwood shrubs can be propagated from hardwood cuttings in early spring or during the winter. The cuttings should be dipped in a root hormone powder before planting in a light, sandy soil. They should be misted frequently and kept indoors until they are well rooted. The new plants can be moved outdoors to a sheltered area in late spring after the soil has warmed. It may take several years for these small, new plants to become large enough to be used as hedges or landscape plants.

Since slow growing Japanese boxwood shrubs are inexpensive, the easiest way to add them to the home landscape is by purchasing new plants from a nursery or garden center. They are typically available already pruned into basic shapes and are more vigorous than those propagated by the home gardener. These shrubs are often several years old, and have usually been kept outdoors in winter, giving them a healthy root system to survive when planted in the ground.

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