Plant Profile: Buxus Sempervirens Suffruticosa

The buxus sempervirens suffruticosa, known to most in the gardening world as the dwarf English boxwood, is one of the most sought-after boxwood varieties by individuals who want a truly traditional yet versatile shrub in their garden. If you’re considering the dwarf English boxwood for your own garden then you might have a few questions regarding its environmental requirements, growth rate and mature size, and what type of long-term care is involved with this species of boxwood.

Physical Traits

The buxus sempervirens suffruticosa is a small shrub and will likely only grow to be about two or three feet tall—maybe four feet at the largest end of the estimate. It is a very full growing evergreen with plenty of lush leaves to fill up its branches. The leaves of this boxwood are a bright, medium shade of green with a closing coating. They are oval in shape and have smooth outer edges; which means that this shrub is mostly non-abrasive if you were to brush up against it. This shrub is popular for many reasons, including its hardiness, the sweet but mild earthy fragrance that it throws off, and its calm but classy appearance; but one of the best-loved traits of the dwarf English boxwood shrub is that it is fairly hardy and extremely convenient as a shaped hedge, a topiary shrub, or a nicely sculpted accent piece in the garden.

The English boxwood may not grow to be tall enough to be used as a full privacy hedge, but it can be used to create a peaceful but gently implied boundary for your property or to provide privacy for low-placed windows, benches, or the outer edge of your garden. In the middle of the spring the buxus sempervirens suffruticosa produces flowers that smell pleasant and are not overly large or intrusive. In the winter, especially in cold, wet areas with frequent wind, this species of boxwood can take on a condition known as “winter bronzing,” in which the leaves of the shrub turn a golden-red color. Some people find this to be an unpleasant appearance while others feel that it adds character to the shrub and serves as a nice temporary change to the landscape.

Where to Grow English Boxwood

Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa is best suited for a climate that mimics the cool, wet weather that is so common in England, where this plant seems to really flourish. In the United States, the English boxwood shrub is best suited for USDA zones five and six, although it is possible to grow this type of boxwood in zones seven and eight if extra care is taken to provide the shrub with enough water and shade from direct harsh sunlight. The ideal location for this species of shrub is one that has partial shade; however this boxwood will probably fare well in a spot that has full sunlight or full shade.

Although the English boxwood needs a decent amount of moisture in order to survive, it also tends to be susceptible to a condition known as root rot. Root rot is, quite literally, what happens when the roots of a plant are left to sit in overly-moistened soil for a long period of time. The roots eventually decay as a lack of oxygen and general air circulation prevents the roots from thriving. To prevent this from happening, consider planting the boxwood on a mounded plot so that water is less likely to pool around the area, and in times of heavy rainfall the small hill will encourage the water to drain away at a faster rate.

If you decide to plant more than one of the magnificent buxus sempervirens suffruticosa shrubs, then don’t hesitate to plant them fairly close together—say about two or three feet apart. These shrubs grow together extremely well due to their thick growth style. If you want separate plants then you may need to space the shrubs farther apart or be prepared to prune them.

Tips for Long-Term Care

As you might guess from the plant’s preference for cool, moist climates, you would have to keep this plant well watered all throughout the year. In order to help you keep the shrub moist, it is recommended that you place a two to three inch-thick layer of mulch around the base of the shrub. This will allow moisture to flow into the soil and keeps it there by acting as a barrier to the evaporation process.

Although the shrubs can be left mostly untended, they can become scraggly and taper to reveal thin or twiggy branches that most people find a little rough and unattractive. This can easily be remedied with light pruning or, if you want a specific shape, such as a topiary or spherical hedge, then you may find yourself pruning the shrubs a bit more regularly.

In the winter you can prevent winter bronzing by placing a protective tarp over the shrubs to protect them from wind and excess rain and snow. A mild fertilizer or other form of organic matter can be added to the soil in the early spring to encourage better blooms in the spring and brighter, healthier foliage.