Boxwood Hedge - Raised Bed - Questions

rushwolfApril 29, 2014

Hi Gang,
I have a couple questions and am looking for general thoughts on planting a boxwood hedge row. I'm somewhat of a garden newbie and would very much appreciate feedback/suggestions/tips.

I'm looking to put in a privacy hedge row between my house and a neighbors. We purchased (10) 6' common boxwood shrubs. The hedge will be placed in an area about 15 feet long and 3-4 feet wide. We have a couple of beautiful, mature hydrangeas that will sit slightly in front of the boxwood. The yard slopes slightly. We live in the Boston area (zone 6).

Our plan is to build a raised planter bed for the Boxwood row...thinking this will help control drainage for the Boxwood, lower chances of root rot, add a nice terraced design element to the garden and....most importantly...keep the Boxwood hedge from competing with the nearby Hydrangeas (which are the crown jewels of our garden).

A couple of questions:
1) Anyone have suggestions on spacing for the 6' Boxwood row? We'd prefer to plant them right next to one another and gain immediate privacy...but not if it will sacrifice long-term health of the row.

2) The Boxwoods are currently in pots with burlap root balls. I anticipate about 2 weeks in the pots before the raised bed is built and we relocate other plants to new locations to make room for the raised bed and boxwoods. Suggestions on keeping the Boxwoods healthy during this time? Keep the root balls wet but not over-saturated?

3) Once the boxwood row is in, anyone have suggestions on complementary plants/shrubs to layer in front of the row? We like the 'purposefully overgrown' look. Our gardens are primarily a mix of sea grasss, hydrangeas, lilacs, hosts, sedums, and rhodendrums.

I'd love to get some feedback on the questions above and the forum's general thoughts on our setup before we put the Boxwoods down. Picture attached for reference.

Thanks so much!

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One more picture of the boxwoods on the left...they are just in temporary position right now until we build the raised bed. We also plan to add a 2 foot wide width of additional garden space where the the lounge chairs are and move some of the seagrasses, etc to a new location. We'll add some smaller evergreen shrubs from the boxwoods to the gate and try to make it a more visually pleasing transition...

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 2:07PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


I'll try to help. I would plant the boxwood just slightly apart. They'll fill in with this year's growth. It's going to be a hedge so crowding them is part of the deal.

Yes, you just need to keep things watered if it doesn't rain before planting. I'm unclear as to why you want to build a raised bed. It won't stop root growth, unless you are sinking a metal plate about 18 inches in the ground. If you are making a berm in order to raise the height of the hedge quicker that's fine. But the roots are going to go where they like.

It looks to me that the Hydrangea's are far enough away. They're boxwood, not Norway Maples so the root competition won't be intense, and the Hydrangeas have a head start so I think they'll be fine.

I would make sure you mulch the boxwoods. Personally I use wood chips. Make sure they get regular water both Spring and especially when it gets warm this summer. They really won't be fully established until Fall. As for "shoes and socks" in front of shrubs there are lots of good choices. I like to use Geranium Macrorrhizum. It's evergreen has little pink flowers and it doesn't run all over your garden. You could also use small Hostas. Any of the Tiara series would be good, especially Grand Tiara. Here's what it looks like.

I think your move for privacy is the correct one. If that were my property I'd continue with a mixed shrub/tree border along that property line to provide even more privacy.

Hope the planting goes well for you.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:11PM
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Wow, those are beautiful - I've also purchased a number (maybe 9) of boxwoods all at once, but they came in 3" pots, so it wasn't *quite* as impressive a sight as these!

1) You'd need to put them about 18 inches on center, if you really wanted to fit 10 into a 15 foot area - that seems awfully close, though. The rule of thumb is half the width as stated on the plant tag, for a dense hedge. Mine are about 3 feet apart, and have filled in solidly, with no space between them, after 3 or 4 years - but I think I've got one of the compact cultivars. Is there a tag with a cultivar name, or an expected mature width, on your plants?

2) I'd keep the plants out of direct sun until they're planted, and maybe throw some mulch over the pots to insulate them a little, especially if you don't know where they were grown. If they've been trucked up from South Carolina, they may be unhappy with this crazy New England weather. Over-watering could be a bigger problem than drying out, so I'd lean towards keeping them somewhat dry until they're in the ground.

3) I find that some plants disappear in front of my boxwood hedges; now I'm trying to use plants with very different leaf texture so they stand out more. Your situation is a little different from mine, I think, because you're talking about other shrubs for this area - my hedge is low and is surrounded by perennials. I guess some of the same principles would apply, though.

Since box foliage is glossy, fine, rounded, and dark, I've had the best luck with plants that don't match many of those characteristics: heuchera, variegated liriope, crambe cordifolia, iris ... most of the plants you've listed would be good, especially hydrangea, grasses, hostas, sedums. Those would all provide good contrast, and not disappear into the hedge.

I'd be a little worried about the raised bed concept, because a) it will have to last forever, since boxwood does, and b) it might be hard to keep the plants from drying out in a bed like that. How tall will it be, and what material will you be using? Do you have an irrigation system, or will you lay out soaker hoses?

Last question - where did you find these? I'm thinking of tearing out (for the second time) a long row of blue hollies that just never get tall enough to give us the privacy we want along our back fence. If these are available at a decent price, it might motivate me to get out my chain saw and shovel.

I googled common box hedge and found the doc linked below, from the VT extension service, which was linked from the shrubs forum on garden web. It looks like a pretty good guide to boxwood.

Here is a link that might be useful: box guide

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:15PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

What variety of boxwood did you buy? As far as care until you plant them, I would just peel back some of the burlap and see if the soil is dry. If so then hose them down. If not then leave them be. As you are already aware, boxwoods do not like wet feet. But they should be allowed to dry out right now either. It going to be hard to rewet the rootball if it dries out completely.

Unless this variety is narrower than normal, you bought more of them than you really need. I would have purchased half that many and planted them 3 ft apart. I think the hedge would be healthier in the long run if you did it this way. There would be some gaps for a while but it's amazing how well that situation will still screen out your neighbors.

I would plant these far enough away from the fence so that a) they don't encroach on your neighbor's property, and b) so that you can trim both sides of the hedge properly. If you weren't aware of it, a hedge needs to be wider at the bottom than the top so that the sun gets to all part of it and keeps it thick all the way to the ground. There are plenty of youtube videos for how to prune a hedge correctly.

I wouldn't plant anything near this hedge. If these are normal boxwoods, they will get very large in time and tend to swallow up anything around them.

I would nix the raised bed idea unless you have standing water in that area. While I agree that a raised bed (especially made out of stone) would be aesthetically appealing, it's a lot of work to build and you will have to water the hedge a lot in the future even though boxwoods are drought tolerant. A berm would serve the same purpose and be a lot less work.

I assume you are fine with the "cat pee" smell of boxwoods. It's not for me personally but to each his own.


I'm surprised to hear about your blue hollies. Maybe you don't have the right kind. I have some Blue Princess hollies on either side of my front steps that would be monsters if I didn't prune them. It took them 2-3 years to really get established but once they did, their growth rate was off the charts. They are very thick, too. They would make a nice hedge. I have some Blue Prince hollies in front of my garage that aren't nearly as full. They do a good job pollenating the females, though.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 7:57AM
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Thanks (everyone) for the feedback- very helpful. Some additional details below:

So, Math was never my favorite subject. I went out back and measured the distance of the fence from corner to gate (which is where the privacy is really needed). We're at 28 feet total. To get to the young maple (which is a natural transition point) it's 20 feet. So, we're looking at the hedge being somewhere between 20-28 feet depending on how we want to taper/transition.

The Boxwoods are about 1.5' wide. I'm thinking we will space them about 10" apart...that should give us coverage along the fence with a little wiggle room. It will add a bunch of immediate privacy and some room for the hedge to establish and then connect...and it sounds like a season or two should do the trick.

Once we transplant the current grasses/plants and remove some pavers, we should have a width of about 6 feet to work with, reduced to about 4.5 feet at the Hydrangeas. Hoping this is enough space for the hedge and to texture some plants in front.

Specific to the responses above:

Steve- good thoughts on spacing and thanks for the Geranium and Hosta suggestions. We have a lot of Hosta in our front and sprinkled through the back. We will definitely use that to complement the boxwood hedge. The raised bed idea was two-fold: improve drainage for the hedge and make sure they don't compete/hurt the Hydrangeas. I was thinking a base of peastone/gravel before backfilling the bed would solve both problems (but making sure the depth of the backfill matched the current depth of the boxwood pots). We'll religiously trim the boxwoods as the current height works for us (another foot would be OK too). Beyond that, I'd need a ladder to trim and would like to avoid it...realize this may be a pipe dream after a few years, even with regular trimming?

Digger- the Boxwoods are Common/European (Buxus Sempervirens). Based on the feedback here, I will space them a bit and get closer to your 18" on center suggestion. We brought the Boxwoods home last Sunday. Haven't watered them yet since we've had ample rain. It doesn't sound like watering the pots will be neccessary unless we hit a dry spell...and that seems unlikely with the New England spring forecast. I'll keep checking the root balls...I was going to build the raised bed using pressure treated 4x4 for the posts (sunk in ground). 2x4 treated cedar for the side boards. I was planning on building the box without digging down and sinking any of the cedar. We're on a light slope so I'd build the top of the box first, elevate it and level using wood blocks, then skill saw tapered pieces to ground level to run with the grade. Remove the blocks once secured. Add some aluminum spanners throughout to prevent bowing and backfill the bad boy. Final depth would be slightly above the depth of the pots in order to put drainage stone on the bottom and backfill with dirt. We run soaker hoses throughout the garden to handle far as the boxwoods themselves, we looked at nurseries, but couldn't find anything in the 6' range for under $400/piece. We found the current ones at Home Depot for $99. Still cost us a fair amount, but seemed reasonable for an instant 6-7" privacy hedge. The boxwoods themselves came from a nursery in CT. I suspect you could contact your local HD and make a request for however many you want...that's what we did (Waltham store). Thanks for the VT boxwood link too!

Oracle- I didn't even consider the sunlight factor or wider bottom versus top. More reason to space them further apart. As I mentioned above, we're more like 20-28 feet in needed privacy, so the 10 boxwoods should balance better. We can certainly return some if all 10 aren't needed. Thoughts on a distance from the fence? We have 6 feet to work with for most of the hedge row, but we'd like to add some plants/shrubs in front to layer the garden. The Hydrangeas are 4.5 feet from the fence to center and we don't want to touch we're tighter on space for about 8 feet of the boxwoods that will sit behind the hydrangeas. Do you think the boxwoods will hurt the well established hydrangeas given our space constraints? The berm idea is also interesting. I like the idea of less work, particularly if it provides a healthier environment. No standing water in the garden area. We're not bothered by the Boxwood smell, aside from the 'cat pee' driving our dogs wild. They'll be thrilled. Can't wait to chase them out of the gardens on a regular basis this summer...

Based on the feedback so far, maybe the raised bed is overkill. Yes, it would look nice but it will take some time/money to build and there is a benefit to getting these in the ground sooner. How about Oracle's berm idea? It would add some texture to the garden and presumably help with drainage too. More than anything, I want to make sure we don't hurt the Hydrangeas. It would be a real bummer if the boxwood row doesn't take well, but I'd much prefer that over having the boxwoods thrive at the expense of the hydrangeas. Attached is a picture that gives a sense as to the current spacing between the fence and can see the fence line at the bottom left corner.

Thanks again for all the suggestions. Would welcome any additional thoughts.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 12:40PM
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My concern with the berm is that it may cause a problem with drainage around your house; you might find out that it blocks the natural (and invisible) flow of water away from the foundation. Just a thought!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 8:30PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

If you don't have water standing in that area, I would just plant them in the ground the way it is now.

You didn't say what variety of boxwood that you have. If it's a standard boxwood, this hedge will get large in time with a width of 5 - 10 ft not being out of the question. It's not a matter of hurting the hydrangeas as much as it crowding them. If it's 4 1/2 ft to the hydrangeas then you don't have a lot of room for a hedge between them and the fence. You're going to have to stay on top of pruning everything each year to keep it looking nice. Sounds easy but it's also easy to get busy with other things and not really pay attention to things like pruning a hedge until it has gotten out of hand.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 10:09PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Now that I see the last photo, I'm not sure there is even room for a decent berm.

Nice boxwoods, and great price too.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 10:11PM
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persimmons(6b Southern Mass)

Tree_oracle is onto something with his latest post. Depending on the variety of the box wood, you might be in the running to have to replant some other perennials in the area.

What many people do around Chestnut Hill is add bulbs to the area in front of their boxwood/ rhodo/ what ever hedges. It's nice to see the space come alive in spring with textures and colors that are completely unlike the boxwood (crocuses, lilies, you get the idea).

I will join the chorus on the idea of hostas, but maybe that's because hostas grow everywhere in my neighborhood and I'm obsessed. They look interesting from spring until next spring, with the hydrangea-like stalks. By no doubt they're going to be easier to remove than most other perennials if the boxwoods end up growing larger than what you anticipate.

My suggestion is to try hardy annuals in the garden space in front of the hedges (if you build the space you intend to). If they live they might stay smaller than a perennial might become and chances are that they could just die off by the time the hedges grow large enough.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 10:51AM
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Thanks everyone. The boxwoods are labeled and appear to be standard boxwoods. The tag shows a fully grown width of 3-4' they will certainly get bigger. Growth rate up to 12-24" annually (yikes!). I am going to space them as far apart as possible while maintaining some immediate privacy. Will keep on top of pruning especially near the hydrangeas.

Persimmons- yes, we have hosta throughout and it takes wonderfully to our gardens too. The older hosta looks downright prehistoric. Adding some bulbs in front of the boxwood hedge is a great idea.

I'll try to post some updates once we get the boxwoods in the ground and move some plants around...!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 12:30PM
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