Best Boxwoods for Containers

There is a lot to love about boxwoods,  They are evergreen, come in compact sizes, tolerate trimming, and are rugged.  What’s not to love? Putting boxwood in containers is great for an easy-care accent just about anywhere… long as you are in an area that does not drop below freezing for more than a day or two at a time.

 The best boxwood varieties for containers are:

-’Green Mountain’

-’Green Velvet’

-’Green Gem’

-’Green Mound’

-’Chicagoland Green’

-’Vardar Valley’

-’Franklin’s Gem’

-’Green Pillow’

-’Jim Stauffer’

The first four, ‘Green Mountain’, ‘Green Velvet’, ‘Green Gem’, and ‘Green Mound’, are from a breeding program out of Canada (Sheridan Nurseries of Ontario) commonly called the Sheridan Green series, for obvious reasons. 

 These are selections from seedlings resulted from a cross-pollination of Buxus microphylla var. koreana x Buxus sempervirens, or commonly known as Common American Boxwood and Korean Boxwood.   These were selected for the cold hardiness from the Korean Boxwood, and the looks of the American Boxwood.

Chicagoland Green is a selection from the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.  Almost identical to Green Velvet, and hard to tell the difference between. Very cold hardy for a boxwood.  If you have been having trouble with winter tip dieback, give this one a try.

Vardar Valley is a personal favorite of mine.  Just a hint of blue to the green leaves, and rarely requires pruning.  Vardar Valley is a slow and neat grower, with a hint of softness to the edge.  It is also very resistant to Boxwood leaf miner. Any time a plant is resistant to either disease or insects, it is a big bonus in my book.  

Franklin’s Gem is a very low and wide variety.  With the bonus of being very leafminer resistant and very Boxwood Blight tolerant.  Will grow very neat and tidy without extensive pruning.

‘Green Pillow’ is very dwarf and slow-growing and very resistant to leafminer.  Very dense, compact, and grows in a low oval form. ‘Green Pillow’ is the boxwood surrounding the Kennedy Rose Garden at the White House.  Expect it to grow to about 12” in 10 years.

‘Jim Stauffer’ boxwood will get about 3.5’ tall, and 3’ wide in 15 years.  It can tolerate some extreme pruning when needed and is vigorous.

Choose any of these and you will be happy, see which gets to be the dimensions of height and width as you want, and which are locally available.  It is always good to have a second or third choice in variety when going into a garden center for a specific plant. It saves you the heartbreak of not finding that one specific variety you had your heart set on, and that stops you from finishing your project. 

The two most important things to keep in mind, the variety is winter hardy enough for your area, and you will not be fighting the natural shape or size.

Variety Size in 10 yrs Boxwood LeafMiner Boxwood Blight Comments

4’ Tall X 3’ WideSomewhat
2’ T X 2.5’ WVery
2’ T X 2’ WVery
3’ T X 3’ WVery
2’ T X 2.5’ WVery
1.5’ X 3’Very ResistantVariable
2 ’T X 3’ WVery Resistant
Boxwood Leaf Miner
boxwood blight
3’ T X 3’ WVery ResistantSomewhat
3.25’T X 3’ WSomewhat

 What makes these good choices for containers?  Their increased winter hardiness and vigor. Plants in containers are more susceptible to winter damage.  Plants in containers are subject to more stress. They are put in areas that are blazing hot, forgotten to be watered, one side is always shaded, and there is always someone dumping their leftover drink into them, or worse.  It’s a tough place to be, growing in containers. Remember, those plants are completely dependent upon you for everything they need. Water, fertilizer, and sun/shade (where you place them). Everything. If a boxwood in a container is not performing well, yes, it is you, or the conditions you asked it to grow in, right plant, right place…. Just saying :).  That is why vigor is a very important quality to me in a plant I’m going to grow in a container.

What size pot to plant in?  At least a 12” – 16” wide pot, the larger the better.  Remember, these are shallow-rooted plants, the width of the pot is important.  Also, if you will be surrounding these with annual flowers, consider planting in empty containers into the pot at least 6’ wide.  Then pop the annuals into these existing containers (if smaller, fill the pots with potting soil, then plant. This prevents causing a lot of root damage when planting annuals or changing them out every year.  The boxwood’s roots grow AROUND the sunk-in pots. Just a tip.

 Sorry arctic winter regions, if you do live in very cold winter areas, boxwood in containers might be best if, you can move them into a protected area for the worst of the winter.

That being said, do some boxwood varieties lend themselves to containers more than others?  Yes, both in size and for most areas, the cold hardiest varieties will withstand the winter assault in containers better.  Plants that are on the margin of winter hardiness for your area will have difficulty surviving the added cold stress of sub-freezing temperatures on their roots.  Yes, it’s about the roots, mostly. If the roots can’t take the conditions, the plant can’t survive, say nothing about thrive. But I digress….

Click here for a document comparing boxwood varieties.

Related Questions:

What are the best companion plants for boxwoods in containers?

The best companion plants for boxwood will tolerate part shade to shade, and be drought-tolerant, not like wet feet, and have a texture different from the box you chose.  Leaf texture, bold or fine, makes a great design impact. It doesn’t matter if it is bold or fine, just make it different for contrast. Low rug juniper, ivy, and purple heart make good perennial choices.

For annuals choose:

– lobelia (Lobelia erinus)

– torenia (Torenia fournieri)

– wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens)

– caladium (Caladium bicolor)

–  licorice (Helichrysum petiolatum)

– polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

– nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

-petunias (Petunia x hybrida)

Will potted boxwood survive the winter?

 Yes, if potted in a thick-walled insulating container, and your boxwood variety and low winter temperatures are in alignment with each other.  Sorry Zone 4 and colder, no dice, unless you are bringing into a well-lit freeze-free, but cool area for the winter. 

What is the best boxwood for making a topiary?

The best boxwood for topiary are ones that have a more upright form, and vigorous growth that tolerates frequent pruning and shaping well.  Some examples are:

Dee Runk Boxwood
(Green Mountain), Dee Runk, (Grace Phillips, Vadnar Valley Boxwood)

-’Dee Runk’

-’Green Beauty’


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