For clipping, small-leafed plants are always the best choice, because they give the densest look, and they don’t show ugly cut leaves, which happens with larger-leaved plants. That’s why boxwood is an eternal favorite for hedges and trimmed forms, because it is easy to keep neat, and looks great all year round. When the first gardeners arrived in America, bringing their precious plants across the Atlantic, they were disappointed to find that the European boxwood was not happy, and burned and even died in winter, especially in the north-east. Luckily there were tougher varieties to be found, and the Japanese Littleleaf Boxwood is today the top choice for colder areas, and for anywhere you want to grow a medium-sized hedge, and to have clipped shapes to bring a more formal and traditional look to your garden.
Growing Japanese Littleleaf Boxwoods
The Japanese Littleleaf Boxwood will grow naturally into a tall, rounded shrub, eventually reaching 6 or 8 feet in height, and as much across, and ultimately even becoming a small tree. Although rarely done, it is in fact a beautiful evergreen left to grow in this way, and it’s a look that should be used much more often in less-formal gardens. Because it grows taller, it is also the perfect choice for large globes, pyramids and columns, and for hedges between 2 and 6 feet tall. The leaves are smaller than in most other boxwoods, about ½ an inch long, and oval. They have a glossy surface and a leathery texture, are rich dark-green on the top, and paler green below They cluster densely all along the branches, and side-shoots constantly grow out, making the plant naturally dense. Clipping accentuates that, and it is easy to develop very, very dense plants, with a solid look and feel. For small hedges plant 15 inches apart, and for taller ones 18 to 24 inches is a suitable spacing.
You can grow the Japanese Littleleaf Boxwood in a wide variety of conditions. It is hardy into zone 5, where it is especially valuable, but also all the way into zone 9, where it will grow with almost no winter cold, and in hot and humid summers. It grows in full sun, partial-shade, and even in light full shade, such as against north-facing walls, or in the shadow of trees, with blue sky above. The only place it will not grow well is beneath dense evergreen trees. In hot zones, especially if the soil is dry, it benefits from afternoon shade. As for soil, this easy plant grows well in all soil types, from sandy soils and loams to clays, just so long as they are well-drained, and not constantly wet.
It always helps if you enrich the soil before planting, with garden compost or rotted manures. Mulching in spring over the root zone helps conserve moisture, feeds your plants, and protect the shallow roots from damage when working around them. Especially if you clip regularly, remember that just like your lawn, clipped plants need more nutrients, so use evergreen fertilizer in spring, and again in summer for the most vigorous growth of a rich, lush green. Young plants should be regularly watered, and although this plant is moderately drought-resistant, for the best results summer watering is very beneficial.
For hedges and specimens, start clipping lightly as soon as your plants are established, and you see growth. Light clipping builds dense growth and the best plants. Allow new spring shoots to develop before the first clip of the season. Do not clip close to the average date of the last spring frost in your area, as this can expose the plants to cold damage. Don’t clip late in fall, as this can stimulate late new growth, that can be damaged in winter. The best clipping months are May, June and September. Pests and diseases are not common, and some pests are controlled simply by clipping regularly, which disrupts their life-cycle. Deer and rabbits usually leave this plant alone. Make sure containers have drainage, and use regular potting soil, not garden soil, to fill them.
History and Origins of the Japanese Littleleaf Boxwood
Japanese Littleleaf Boxwood (buxus microphylla var. japonica) grows wild in Japan and on the island of Taiwan. It can become a small tree up to 15 feet tall. The original plants brought to America were, however, garden varieties that had already been selected by Japanese gardeners for dense, compact growth and smaller sizes. These are much more suitable for our gardens too, and your plants will remain naturally compact, even if you don’t clip them.
Our plants are grown from healthy, compact parents, by rooting stem pieces and growing the resulting plants into vigorous and well-branches specimens. The demand for boxwood is always huge, and the Japanese Littleleaf Boxwood is always wanted, especially by gardeners in colder areas. Our stock will soon be shipped out, so order now, and forget about winter damage on your boxwoods.