Ornamental gardening is all about arranging plants in pleasing combinations. You choose plants that support your vision, whether it’s a quietly elegant restful spot, a wild cottage garden, or a highly stylized formal landscape.
It’s also a good idea to select plants that have similar needs for sunlight, soil type, and moisture. This is referred to as companion planting.
Boxwoods (Buxus) are broadleaf evergreen shrubs that can be used in a variety of garden styles. They are also quite adaptable in terms of cultural needs:
- They are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, with a few cultivars hardy to zone 4.
- They do well in average garden soil with a neutral pH between 6.5 and 7, but they can adapt to soils more acidic or alkaline. The soil needs to be well-draining, as they hate wet feet.
- They can grow in full sun to part shade, but need some protection from the winter sun. Where summers are very hot, boxwoods appreciate afternoon shade. The cultivar “Green Mountain” can be grown in full shade.
- After establishment, they have need about an inch or two of rain each week. Boxwoods only need supplemental water during dry spells.
We often see boxwood hedges with plants behind them…but what should we plant in front of them?
There are numerous plants with similar cultural requirements to boxwood, ranging from spring bulbs to shrubs. There are so many plants to choose from that it can be overwhelming.
Consider the style of your garden, the amount of time and energy you want to put into it, the height of your boxwoods, and whether they are in sun or shade. This helps you narrow down your options. We’ve chosen xx of the best boxwood companions and organized them by plant type and light requirements. You’re bound to find something you enjoy.
Shrub Companions for Boxwood
When planting shrubs in front of your boxwoods, consider the mature height of the shrubs you select in comparison to the height of your boxwood. After all, you want people to notice these green beauties!
A double hedge has an appealing look that isn’t overused, so feel free to be a gardening trendsetter in your neighborhood.
Boxwood Companion Shrubs for Sunny Locations
- Arctic Fire Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Arctic Fire’) and its relatives ‘Midwinter Fire’ and ‘Arctic Sun’ have white flowers in the spring and gold leaves in the autumn, but it really shines in the winter. The lovely golden red stems positively glowed. This shrub can grow to be 5 feet tall, so it pairs well with tall boxwood. Because the youngest stems are the most colorful, it should be pruned every few years to encourage new growth.
- Pygmy crimson Berberis thunbergii ‘Crimson Pygmy’ is a small shrub with bright reddish-purple leaves. It requires very little attention. Because it contains small thorns, you should avoid using it if you have children or pets.
- Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) has flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. This 3 to 4 foot tall shrub is a 4-season winner thanks to its golden fall color and interesting seed pods in winter.
- Little Princess Spirea (Spirea japonica ‘Little Princess’) has a delicate appearance that pairs well with boxwood and grows to a height of 3 feet. You can encourage more blooms by snipping off the pink flowers as they fade.
- Roses. Of course.
Boxwood Companion Shrubs for Shady Locations
- Hydrangea cultivars such as ‘Little Lime’ and ‘Cherry Explosion,’ as well as shrubs from the Tuff Stuff®, Let’s DanceTM, and Invincibelle series, all grow to 3 feet or less. Hydrangeas are a classic choice for boxwood companions due to their long summer blooms and ease of care.
If you bought big hydrangeas, you could plant them behind your boxwood.
- If your boxwood is tall and in dappled or part shade, try Variegated Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ or C. ‘Argenteo-marginata’). It can reach a height of 5 feet.
- Weigela prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Its arching stems and pink flowers pop against the boxwood backdrop. ‘Minuet’ and ‘My Monet’ grow to be two feet tall, with variegated foliage on ‘My Monet’.
Perennial Plants as Boxwood Companions
Perennials are herbaceous plants that live for three or more years. They die to the ground in late autumn and reappear the following spring. They have specific bloom times, sometimes only a few weeks, so plant more than one type if you want a continuous flower display in front of your boxwoods. Many shade perennials are grown for their foliage effects.
Perennials for Sun
- There are numerous tickseed (Coreopsis spp) cultivars. ‘Moonbeam’ is a favorite because of its compact size and soft yellow blooms. If the seed heads are removed, it will continue to bloom until the fall.
- Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) bloom for a long time and there are many colorful cultivars. Look for red, yellow, orange, white, and raspberry flowered plants in addition to the popular pink variety ‘Mangus.’
- There are numerous daylily (Hemerocallis) cultivars available in a wide range of sizes and colors. These low-maintenance plants also have a variety of bloom times, so a daylily display can last all summer even if individual flowers only last one day.
- Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum ssp) keep blooming all summer long when you deadhead them. Cultivars range in size from 1 to 2 feet tall. The white flowers stand out against the green of the boxwoods.
Perennials for Shade
- If your boxwood is in partial to full shade, you can’t go wrong with hostas. Hundreds of cultivars provide an incredible range of leaf sizes and patterns.
- Bergenia cordifolia (Pigsqueak) sends its pink flower stalks up in spring. Its broad, smooth and shiny leaves turn burgundy in the fall.
- Ferns are restful, simple and elegant. Perfect for the Zen garden! If you want a little bit of color contrast try Athyrium ‘Ghost’.
- Hakonechloa (Hakone Grass or Japanese Forest Grass) is another plant with arcing, slender foliage that lends an elegant appearance. The variegated ‘Aureola’ is well-known, but consider ‘All Gold,’ which will brighten up your shade garden.
- Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is grown primarily for its foliage; the flowers are unimportant. The large ruffled leaves contrast nicely with the small rounded leaves of boxwood, creating a soothing effect. These plants can grow to be 8 to 12 inches tall.
- There are numerous Astilbe (False Spirea) cultivars with spiky blooms in white, pink, red, and purple. Some varieties bloom earlier than others, allowing you to create an astilbe garden that will last throughout the summer. Cultivars range in height from 8 to 20 inches.
- Heuchera (Coral Bells) is another perennial grown for its foliage, and breeders are constantly developing new cultivars. The selection is breathtaking! When not in bloom, Heuchera grows to a height of about 1 foot.
Annuals as Boxwood Companions
True annual plants complete their life cycle in a single growing season. When grown outside of their zone, plants that are not cold hardy are also sold as annuals. Annuals will provide a summer flower display, but they must be planted every year. Depending on the style of your garden, you can mix and match or plant only one type of annual.
Annuals for Sun
You can use just about any annual plant you love, or would love to try. Your options are legion!
- Red salvias (Red Hot Sally and others) are a classic, but maybe try Black and Blue Salvia or Skyscraper Pink.
- Lantana (perennial in zones 8 to 11) blooms profusely throughout the summer and into the fall. Reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, whites, and bi- and tri-colors are available. A fantastic plant! This one requires a lot of space, so don’t put them too close together.
- Marigolds are cheerful, old-fashioned flowers. They can be as tall as 16 inches or as short as 6 inches depending on the variety. Flower heads can be large or small, with colors ranging from near white to bright yellow, gold, orange, and brown. For continuous bloom, pinch off the dead flowers.
- Petunias are a classic. There are hundreds of flower colors and color combinations available, and don’t forget about their relatives calibracochas and petchoas. Petunias require regular deadheading and trimming to keep them looking their best.
- Sunpatiens look like New Guinea impatiens but handle hot, sunny days without a problem. If you want a tropical look, this is the annual for you.
Annuals for Shade
Years ago, there weren’t many choices when shopping for annuals for shade. It’s easy to find more than just impatiens now.
- Impatiens reach a height of about 12 inches. They are available in a variety of colors and are available in flats of all one color or in combinations. Pink, white, red, purple, salmon, and bicolors are all readily available. New Guinea impatiens come in a variety of colors, and their leaves add a tropical feel to the garden.
- Caladiums are grown from bulbs that can be lifted, stored, and replanted each year. They can grow to 24 inches tall and come in variegated shades of green, white, pink, and red.
- Begonias bloom in shades of white, pink, and red. They can grow 12 to 18 inches tall and need no deadheading.
- Coleus is another plant with a wide range of color, form, and size. The only extra care they require is pinching off the insignificant flower stalks and trimming back the exuberant growth.
Spring Bulbs as Boxwood Companions
- Tulips, daffodils, scilla, allium, snowdrops, and crocus make wonderful companions. Combine them with annuals, perennials, or groundcovers to help hide fading foliage as spring comes to an end. Many bulbs return and multiply each year, but hybrid tulips are not consistent returners. Plant them in the fall for the best display.
Ornamental Grasses and Groundcovers as Boxwood Companions
- Ornamental grasses were once associated with prairie gardens, but they have found their way into gardens of all styles. You can plant 10 foot tall pampas grass in front of 20 foot tall boxwood, but most gardeners prefer grasses like Sporobolus ‘Tara’ at 2 feet tall or blue fescue at 6 inches tall (Festuca glauca). There are numerous height, shape, and texture options, all with lovely flower heads in the fall.
- Liriope’s grassy foliage grows 6 to 8 inches tall and has purple flower stalks in early fall. This is a great groundcover to use with spring bulbs.
- Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra) is a low-growing broadleaf evergreen groundcover that is a classic companion for boxwoods. If you want quiet green elegance, use pachysandra in front of them.
- Ajuga reptans (Carpetbugle) is a low-growing groundcover with large, rounded leaves. Some cultivars have variegated foliage. Ajuga sends up purple flower spikes in late spring. Cultivars’ Burgundy Glow’ and ‘Caitlin’s Giant’ are usually easy to find.
Tips for Planting Boxwood Companion Plants
Work carefully if you are planting in front of established boxwoods. Boxwoods have shallow roots and can be damaged by aggressive digging. Use smaller plants that do not necessitate digging a large hole.
Allow enough space for the boxwood and companion plants to grow to their full size. Boxwoods can lose their lower leaves if they are overly shaded. Planting too close together reduces air flow, which can lead to fungal diseases.