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BOXWOOD ALTERNATIVES

What to plant intead of boxwood

There are many reasons why you might want to plant an evergreen that’s like boxwood, but not boxwood. After all, for all their classic appeal, they’re not without their shortcomings: winter discoloration, winter damage in cold climates, shallow roots, the odor of some species, and a lack of noticeable flowers, just to name a few. So beside the big issues making news in some areas, like boxwood blight and box tree moth, it’s a good idea to have some ways to mix up your plantings or replace those that are struggling for whatever reason.

This list of alternatives and substitutes for conventional boxwood includes evergreens that can provide a similar look in your garden or landscape, and are a similar size and shape. As is often the case when you are swapping one species for another, each one has some features and liabilities compared to boxwood, but we’ve listed all the information for you so you can make the right decision for the realities of your landscape and the look you want. To view complete details on each of the evergreens below, just click the name or the photo.

  • SKY BOX® Japanese Holly

    Stronger growing than other Japanese hollies, Sky Box™ has an elegant pyramidal habit that adds vertical lines to landscapes. It has shiny, dark green evergreen foliage and tight branching. It is an excellent specimen for formal gardens.

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When you need an upright, space-saving evergreen, Sky Box Japanese holly will fit the bill. The foliage is almost indistinguishable from boxwood, although Japanese holly isn’t quite as shade tolerant or as deer resistant as boxwood.

USDA hardiness zones 6-8

  • GEM BOX® Inkberry Holly

    Unlike other I. glabra, this dwarf variety maintains its good branching all the way to the ground. It is an excellent alternative to boxwood. It has dark green evergreen foliage with attractive red tips during the spring flush. Use this adaptable native plant as a small hedge or a container specimen.

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Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) has the advantage of being native to North America, as well as showy white flowers covering the plant in late spring. Gem Box inkberry naturally grows with a rounded habit and can be trimmed like a boxwood is desired.

USDA hardiness zones 5-9

  • SQUEEZE BOX® Inkberry Holly

    A whole new world of opportunities has opened up with this new male inkberry holly. It will pollinate our female varieties Gem Box and Strongbox, resulting in berries that birds find irresistible. Beyond its usefulness to our female inkberries, it’s a truly handsome . It grows into a lovely strictly upright pyramid. It’s filled with tiny leaves, easily bringing fine texture to any landscape. A great companion to plants with larger leaves, able to balance out the

    Why grow Squeeze Box inkberry holly?
    – Shiny evergreen foliage
    – Useful narrow habit
    – Helpful pollinator for female inkberries

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Squeeze Box inkberry is an upright, narrow variety, plus it’s a male, so will pollinate Gem Box and Strongbox so they develop blue-black berries in autumn. Like other inkberries, it’s less shade tolerant and less deer resistant than boxwood.

USDA hardiness zones 5-9

  • STRONGBOX® Inkberry Holly

    With its squat, rounded habit, handsome evergreen foliage, and full, dense branching, Strongbox® inkberry is a welcome alternative to boxwood. Lush, deep green, and disease resistant, this plant offers huge potential for the landscape market and home owners alike. Stays green and well-branched right to the ground. Native to North America and highly adaptable.

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Strongbox inkberry is similar to Gem Box, but has a denser, broader habit. It’s equally suitable to low hedges and specimen planting and can be trimmed in keeping with the classic boxwood look. Female variety develops blue berries in the presence of Squeeze Box inkberry.

USDA hardiness zones 5-9

  • CASTLE KEEP® Blue Holly

    Long a favorite during its evaluations, Castle Keep® blue holly has the classic good looks of this handsome evergreen but with soft-to-the-touch deep green foliage. Semi-dwarf rounded habit makes it a versatile choice for landscape. This is a female variety that will develop red fruit if a male pollinator like Castle Wall® holly is planted nearby.

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Most blue hollies (Ilex × meserveae) are much too large to substitute for boxwood, but Castle Keep holly comes in at just 3-5′ tall and wide. Though its texture is bolder and coarser than most boxwoods, its glossy evergreen foliage offers a similar appeal in the landscape. Though it is fairly shade tolerant, it is not deer resistant.

USDA hardiness zones 5-8

  • MONTANA MOSS® Juniper

    Lovely texture in a durable groundcover. Montana Moss® juniper brings a refreshing blue-green tone to groundcover junipers. Its moss-like foliage is soft to the touch; its ability to withstand deer, drought, heat, and sun makes it a new go-to choice for those who need tough evergreen groundcovers.

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This juniper is similar to boxwood primarily in that it is a low-growing evergreen. However, it makes an interesting, unexpected alternative with its blue foliage that’s soft to touch. Though it is a sun-loving plant, it also boasts excellent deer resistant and is very drought tolerant too. It can go where boxwood never could!

USDA hardiness zones 4-9

  • TORTUGA® Juniper

    Tortuga juniper is a super-tough selection of our native common juniper (Juniperus communis) that naturally grows as a neat, low mound of fluffy, jade green foliage. The perfect plant for even the most difficult locations, it tolerates deer, drought, dry soil, air pollution, poor fertility, mountain goats, polar vortexes, black walnut toxicity, sand, rocks, ground hogs, limestone, and road salt, just to name a few challenges. An ideal choice for adding evergreen interest to the edge of sidewalks, the front of beds, or even as a Ground cover.

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Your search for a super durable yet well-behaved evergreen ends with Tortuga juniper. It may not be quite as refined as boxwood, but its toughness, sun tolerance, and deer resistance make up for it, plus it can be used in similar ways. On top of all that, it’s much, much more cold tolerant – down to USDA zone 2.

USDA hardiness zones 2-7

  • BERRY BOX® Pyracomeles

    As cute as a button in almost every respect. Button-like blooms arrive in spring in clusters. Their perfect five-petaled white and pink flowers scatter prettily across the tiny evergreen foliage. Later on, berries replace the blooms and bunch together neatly along each branch. As the berries age, they change from orange to red, perfect as the seasons change. It grows in a compact, albeit whimsical, form that fits nicely in the middle of the border or in a container at a walkway. Either placement is sure to bring some bright color to your fall and winter views.

    Why grow Berry Box pyracomeles?
    – Incredible berry show
    – Spring flowers for pollinators
    – Handsome evergreen foliage

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Imagine a boxwood that got decked out for winter: that’s what you get with Berry Box pyracomeles. An evergreen with small, glossy foliage, it is covered in white flowers in spring which develop into brilliant red berries for fall and winter. A great choice for not just interest but color all year-round.

USDA hardiness zones 6b-9

  • 3D Model
    JUKE BOX® Pyracomeles

    If you’re looking for something a little different but still handsome and versatile, you just may have found it in Juke Box pyracomeles. It has all the classic good looks of boxwood and other small, dense, rounded evergreens, but without any worries of pests and disease. Juke Box pyracomeles is the result of a hybrid between Pyracantha, also known as firethorn, and Osteomeles, a warm-climate evergreen. It’s thornless, fruitless, and very heat tolerant. We love it planted for a classic container, and it’s very useful as Low hedges, edging, or mixed with other plants in foundation plantings or mixed borders. Juke Box pyracomeles is a Blue Ribbon Winner for performance in the University of California low irrigation landscape trials.

    Why grow Juke Box pyracomeles:

    • Handsome, versatile little evergreen
    • No thorns or messy fruit
    • Very drought tolerant: performs well even in low to no irrigation
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A practically perfect boxwood alternative for warm climates! Pyracomeles boasts fine, glossy foliage and a neat, tidy habit that can be trimmed if desired. This particular variety of pyracomeles does not flower and has no odor. Pest and disease free and extremely tolerant of drought and other difficult conditions.

USDA hardiness zones 7-9

  • SWEET & LO™ Sweet Box

    The strange and spicy feature your shade garden has been begging for. This unique beauty gets started in late winter with bunches of long, firework-like blooms lining their burgundy branches. With a lovely fragrance, much like jasmine, you and the pollinators alike will be eager to visit these flashy blooms to start the growing season with a bang. This low-growing evergreen makes a handsome four-season Ground cover that stays tidy all on its own.

    Why grow Sweet & Lo sweet box?
    – Very early flowering
    – Extremely shade tolerant
    – Handsome low-growing habit

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Imagine walking outside on a warm winter day to find the air full of sweet fragrance: that’s what you’ll get with Sweet and Lo Sarcococca. Naturally growing with a rounded, spreading habit, late winter brings unique white flowers with beautiful fragrance. Very good deer resistance and shade tolerance!

USDA hardiness zones 5-9

  • STONEHENGE DARK DRUID® Yew

    Need a neat and tidy yew with outstanding color? Get Stonehenge Dark Druid Taxus! Noted for its rich, dark green foliage and tight round habit, this yew is a useful and versatile low-mounded plant that can be used like boxwood. It has superb hardiness and winter coloration.

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This nifty little yew naturally grows with a rounded, globe-like shape, never getting more than 3-4′ tall and 3′ wide. Its evergreen foliage looks great all year round, and while it shares boxwood’s superior shade tolerance, it is not deer resistant. Very amenable to trimming, pruning, and shaping.

USDA hardiness zones 4-7

  • TATER TOT® Arborvitae

    Got a spot in your landscape that needs a little something to make it more interesting? Plant a Tater Tot® arborvitae! This cute little dwarf evergreen naturally grows in a dense ball shape without the need for pruning or training. Lush “fans” of evergreen foliage give it appealing texture and year-round interest. Tater Tot arborvitae works nicely as an edging in a landscape, providing structure and winter beauty in a flower garden, or in containers. It also provides excellent structure for lighting.

    Why grow Tater Tot arborvitae?

    • Naturally dwarf evergreen keeps its shape without pruning
    • Lush fan-like foliage provides texture
    • Native to North America
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As delightful as its namesake, this cute little arborvitae needs no trimming or pruning to keep growing as a tidy little mound of evergreen foliage. You can think of it as a hardier, lower maintenance boxwood. Do note, however, that is is not deer resistant and tolerates only light shade. Good heat tolerance.

USDA hardiness zones 3-8

Want to really think outside the boxwood?

The following evergreens offer some similarities to boxwood but differ substantially in their foliage, as well as other features. They make an unexpected statement while also being fully functional and low maintenance in the landscape. 

  • PAISLEY PUP™ Leucothoe

    A colorful, eye-catching Ground cover for a shady spot might sound like a tall order, but Paisley Pup leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana) has it covered – with style! Also known as doghobble, drooping laurel, and fetterbush, this North American native shrub grows as a slowly spreading mound, perfect for transforming difficult spots into a lush, colorful canvas that needs virtually no maintenance. All season long, the new growth emerges in shades of pink, white, green, and yellow for an ever-changing, swirling display that really lights up shady spots. In late spring and early summer, elegant chains of fragrant, bell-shaped, white flowers dangle from the arching stems for even more beauty and interest. Did we mention Paisley Pup leucothoe is also exceptionally deer resistant, too?

    Why grow Paisley Pup leucothoe:
    – Super colorful foliage – not your typical variegation!

    – Native to North America

    – Shade tolerant and easy to grow in any well-drained, acidic soil

     

     

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This unique selection of our native doghobble boasts colorful foliage that boxwood could only dream of! Its habit is quite different, too, but it’s a good alternative to boxwood because it shares the same legendary shade tolerance and deer resistance. Showy spring flowers are sweetly fragrant. Like other members of the rhododendron family, it needs acidic soil.

USDA hardiness zones 5-8

  • PILLOW TALK® Gardenia

    A tidy little habit filled with big, doubled blooms. There’s nothing quite like the elegance and convenience Pillow Talk gardenia brings to the front of the garden. With a wider-than-tall habit and healthy dark evergreen foliage, it’s the perfect plant for using as edging or a low hedge. Its fragrant flowers arrive in profusion in the spring, filling the air with its spicy, heady scent. You’ll love the way it performs beautifully in containers and in full sun, even in Florida.

    Why grow Pillow Talk gardenia?
    – Useful, low habit
    – Plentiful blooms in spring
    – Performs well in heat

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If you live in a climate where gardenias grow, consider yourself lucky – there are many up in here the cold north who envy you! In addition to fragrant flowers and glossy evergreen foliage, Pillow Talk gardenia also boasts a cushion-like habit that brings irresistible tidiness to the garden or landscape. Can grow in full to part sun and is very deer resistant.

USDA hardiness zones 7-10

  • 3D Model
    STEADY AS SHE GOES® Gardenia

    There have been a lot of Gardenia introductions, perhaps too many, but none have combined the level of heat tolerance, continuous blooming, and cold hardiness found in this introduction from Phil Dark. An improvement over the hardy ‘Chuck Hayes’, its fully doubled flowers do not abort in the heat of summer, but just keep coming right up until frost. A stellar performer with a well-branched, compact habit and glossy dark evergreen foliage.

    Why grow Steady as She Goes gardenia:

    – Improved heat tolerance.

    – Continuous blooming.

    – Cold hardiness.

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What makes Steady As She Goes gardenia special is that it doesn’t just bloom in spring – the flowers keep coming (steadily!) until frost. When the flowers do wind down, its handsome, glossy, evergreen foliage more than carries it through the rest of the year. If the malodorous leaves of boxwood keep you from growing it, the sweet fragrance of gardenia will delight!

USDA hardiness zones 7-10

  • GLOW POP™ Japanese Holly

    Glow Pop Japanese holly presents the perfect opportunity to bring a pop of year-round color to your garden or landscape. Foliage emerges in spring with a cheery bright yellow tone. As summer’s heat comes on, the plant changes to a fresh green, then yellow returns when the weather cools again. It naturally grows with a neat, semi-rounded habit though if you prefer a more trimmed look, it can pruning and shearing.

    Japanese holly look quite a bit like boxwood but their foliage is opposite instead of alternate, and they don’t have the characteristic odor that often plagues boxwood. As such, they make a nice alternative to boxwood, especially if you are looking for some vivid color from your evergreens.

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If you’re looking for something almost identical to boxwood but more colorful, Glow Pop Japanese holly fits the bill! Its glossy golden foliage brings year round color to your landscape or garden. It can be trimmed but since it naturally grows as a tidy rounded mound just 2-3′ tall and wide, it rarely needs it. Yellow foliage doesn’t burn, even in sun.

USDA hardiness zones 5b-9

  • GLOW STICK™ Japanese Holly

    A perfect way to bring compelling structure and color to your landscape or garden – every single day of the year! Glow Stick Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) combines a uniquely narrow and upright habit with cheerful golden foliage.  During the hottest part of summer, it mellows to a spring green shade before going bright yellow again in cooler weather. This is a perfect shrub for your front yard landscape: plant one as a striking specimen, a pair on either side of your front door, or create a grouping. There are so many ways you can use Glow Stick holly to express your personal style in the garden, and it’s ideal for covering in lights, too.

    Needs little to no pruning but can be trimmed if desired.

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Make a unique statement in your yard with Glow Stick Japanese holly (Ilex crenata)! It’s a bit like Sky Box holly above but forms more of a consistent column and, most importantly, is bright gold instead of green. Plant one, plant two, plant many – your imagination is the limit with this interesting, useful, and versatile evergreen. 

USDA hardiness zones 5b-9

  • ANNA’S MAGIC BALL® Arborvitae

    Dwarf conifers are cute, space-saving and so versatile in the landscape – and Anna’s Magic Ball® is the epitome of all of these things! This super-hardy selection of our native arborvitae naturally grows as a dense little globe of golden yellow foliage. It’s a fantastic choice for landscapes and gardens, as well as containers.

    Why grow Anna’s Magic Ball arborvitae?

    • Dwarf conifer provides year-round beauty in very little space
    • Versatile habit works in ings and gardens
    • Native plant for sun or Part Sun
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If you love Tater Tot arborvitae above but are looking for something a little more colorful, Anna’s Magic Ball arborvitae is just the thing! Similar in size and shape, it boasts bright golden foliage for a lively landscape accent. Perfect planted on its own or as a low hedge, it’s also nice paired on either side of an entry.

USDA hardiness zones 3-8

Looks for these boxwood alternatives in the distinctive white Proven Winners container at your local garden center.
Juke Box pyracomeles in a white Proven Winners ColorChoice pot

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