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What to Plant Behind Boxwoods? Ooh, Interesting!

What to Plant Behind Boxwoods? Ooh, Interesting!

Boxwood hedges lend wonderful accents to formal and informal garden spaces.

Boxwoods add year-round interest to a garden, they provide a backdrop for other species, and they provide homes for birds and other wildlife.

So you have decided on your hedge, but may be wondering what to plant behind boxwoods.


What to plant behind boxwoods?

Tall growing perennials and small trees, including butterfly bush, cannas, Rose of Sharon, dogwood, crepe myrtle, and even hibiscus, will produce colorful flowers that look wonderful when peeking over a boxwood hedge. Tall annuals like cosmos and sunflowers also look beautiful behind boxwoods.


Factors to Consider What Plants to Grow Behind Boxwoods

Are your boxwoods well established? How tall are they?

Have they reached maturity or are they new plantings? What variety of boxwood do you have?

Are they dwarf or full-sized boxwoods?

These are just some of the queries that you’ll need to ponder when deciding what to plant behind your boxwoods. I’m here to help you answer them.

My boxwoods, currently about 7 feet tall, are over fifty years old. They are well established, mature, and of unknown variety.

Since I have been tending to my boxwoods for over 40 years, I have planted everything from annual and perennial flowers to medicinal herbs, taller shrubs, and understory trees behind them.

For now, since most landscapers and home gardeners are probably dealing with newer plantings and smaller hedges, let’s concentrate on boxwoods that are less than four feet tall.


How Much Sunshine the Area behind your Boxwoods Need

Is your planting area (behind the boxwoods) facing south, north, east, or west?

Will your boxwoods cast shade on the area behind them or will that area receive full sun?

If you are planting on the south, east, or west side of your boxwoods, you can plant most any sun-loving plants that are tall enough to be seen.

Tall flowers like hollyhock, mullein, bee balm and marshmallow are wonderful options, but tall vegetables can also be planted behind boxwoods.

Corn looks especially nice with its vibrant green leafy blades in the summer, fading to yellow in fall and then brown in winter, plus at harvest time, it gives you delicious golden ears to eat.

If you are planting on the north side of boxwood, then look for tall, shade-loving plants like ostrich ferns, wild azaleas, rhododendrons, and small trees.

Dogwood and maples work well behind boxwoods. Trees will grow faster than your boxwoods, so plant them at least ten feet from your hedge so the boxwoods are not shaded out in years to come.


Moisture Level in the Area

Do you have an irrigation system or other way to water in times of low rainfall or drought? Is the area swampy or do you notice standing water?

First of all, if your boxwood hedge is in a spot that is too wet, it probably will not survive, and if it does, the growth will not be optimal. Try using raised beds in any wet area, so drainage will be improved.

Most plants, even tough ones like boxwoods, do not like wet feet!

If you live in an area with plenty of rainfall, most tall-growing plants will thrive when planted behind boxwoods. Make sure your plants have weekly dosing of at least 1-inch of water and they should be fine.

If you live in a dry climate, use a soaker hose or even a watering can to keep plants moist and healthy.

Tall plants like Joe Pye Weed, Iron Weed, False Indigo, and Meadowsweet will do fine in most areas and look amazing when growing behind boxwoods. Plants like pussy willow require more moisture.

If your area is dry, try palms and yuccas. They do fine with less water but still like an inch per week if possible.

According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension Center, mulch is always a good idea when growing boxwoods and other ornamental plants.

A layer of pine needles, wood chips, pebbles, or hay is better than leaving soil bare and exposed. Mulch will help keep the soil at a more constant temperature, will save on water evaporation, and cut down on weed growth.


Type of Soil in the Garden

Does your soil contain a lot of red clay? Is it full of organic matter or mostly sand?

Boxwoods do best in sandy loam, so pick plants to go behind them that like the same type of soil (unless planted in raised beds where soil can be readily amended).

Blueberries won’t do well alongside healthy boxwoods because the pH is probably too high. The same goes for other woodsy plants that prefer growing in soil leaning towards the acidic side.

Most other plants will do fine in any soil that supports healthy boxwood growth.

When planting behind boxwoods, leave plenty of space. Boxwood roots are shallow and invasive, taking all the nutrients they can get.

Nearby plants of other species will suffer if planted too close to boxwoods. Give them plenty of space, extra water, and good organic fertilizer until they are well established.

As your boxwoods age, they will need even more room, so take that into account when doing permanent plantings.


Frequently Asked Questions about What to Plant Behind Boxwoods


What looks best growing behind boxwoods?

White and pink dogwood trees look amazing behind established boxwood hedges. Plant the trees and hedges at the same time for years of visual pleasure. Maples, sourwoods, crabapples, dwarf fruits, and wild cherries are good alternatives that really add lots of interest to the home landscape.


Can I plant flowers behind my boxwoods?

Tall flowers will work behind boxwoods. Sunflowers are especially attractive and will provide birds and other wildlife with a food source.


What can I plant behind boxwoods to attract wildlife?

I love to watch and listen to the birds as they feast upon dogwood berries or sunflower seeds. Doves nest in my boxwoods every year and they appreciate a nice snack growing nearby.


What is your favorite thing to plant behind boxwoods?

When my boxwoods were shorter, about three feet tall, I grew a row of fennel behind them. The fennel was feathery, soft, and a beautiful shade of sea-foam green. The contrast between those airy leaves and the dark green, sturdy boxwood limbs was extremely pleasing to the eye. Plus, the fennel provided lots of seeds for culinary use in my kitchen and a place for monarch butterflies to breed.



When planting behind boxwood hedges, be sure to take into account height at maturity, sunlight requirements, water needs, and soil types.

No matter what plants you choose to go behind your boxwoods, I am sure they will look beautiful.