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National Boxwood Trials

More than sixty Boxwood Trial test cooperators from the United States and several international sites present this comprehensive evaluation of boxwood cultivars. With this data, boxwood lovers now have access to information that will allow them to come to a reliable conclusion as to the performance of some of the best boxwood cultivars from the Atlantic
seaboard to Mid-America.


The mission of the National Boxwood Trials is to evaluate boxwood cultivars in a wide range of microenvironments using two primary criteria, grower friendliness and impulse cosmetics. This report focuses on plants in the “boxwood belt” from Connecticut to Chicago, then south to near Kansas City, to St. Louis and then south to Memphis and Birmingham, and along the Mid-Atlantic coast. Additionally, there are international participants in the Republic of Georgia, Yalta, and the United Kingdom.

This sixth Boxwood Trials Report contains data collected from about sixty sites in the United States and overseas. Since the 2006 edition, we have welcomed new cooperators, and “old” cooperators have re-evaluated their plants. Several new cooperators did not submit data this go-round, but we look forward to their input and observations in future editions. Two of those newcomers are the Spartanburg Community College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

It is important to note that the “approval rating” of some of the cultivars may have changed from previous Reports. This could be a result of variations in performance in the same cultivar, different locations in a test plot, or because years of weather factors (severe winters or hot, dry summers), or leaf miner infestations, or other factors have brought out more of the plants’ characteristics, both good and bad.

How can we explain the current resurgence in the popularity of boxwood? It no doubt has something to do with the beauty of the many varieties of this plant, its ability to fulfill a number of landscape needs, and the fact that deer almost never, ever forage on boxwood. We are interested in the plants’ performance in the many microenvironments across our testing area. “Microenvironment” may be defined as a combination of many factors including the plant zone or geographical location, the site orientation within the landscape, how much protection from the wind and sun is provided, the soil type, the pH, and, of course, the TLC given by its caretaker.

History of Trials

In the 1990s our farm was a member of the Pacific Northwest Fruit Testers Association, a group of orchardists who evaluated apples worldwide. It occurred to me, “Why can’t we form a group of boxwood enthusiasts to evaluate boxwood?” It was then that The National Boxwood Trials were born. We received advice from many boxwood enthusiasts including Joan Butler, the late Aubrey Zaffuto, Lynn Batdorf of the National Arboretum, and others on the Saunders Brothers team, as well as a host of like-minded folks. Out of the hundreds of available boxwood cultivars, about fifteen “benchmark cultivars” were chosen as reference plants. These fifteen represented varying growth habits and sizes at maturity, and were divided into six general classifications. We categorized the plants’ growth habits into uprights, dwarf cultivars, dwarf to bush size cultivars, medium size bush cultivars, northern and Sheridan/Glencoe cultivars, and large cultivars. We suggested each Cooperator choose two or three plants in each category. Most cooperators chose 50 to 60 plants for their Trials block. Since that time, the number of benchmark cultivars has been increased to over twenty. Trials Cooperators determined how many plants they could use or integrate into their landscape or test blocks. They were also encouraged to report on any “sweetheart” boxwood cultivars that were not a part of the original selection.

We were excited when the administrations of the Missouri Botanical Garden and North Carolina State University agreed to join our project. We shipped Trials plants to those participants in 1996 and 1997. As we explained our vision to others, interest grew. Today, participants include twenty major botanical gardens, arboretums and shrines, more than fourteen colleges and universities, plus several agricultural test stations.

Saunders Brothers, Inc., has donated over 3,000 plants to test sites, from liner size to 3-gallon pots and larger. Additionally, individual cooperators have contributed hundreds of plants to their test gardens. As new cultivars appear on the horizon, cooperators are testing them in their individual plots. We are certain some of these plants will be added to the benchmark cultivars group.

Finally, this Report is the result of a team effort by some of the finest, most informed boxwood enthusiasts in the Eastern and Midwestern United States. We thank each of them for their efforts to help horticulturists plant with confidence the best boxwood cultivars for their areas. Anyone interested in being a cooperator may contact me, Paul Saunders, at Saunders Brothers, Inc., in Piney River, VA.

To order your copy of the latest National Boxwood Trials, contact our receptionist at 434-277-5455 or receptionist@saundersbrothers.com

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