What do you need to do to get boxwood through the winter in Western New York?

boxwood by Karan A Rawlins U of Georgia bugwood.org
Boxwood. Photo courtesy Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I got a question from a reader that I thought might interest a lot of people:

“I planted three baby boxwood shrubs in my front flower bed this spring (in West Seneca/South Buffalo). They are still very small, but have started sprouting new growth and I’m concerned about the cold and snow affecting them.

“I was thinking of putting milk crates over them and covering them with the frost blanket that I have. That area of our yard has multiple feet of snow all winter. It’s one of those postage-stamp sized yards that you see often in South Buffalo.

“Is this the right thing to do? Or would you suggest something else? I don’t have a green thumb, so any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!”

Tracey Lichon

Since I’m not an expert gardener, I turned to a gardening expert for help.

There are two things you need to be concerned about with boxwoods, said Teresa Buchanan, garden center manager at at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg.

The first concern is winter winds and the second is heavy snow.

Any broadleaf evergreen like boxwood can become dried out by winter winds. Once the ground is frozen, the plants can’t pull moisture up out of the soil. When wind blows across the leaves, it dries them out and the leaves turn brown.

It’s worse when the boxwood is on the west side; it’s better if you site the shrub on the east or north side, she said.

With the cold weather and blizzards we had last winter, “A lot of people lost boxwoods,” Buchanan said.

If you’ve sited the plant correctly, you don’t have to do a lot of extra work, but given what happened last year, you might want to protect the plant.

You can cover it as long as you have air circulation. Without air circulation, mold can build up and the plant could rot. Don’t use a regular blanket, but burlap is good.

Lockwood’s sells a locally made product called Shrub Covers. They come in different sizes and are made of a breathable, sturdy material. They also protect the plant from deer and rabbits.

The second concern is heavy snow, especially under gutters or along driveways, which can split the shrub open or break branches.

Since the milk crate has openings for air to move through, that would work, Buchanan said. Again, if the frost blanket is a breathable material, that could go over the top of the milk crate.

Lockwood’s also sells another product from the same local manufacturer called Shrub Coats. These are tepee-like structures that will protect plants and shrubs from a heavy snow load. They, too, will protect the plant from deer or rabbits.

If you have questions about gardening and want a quick answer, stop in to locally owned garden centers. They have knowledgeable staff who can help you. See local businesses under our Gardening Directory.

You can also contact the Master Gardeners from Cornell Cooperative Extension in your county.

8 Comments on “What do you need to do to get boxwood through the winter in Western New York?

  1. I’ve had my boxwoods for almost 10 years on the east side and they have survived our winters beautifully. The only thing I do is mulched up my gardens with lawnmower shredded leaves. However, I just planted new little babies in my driveway entrance beds that are very exposed to the south. Fingers crossed after reading this post. They are on their own other than the mulching. The main reason for purchasing an evergreen is because I want to enjoy their greenery during the off-gardening season and not covers.

  2. Donna, I haven’t ever written anything on boxwoods or preparing shrubs for winter, so it seemed like I should do that pronto. Some folks in Western New York have time to cover their shrubs, but some will have to wait until that four feet of snow– or more!– that they got yesterday melts. As I’m typing this at 7 a.m. Wednesday, it’s starting to snow in Amherst. I wonder how much we’ll end up getting.

  3. Excellent advice Teresa, Lockwoods is a great source for all your garden and landscaping needs.
    In addition all natural Deer Defeat can be used as a winter protectant/anti-desicant as well as keep deer, rabbit and ground hogs from your landscape. I realize boxwood are not cherished by deer but covering with crates and breathable fabric may possibly create a safe harbor for smaller creatures such as mice, spray first with Deer Defeat.
    While you are at it spray Deer Defeat onto your winterized mowers, tractors etc. and help keep mice from making home in your equipment…

  4. They are susceptible to wind burn with the new growth, but even so it will unlikely harm the overall plant, Next year trim to remove the discolored foliage. Anti desiccant would help. Did you not write on this recently Connie?

  5. Thank you so much, Tracey! It was a timely question. We are fortunate in Western New York to have so many gardening resources.

  6. I did cover my shrubs with milk crates and a breathable frost blanket just in time for the six feet of snow that we’re getting. Now I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed that they survive the winter. Thank you so much for the advice. For someone without a green thumb, it’s comforting to know there is somewhere (local) to turn when I have gardening questions.

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