Episode 12 – Deer Resistant Plants, Boxwood Beauty, and Mulch Benefits

Ground Breaking Banter

Stacey and Rick discuss “top ten plant lists.” This week specifically Deer resistant plants. You can find Stacey and Rick’s favorite Deer Resistant Plants here.
Our word of the day is: Brumous. Bru·mous an adjective meaning foggy and wintery.

Why? Two reasons: one, since we are talking about deer resistance today, I thought it would be appropriate to cover a boxwood, one of the most notoriously deer resistant plants you can buy, and two, because seeing as it is a time where we celebrate gratitude, I am extremely thankful for boxwood. Honestly, when it comes to a shrub that can grow in full shade, is pretty much never bothered by deer, and looks honestly amazing anywhere it is planted and in any style of landscape or garden, you can’t do much better than boxwood. It’s evergreen! It’s classic! It can be trimmed into all sorts of sizes! We as gardeners, homeowners, landscapers, etc., are all so lucky to have it.

We’re especially lucky to have Sprinter boxwood from Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs, because it has all of boxwood’s great features, and makes up for two of its biggest liabilities: boxwood is notoriously slow-growing and Sprinter is about twice as fast-growing, and it has no odor. If most people have an objection to boxwood, it’s that it is known to smell…well, there’s no other way to put this: like cat urine. And you don’t need to rub up against it to smell it – on a warm day, when its foliage is just baking in the sun, you can’t not smell it. But it’s only English boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, that has this characteristic smell. Littleleaf boxwood, Buxus microphylla, the species that Sprinter is, does not smell.

Depending on which variety you choose, boxwood can develop different shapes: round, oval, pyramidal. Sprinter is a rather squat globe-like shape and can be left to grow into an informal, kind of loose globe, or trimmed into a tight and formal shape. The keep to successfully trimming boxwood is to not let it develop more thick, woody branches. Keep cutting only into the soft, herbaceous growth, before it turns woody. It has nice, bright green evergreen foliage, and doesn’t bronze much in winter.

Who: Sprinter boxwood came to us from a fellow West Michigan grower. He noticed that part of one of the boxwoods he was growing was a lot faster than the others. It’s not something that the average person would necessarily notice, but since he was growing them at a huge scale, it stuck out. This is known as a “sport” – when a branch of a plant just suddenly does something different. It’s not uncommon, but not all sports are stable – some revert back to whatever the plant originally did. Fortunately for us, the sport that would become Sprinter boxwood is extremely stable and because of its growth rate, hardiness, and retention of good green color in winter.

How to grow: Though boxwood is famously shade tolerant, but be aware that strong winter sun can increase the potential for winter damage because it will cause greater water loss through the leaves. As far as soil goes, it definitely needs well-drained soil: conditions where it’s never wet or soggy for any prolonged period. You may have heard of a lot of different diseases that boxwood can get – not likely to be a problem as long as the soil is well-drained. Many people are surprised to discover that boxwood prefers soil only slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, as many evergreens prefer acidic soil. It’s absolutely imperative to mulch your boxwoods, for two reasons. One, boxwood is very, very shallow rooted. If you look at one that’s not mulched, you’ll almost certainly be able to actually see the root system, so you want to cover it with some nice organic mulch – not rock – to conserve moisture and reduce stress. Second, mulching helps prevent winter damage to the evergreen foliage by reduce water evaporation. A good 2-3” layer of shredded bark mulch will do the trick.

Ready to add Sprinter boxwood to your landscape or garden? Ask for this Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrub at your favorite local garden center.

Gardening Mail Bag

Do you have a question for us? Click “contact us” above, or send us an email

Adelle is wondering: I have 15″ x 8′ space in front of a wooden fence. I would like recommendations for a skinny tall juniper to plant for privacy from a neighbour. A cement driveway is directly in front of the space. Thank you.

If you definitely want a juniper, ‘Skyrocket’ is the way to go. It’s the narrowest hardy juniper you can find! If you’re considering other very narrow space-savers, check out Full Speed A Hedge Thin Man arborvitae; Rick also suggests Fine Line, a non-invasive columnar buckthorn, as one of his go-tos.

Roger wrote with some comments: This morning you suggested that I put weeds I pulled on my compost pile as part of the green component.  Wrong.  Most seeds don’t decompose in the normal compost process.  Sooo what you have in the  nice compost soil is a concentrated pile of weed seeds that is put on your garden to grow again.  I speak from experience and I think at one time you talked about this seed and compost process on your old show. Also autumn does have a unique odor especially for us with a gingko tree!

Thanks, Roger! You are absolutely right: unless you are actively hot composting, weed seeds can spread through compost. One solution to this is to only compost weeds that are not in flower/seed, or to pull them off and discard them separately. If you have a particularly problematic weed, maybe consider not composting it at all, just to be on the safe side.

As for Roger’s comment about gingko trees – spot on. Gingkos that are older than about 25-30 years could potentially be female plants, which bear a fruit that resembles an apricot. When the fruit ripens and drops in autumn, it starts to ferment and emits a smell that is generally described as resembling vomit; Rick says it smells like the smelliest gym socks left in a gym bag in a hot car for three weeks. So, you get the idea. Fortunately, the majority of gingkos on the market in the last couple decades are grafted – nurseries sow a bunch of seed, when those seedlings reach a certain point, their top is cut off, and a piece of a known male plant is grafted on top. This means it doesn’t matter whether the seedling that was planted was male or female – the growth of the tree will all be male and no smelly fruits will litter your yard and stink up your neighborhood. 

Trixie from Texas has a question, and included a photo of her issue: I just planted some hydrangeas (11/5/22) in 8b (Texas) and this little Annabelle has some of her roots exposed (they were like this in the nursery pot).  Should I mound up the soil around the base to cover the exposed roots?  

The plant in question – see below – is clearly a young plant that was received by mail, and it looks like its roots got a little exposed. This isn’t uncommon, nor is it particularly detrimental. You don’t want to mound soil over the base of the plant, but you can put some in those empty spaces, then cover the whole thing with a good 2-3″ layer of shredded bark mulch. 

A young hydrangea plant surrounded by mulch.

Branching News