Home Gardening Boxwood Shrubs: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing, Planting, and Avoiding Bad Smells

Boxwood Shrubs: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing, Planting, and Avoiding Bad Smells

by Gregory
3 minutes read

Boxwood Shrubs: A Comprehensive Guide

Boxwood shrubs (Buxus spp.) are popular ornamental plants known for their deep green leaves and compact, round form. They are versatile and can be used for hedges, borders, topiary, and container gardening. However, some gardeners have reported an unpleasant odor emanating from certain boxwood varieties, particularly the English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens). This article delves into the causes of boxwood odor, provides tips on how to avoid it, and suggests alternative plants that can be used in place of boxwood shrubs.

What Causes Boxwood Shrubs to Smell?

The unpleasant odor associated with some boxwood shrubs is caused by the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the plant’s flowers. These VOCs can have a strong, cat urine-like smell. The English boxwood is particularly prone to producing these VOCs, especially during the late spring when the plant is in bloom.

How to Avoid Smelly Boxwood Shrubs

If you are concerned about the potential for smelly boxwood shrubs, there are several steps you can take to avoid the problem:

  • Choose non-odorous varieties: Not all boxwood varieties produce a strong odor. Some less odorous options include Japanese boxwood (Buxus microphylla), Asian boxwood (Buxus sinica), and Little Leaf boxwood (Buxus sinica var insularis).
  • Avoid planting near frequently used areas: If you do decide to plant boxwood shrubs, avoid placing them near your front door or other areas where you spend a lot of time. This will help to minimize your exposure to any potential odors.
  • Consider alternative plants: If you are looking for an alternative to boxwood shrubs, there are several other dense, evergreen plants that can be used for hedging and other purposes. Some good options include myrtles (Myrtis spp.) and hollies (Ilex spp.).

What to Do if Your Boxwood Shrubs Smell

If you already have boxwood shrubs that are producing an unpleasant odor, there are a few things you can do to try to reduce the smell:

  • Prune the flowers: Pruning the flowers off of the boxwood shrubs can help to reduce the production of VOCs and thus the intensity of the odor.
  • Water the shrubs regularly: Keeping the boxwood shrubs well-watered can help to flush out the VOCs and reduce the odor.
  • Use a deodorizing spray: There are a number of commercial deodorizing sprays available that can be used to help mask the smell of boxwood shrubs.


Boxwood shrubs are a popular choice for gardeners due to their versatility and attractive appearance. However, some varieties of boxwood can produce an unpleasant odor. By choosing non-odorous varieties, planting the shrubs away from frequently used areas, and taking steps to reduce the production of VOCs, you can avoid the problem of smelly boxwood shrubs and enjoy the beauty of these plants in your garden.

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