February 2015 Plant Profile: Sarcococca

Sarcococca ruscifoliaWinter garden in the Pacific Northwest seems incomplete without this landscape standard. It has lush, glossy, evergreen foliage year round, takes dry shade conditions, and flowers in the wintertime with a powerful scent that perfumes the landscape. Sweet Box comes in two basic forms for the home gardener: the tall form and short form. The tall form (S. ruscifolia and S. confusa) get to about 2-3 feet in height and wide. The short form (varieties of S. hookeriana) makes somewhat of a groundcover with underground stolons that form a clump no taller than 12 inches and can spread about 3 feet.

In the garden, the ideal location for Sweet Box is under part shade with regular irrigation the first few seasons to get it established. It works well as a foundation planting up against the house and in mixed beds in a shaded woodland garden. Despite its common name and close relationship, Sweet Box can’t be treated like regular boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and be sheared on a regular basis. To keep the size and shape in check, prune only the tall forms and prune shortly after they’ve finished blooming (March-April). This forces new growth and stems that will then flower the following winter. Pruning during the summer and fall will remove the new growth; therefore, the flower buds are sacrificed.

Genus: Sarcococca
Common Name: Sweet Box
Location: Fragrance Garden
Origin: Eastern and Southeastern Asia, Himalayas
Height and Spread: Tall (2-3′ height x 3′ spread) – Short (1′ height x 3′ spread)
Bloom/Fruit Time: Late December-late February



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