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Japanese vs. Korean Boxwood: 7 Differences

Japanese vs. Korean Boxwood: 7 Differences

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Willie Moore
Latest posts by Willie Moore (see all)

Japanese and Korean boxwoods are beautiful evergreens suitable for your home’s landscaping. These two plants are often confused because they look so similar; they’re small, glossy, with lance-shaped leaves. While they may appear the same, there are some critical differences between them.

Japanese boxwood is different from Korean because it grows higher and spreads wider. The Japanese boxwood also has larger leaves with a deeper green hue and cream-colored flower clusters as opposed to the white flowers on the Korean. They also have different growing requirements. 

In the rest of this article, I’ll take you through the differences between Japanese boxwood and Korean boxwood plants. You can use these differences to decide on the best plant for your landscaping. Let’s get started!

1. The Growth Heights Are Different Between the Boxwoods

Height is an essential consideration in home landscaping. You want a plant that will fit your space without growing too big. Most Japanese boxwoods grow to six and a half feet (2 meters) (source). Other varieties can grow even taller to eight feet (2.43 meters).

On the other hand, Korean boxwoods only grow to about four feet or 1.22 meters (source). The Korean boxwood is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a small evergreen to edge your garden beds. Otherwise, go for the Japanese boxwood if you want a taller option visible from a distance.

2. The Two Boxwood Varieties Have Different Spread Width

The Japanese and Korean boxwoods are spreading species. Spreading in boxwoods entails the lateral growth of the plant’s trunk.

The Japanese boxwood has a mature spread of six feet (1.83 meters), while the Korean boxwood only gets as wide as four feet (1.22 meters).

The differences in spread also come in handy when looking for a landscaping boxwood. While some people prefer plants with wider spreads, others prefer narrower spreads. Most people with less space in their backyards prefer plants with narrower spreads to ensure sufficient walking space.

If you want to choose between Japanese and Korean boxwoods based on spread, the latter is your go-to option if you have a smaller backyard. On the other hand, you can go for Japanese boxwood if you have a spacious backyard or don’t mind walking around your plant.

3. The Boxwood Foliage Is Different

One of the most significant differences between these two plants is their foliage. The leaves of the Japanese boxwood are glossy with a deep green color. These leaves are also lance-shaped and grow to about an inch long (2.54cm).

Although Korean boxwood leaves are also glossy, they are bright green. Furthermore, they’re small, only growing to less than an inch in length.

The difference in foliage size is the most obvious way of telling these plants apart. If you don’t know the difference, take a closer look at the color and size of the leaves.

4. The Japanese and Korean Boxwood Flowers Are Different

While both plants produce flowers, the flowers of the Korean boxwood are more inconspicuous. They are also small and white, blooming in arching clusters. 

In most cases, Korean boxwood develops flowers from April to May.

On the other hand, Japanese boxwood flowers are greenish-cream and grow in arching clusters. Like their Korean counterparts, these plants bloom from April to May. Thus, the main difference between Korean and Japanese boxwood flowers is their colors.

5. The Two Boxwoods Have Different Pruning Needs

Another difference between these two plants is their pruning needs. Korean boxwoods require very little pruning due to their narrower spread. You can prune these plants sparingly since they don’t spread a lot.

On the other hand, Japanese boxwoods require more pruning to attain the desired shape. If you want your Japanese boxwoods to have a specific profile, you’ll need to prune them regularly as they can spread extensively, distorting the shape.

6. Japanese vs. Korean Boxwood: Differences in Soil Conditions

Korean and Japanese boxwoods have different requirements for optimum growing soil conditions.

Japanese boxwood prefers moist and cool soils, which means it needs enough water retention for proper growth.

An excellent way to ensure your Japanese boxwood gets the recommended soil growing condition is by mulching around its roots. Mulches are excellent at retaining moisture in the soil (source).

On the other hand, Korean boxwood prefers average and well-drained soils with less moisture. Excess water in the soil can kill this plant as it cannot tolerate wet soil conditions. 

Thus, you should ensure proper drainage around your Korean boxwood to avoid drowning its roots. You can achieve this by planting the boxwood on a raised bed.

The different soil requirements for these plants can be challenging—mainly when growing them in the same area. Therefore, you can opt to grow them in separate spaces or choose one over the other based on your soil type.

7. The Boxwoods Require Different Sun Conditions

All plants require light for photosynthesis, which is essential for their growth (source). However, different plants have unique sun requirements.

Korean boxwood thrives in full sun to partial shade conditions, which means it needs four to six hours of direct sunlight daily.

However, when exposed to direct sun for too long, the evergreen foliage in Korean boxwood starts withering. Therefore, although this plant thrives in direct sun, you should not over-expose it to the sun.

On the other hand, Japanese boxwoods prefer shadier conditions and can tolerate less light. These plants can do well in areas with two to four hours of sunlight daily.

You should, however, avoid growing Japanese boxwoods in deep shade as they need some light for growth. When exposed to deep shade for too long—the foliage may thin out, and the plant may suffer stunted growth.

Benefits of Boxwood Plants

Boxwood plants like Korean and Japanese boxwoods are excellent for hedges. They’re also great for topiary as you can prune them into any desired shape.

Other benefits of these plants include:

  • They’re low-maintenance
  • They’re deer-resistant
  • They provide year-round color in the landscape
  • They have a long lifespan

However, before planting any boxwood in your yard, you must know its optimum growing conditions to prevent it from dying.

The Verdict

You should go for the Korean Boxwood (link to Amazon) if you live in an area with well-drained soils. Its rich green foliage will enhance your backyard’s aesthetics.

On the other hand, you need Japanese Boxwood (link to Amazon) if you live in an area with moist and cool soils. You can easily shape this plant to give your backyard an appealing look.  


Differentiating between Japanese and Korean boxwood plants can be daunting due to their resemblance. However, these plants have key differences that can help you know which.

While they both bloom, the Japanese boxwood has greenish-cream flowers, as the Korean species produce white flowers. Their heights would also tell the difference, as Japanese boxwoods are taller than their Korean counterparts.

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