Boxwood shrub can stink up your Sale

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on April 4, 2006 · 21 comments

We have a listing with an odor problem at the front porch. The seller assumed it was the neighbor’s cats coming around and spraying her front porch, and she’s been putting up with it for years. We’ve taken steps to mitigate the smell, but when I showed up this morning to open the home for a Keller Williams Realtor tour, it reeked at the front entry. “Darn” I thought. “Those blasted cats are back again”.

With no time to do anything about it, I made the best of it and hoped the smell would not overshadow the fact that the home is spic and span, staged well, and ready for move-in. Sure enough though, one of the agents walked in and said “pew! It smells like cat pee out there!” Another responded with, “that’s not cat odor, it’s the boxwoods”. Huh? She took me out and showed me the nice hedge that runs the length of the sidewalk leading to the entry and told me they are Boxwood shrubs and that they are known to emit an odor that is often mistaken for the urine of a male cat.

I stuck my nose down and took a good sniff and she was right, that shrub stinks! “How do you know the cats haven’t sprayed the shrub and that’s why it stinks?” I asked. She said she knows a lot about plants, and that the smell is the boxwood plant itself, not cats. A bit of internet research confirms this. It isn’t helped by the fact that the front porch is covered and enclosed on three sides – a nice place to sit on a bench but it doesn’t allow a breeze to blow through.

So, now we have to figure out if the smell can be controlled somehow, otherwise it’s creating a bad first impression and we may have to rip out those shrubs. We live and learn. Never put boxwood hedges near your front door. Leave them out further in the yard or you might have the same problem some day when you try to sell your home!

 

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kathern C. June 1, 2008 at 8:35 pm

I wish I would have read this last year! My daughter’s room started having a distinctive odor late last summer. It would happen in the evening, and go away by midnight. I searched the attic for signs of critters, raked every single leaf from under the various bushes outside, took up our small fountain, cleaned the gutters, etc. It went away during the winter then started happening again three weeks ago. I was at my wits end until I I was planting flowers out by the boxwood bushes this weekend and figured out the source! I moved the far out into the yard yesterday, and voila! her room smells nice once again!!!

2 Liz Smith September 10, 2008 at 10:58 pm

For any realtors or homeowners dealing with the odor problem I have found the miracle solution. I am the property manager to a large apartment community. At the beginning of every month I deal with odor problems from recently vacated apartments. Some are more severe than others. Last month we had a really severe smelling apartment. Even after fresh paint and new carpet. We couldn’t get cat urine smell out. One of my maintenance guys brought me a product called Room Shocker this product works like no other product have ever tried. It’s simple to use and not labor or time intensive. So there’s no scrubbing or spring or wiping. It’s relatively inexpensive. It’s not a masking agent and gets rid of the odor at the source. It not only gets rid of the smell, but it completely Decontaminates and disinfects the whole room. So far I’ve been able to get rid of severe pet odor, the smell of cat urine, heavy cigarette smoke odor. I had trouble finding the product but I found it on a website called BiocideSystems.com. I guess it’s fairly new. I swear by this stuff now and then highly recommend it to realtors and Or apartment managers and owners. The stuff really works!
LS

3 Steve Crossland September 19, 2008 at 8:52 am

Thanks Liz.

4 Patsy September 7, 2009 at 6:44 pm

My son has a neighbor who is accusing his cat of urinating on her shrubs. She says they smell like cat urine. I know that a number of boxwoods smell like urine.

I know it’s her plants that are the problem. She is now taking my son to court over her shrub smell. I have smelled those bushes and they are the problem, not the cat.

I need a picture of the type of shrubs that give off a urine odor. These particular shrubs have leaves that are not solid green, but kind of green and white.

5 Steve Crossland September 11, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Hi Patsy,

Sorry I can’t provide a picture, but you can probably find on on Google. Or send your neighbor the link an article about it.

Good luck!

Steve

6 Brooke April 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Patsy,

Hopefully your son pled NOT GUILTY. I am going to court over the same matter next week and will do the same. The owner has box wood shrubs in her front yard and it smells bad. Having talked to the police officer who wrote the ticket, the owner would have to have proof of the cat urinating at the time the ticket was being written and that no other animals in the area were around to urinate on the plants.

Tell me what happened with your son’s case. Thanks

Brooke

7 Steve Boehme June 28, 2010 at 5:35 am

Before all Boxwoods get a bad name, you should make a distinction between common boxwood and English boxwood (buxus sempervirens) which give off a bad smell, and littleleaf boxwood (buxus microphylla), which do not smell bad. In our garden center and our landscape installations we favor littleleaf boxwood, an excellent evergreen foundation plant that requires minimal maintenance and looks good all year. Our favorites are “Green Velvet”, “Green Mountain”, “Faulkner” and “Winter Gem”, but there are many littleleaf boxwood varieties. We choose which one by their mature size and shape.

8 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR June 28, 2010 at 10:02 am

Thanks for the helpful info Steve.

9 Boxwoods stink October 13, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I just had my septic man out to check for leaks in the septic field and finally figured out the problem isn’t the septic it’s the boxwoods. The smell is all the way to the second floor bedrooms right above the boxwoods. Between the Washington Hawthorn’s smelly flowers (only when the blooms are full) and the smelly boxwoods (all the time) I thinking of all lawn.

10 April May 22, 2011 at 9:33 am

I was the first renter in an apartment unit on the top floor of the building. In the early mornings and evenings, I would smell an unpleasant odor in the bathroom. The maintenance people searched all of my vents and the vents on top of the building for dead critters. They found nothing. The odor got stronger and stronger, but only during certain times of the day. After researching online, I found that this was a common issue in newly constructed or remodeled buildings. It was a certain type of light socket. Once the light was turned on, the material of the light socket would put off a horrid odor due to the heat of the bulb. At first, it would take about 30 mins before you’d smell it. As time went on, you could smell it the moment you flipped the switch. The reason I didn’t smell it during the day was because I didn’t need to turn the light on. Once the maintenance guy finally believed me, he installed a different type of socket and the smell went away. Low and behold, other renters also had the same issue.

11 Dean August 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I’m shocked at the number of posts here complaining about the aroma released by the (far, far superior) English Boxwood vs. the American. Should any of you be italian….or have ever been to a true Italian garden (and enjoyed it), the english boxwood gives off the smell that should remind you of this…… very calming…..very distinct….nice. Cat urine? And the stories of the efforts made to figure out the aroma (cesspool guy?)….really?…i mean, REALLY?….all you guys had no clue that it was a boxwood?……surprising article. I would not think twice about planting english boxwoods for fear of resale as they are, for those putting hedges in, one of, if not the top type of hedge to create a full hedge fence.

12 Steve Boehme August 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I’m not sure why someone would want to plant stinky boxwoods when there are boxwoods with the same shape, size, hardiness and overall appearance (perhaps better) available for the same cost. Through the magic of hybridization, superior plant varieties are introduced that have the advantages without the disadvantages. So what’s the problem?

Try Buxus “Faulkner”, “Green Velvet”, Green Mountain”, “Chicagoland Green”, “Wintergreen”, “Winter Gem” etc. etc.. Excellent plants, no kitty cat odor.

13 kate October 15, 2011 at 9:29 am

I was positive a roaming cat I’d seen around the neighborhood was urinating around my front door. Anyone who came to my new house commented on the ‘cat pee’ smell. Then I stumbled across this info about stinky boxwoods. I promptly ripped them out, and my house no longer smells like a litter box. Thank you!!!
(and to Dean – obviously it didn’t occur to anyone who posted that it was a bush giving off the smell – good luck selling your stinky house.)

14 LINDA V October 20, 2011 at 9:47 am

For years I’ve known it was the smelly boxwoods outside my front door, but I do love the looks of them…a price to pay.. We trimmed them back this summer…Maybe we will rip them out this spring. But yes, they do smell like cat urine!!!!

15 Sue November 13, 2011 at 10:04 am

Is there anything other than vinegar that can be sprayed on boxwoods to eliminate the odor?

16 Deanne July 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Hi, I planted boxwoods across the front of the yard for a hedge, and then planted jasmine plants with trellis’ behind them (on the inside of the yard). The smell of the jasmine by far outpowers the smell of the boxwoods and looks good too.

17 Soraja September 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I love a smell of boxwood and never thought to compare with a cat urine. I am very sensitive to bad smells and this one is oposite. I am planning to buy and plant at the front as a hedge and only because of the smell. What about using a bleach for everything even for your counter top. At least boxwood is not harmfull and was used as a medcine.Educate yourself.

18 Jeanene Dixon April 5, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I flip houses and run into boxwoods that I don’t care for. But they are established, slow growing and I could never replace the positive impact after pruning. So I spend a few dollars more and use Cedar Mulch…. also works if the neighborhood is full of roaming cats. Hope this helps…it works great and lasts for 2 years based on about 3 inches of mulch.

19 Susan Spruill June 6, 2014 at 12:26 am

Come on real estate agents… you know if you can’t fix it, fixture it. I know boxwoods stink better than anyone but in the hayday of their popularity here in the U.S. during the 1800s they were planted around large stately homes mainly in the South because the deer didn’t eat them. They were also used to make decorative wreaths for front doors at Christmas and used as fillers for ornate fruit bowls and around candles throughout the house during festive holidays. The cuttings stay green for long periods of time without having to change them in arrangements so often and spraying them with a scented oil keeps them fresher looking and cuts down on the scent of cat pee which begins to go away as soon as you cut the sprigs for use. There are advantages and disadvantages to having boxwoods but unless you’re going for an authentic English cottage look, I wouldn’t plant them close to a house. In Europe, boxwoods are used to border and protect gardens grown away from the manner houses. I love getting drunk and going through a maze of boxwoods trying to figure out how to get out of it. It used to be a great source of entertainment at galas and balls a long, long time ago. People could stand on the castle balconies watching and directing their friends on which way to go through the boxwood maze in order to get out to win the game. Like I said, advantages and disadvantages. You either love them or hate them.

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