Box hedging is a popular choice amongst gardeners and is a great way to add decoration to your outdoor space. It has the potential to create stunning features to impress your guests, like spirals and balls.
However, maintaining the shape and preventing common diseases like box blight may seem intimidating, even for the most experienced green thumbs.
We’ll walk you through everything there is to know about Box hedging, from how to plant to the best time to prune, as well as any problems you may encounter.
- What is Box hedging?
- Planting Box hedging
- When to prune Box hedging?
- Box topiary
- Box hedge problems
- Alternatives to Box hedging
What is Box hedging?
Box hedging – or Buxus sempervirens as it’s more formally called — is a native, evergreen plant known for its leafy and rich green appearance.
Thanks to the dense, small leaves, Box hedging is a versatile plant that can produce a range of shapes, heights, and usage. From urban to formal landscapes, this makes it the perfect choice for a wide variety of garden types. It’s also ideal for creating neat shapes and patterns, is often used for mazes and borders, and can make a lovely natural privacy screen or partition if grown to height.
It grows slower than other hedging species, with around 10-15 centimetres of growth per year. This means it’s easy to maintain the desired shape without too much upkeep.
Box hedging is a brilliant hedge choice for many gardens thanks to its tolerance of shaded areas and because it can be planted in most soil types. It will do best in sites that aren’t too wet or windy.
Planting Box hedging
Box hedging is fairly easy to plant and should establish quickly.
When to plant Box hedging
Although it can be planted all year round, it’s best to do it in autumn or spring. This will give Box the best chance of establishing before hot conditions in summer or icy temperatures in the colder months when they may be vulnerable.
How to plant Box hedging
To plant your bare-root or root-ball hedge, follow these simple steps.
- Prepare the plants — Aim to plant your bare-root or root-ball hedge as soon as possible to keep them moist. If you cannot do this immediately, pop them in a bucket of water to keep the roots from drying out.
- Dig the trench — Prepare the site by digging a v-shaped trench around three feet wide to give the roots space to spread. Remember to remove any weeds so all the nutrients and water go directly to your plants.
- Prepare the fertiliser — Prepare a plant fertiliser like Rootgrow by filling a bucket of water and following the instructions on the packet.
- Mark the trench with string — Place a piece of string along the trench. This will help you to plant your hedges in a straight line.
- Place your plants — Dip your hedging plant in the fertiliser and place it into your trench. Box hedging should be planted particularly densely, with around four plants per metre in a single row and six per metre in a staggered row.
- Backfill — Once all your plants are in, put the soil back into the trench using a spade. Spread in an even layer and make sure all your plant roots are covered, leaving the stem exposed. Then, press down the soil gently with your foot or the back of your spade to compact it.
- Water — Give your plants their first water. Established Box hedging plants shouldn’t need watering unless there’s a dry spell, however, young plants may need watering more often. When the soil is looking dry, give your hedges a light watering.
Read our guide to learn more about how to plant a bare-root hedge.
When is the best time to prune Box hedging?
Box hedging is best trimmed in late spring after any signs of frost have passed to prevent damage. They can also be tidied up in August or September, ready for winter.
However, how and when you prune your plant will usually depend on the age.
- Young plants — Cut your Box hedge back by around one-third of the growth in May to encourage strong growth in summer. If required, you can trim again in August.
- Mature plants — Mature Box hedges should be pruned in late spring. You should also trim them in late summer, around August, when growth has slowed to keep them in shape throughout winter. Avoid cutting your hedge in mid-summer, as this could encourage quick growth, leaving new shoots vulnerable to harsh winter weather conditions.
- Old plants — Older, neglected box hedges usually require hard pruning in late spring to encourage vigorous growth the following summer. They typically respond well to being cut back around 15-30 centimetres from the ground.
Box hedging should be trimmed in late spring using garden shears, keeping the blade parallel to the hedge surface.
Read our beginner’s guide to perfect hedging: how and when to trim a hedge to learn more.
Box hedging is one of the most popular species for topiary — the art of shaping plants — due to the dense quality and luscious green foliage. This allows it to be easily trimmed to create impressive shapes, a popular choice for formal gardens.
Box hedges can be planted in the soil and shaped once established and grown. This is a cheap way to update your garden, however, it may take a few years to reach your desired height. Or — for a more instant effect — they can be purchased in pots in classic shapes like topiary balls, cubes, and spirals.
Maintaining the shape of Box topiary is relatively easy as it has a great tolerance to pruning. It also grows at a slow rate of around 10 cm annually, so trimming around two to three times a year will be enough to keep its form.
Box hedge problems
You may experience a few problems with Box hedging, the most serious being Box blight and tree caterpillars.
The most common diseases and issues include the following:
Box blight is a disease caused by the fungus — Cylindrocladium buxicola — which affects the stems and leaves of Box plants. The fungi invade the plant tissue to interfere with its supply of water, which can significantly weaken your plants, causing leaves and stems to brown or wilt.
Although Box blight can occur any time of year, it’s especially common during autumn as it thrives in damp conditions.
Box blight symptoms include:
- A yellow or orange tinge to leaves
- Brown leaves that fall from the branches, leaving sparse patches on your hedge
- Fungal spores on the underside of infected leaves are visible in wet conditions. This will look like a fine, white powder (these could be pink in severe cases)
Checking your plants regularly for these symptoms will give you the best chance at combating the disease. Box blight spreads very quickly, so managing it as soon as possible will be the most effective way to limit contamination with any surrounding plants.
As it spreads in humid conditions, compact foliage is an ideal habitat for the fungi to multiply, so we recommend the following to help control and prevent Box blight:
- Reduce the frequency of pruning – Pruning encourages new growth, making the plant more dense and decreasing ventilation through the hedge.
- Only prune in dry weather — Box blight thrives in moist conditions, increasing the risk of spreading.
- Cut off any infected growth — This will help you to get on top of the issue, preventing the disease from taking over the whole plant. Immediately dispose of any fallen leaves and the surface topsoil to prevent reinfection.
- Disinfect garden equipment — Remember to clean any equipment thoroughly after pruning to limit the spread of the disease.
- Avoid watering the foliage – When watering Box, water the soil directly and avoid getting any on the leaves. This will keep moisture and humidity in the hedge to a minimum.
- Fertilise after pruning – Feed the plant with a general fertiliser after treatment to help it revive.
If your hedge is suffering from a severe case of Box blight, the best course of action is to remove and destroy the affected plants entirely.
Box rust is a disease that can affect Box hedging and is caused by a fungus called Puccinia buxi. New leaves are usually first infected in spring, producing rusty-coloured pustules that thicken with time.
Fortunately, it shouldn’t cause serious issues for your Box hedge and can be controlled by removing infected shoots or spraying with a fungicide specifically made for tackling rust disease.
Box tree caterpillars
Box tree caterpillars are the larvae of a moth, which lays eggs on Box leaves. These caterpillars feed on the leaves and can eventually defoliate the plant. This is usually a problem from mid-March to October when they are in season.
After around a month, these caterpillars will emerge as a box tree moth, which will mate and continue the cycle, reappearing the following spring.
Regularly checking your plants for caterpillars when they are most active will give you the best chance at minimising the damage. Inspect for things like holes in leaves, frass balls, and cob-webbing.
To prevent further harm to your plants, you can do the following to remove caterpillars:
- Remove by hand — Removing caterpillars by hand is effective if the infestation is small. However, you’ll need to do this daily and check thoroughly to ensure you’ve got them all.
- Prune — Trimming or removing the stems covered in webbing using secateurs can limit the damage.
- Spray your plants — If caterpillars are becoming a serious issue, you could use a safe biological control containing Bacillus thuringiensis to get rid of them. This will need to be repeated several times.
Refrain from jet washing your plants to remove caterpillars, as this could cause unnecessary damage to your Box hedge. Wetting the Box leaves can also make your plant more susceptible to Box blight.
You could also use synthetic pheromone traps, which mimic the chemicals produced by female moths. This lures the male moth, trapping them inside the trap to break the breed cycle. Although this won’t eliminate them all, it will highlight if there’s a problem so you can take action quickly.
Box suckers — insects also known as Hemiptera — often feed on the shoots of Box plants in spring.
Although they don’t usually impact the growth rate of well-established plants, they can distort the look of leaves.
To prevent them, you can:
- Regularly trim or remove affected areas of the plant
- Encourage wildlife that feeds on them, like birds, wasps, and ladybirds, into your garden by providing feed and adding more plants
Red spider mite
Red spider mites feed on Box plants by sucking sap from the leaves. Like Box suckers, these insects can be tolerated, as they don’t usually cause severe damage.
Alternatives to Box hedging
Box hedging is a truly beautiful and classic plant that belongs in any garden, but the threat from caterpillars and Box blight can mean that it requires more careful maintenance compared to other shrubs. If you love the look of Buxus sempervirens, here are some alternative plants that are just as low-maintenance.
1. Box hedging lookalikes
Also known as Ilex crenata, Japanese Holly is very similar to Buxus, with small round leaves that are dark, glossy green.
Japanese Holly can be planted in most soil types, including chalky and clay, as long as it has good drainage. It also has a slow growth rate at around 20-30 cm annually, and an ultimate width of 1.8 m, so keeping the shape is easy.
The main advantage of using Japanese Holly over box hedging is that it isn’t susceptible to developing Box blight.
Euonymus japonicus is almost identical to Buxus but isn’t prone to box blight. It’s also dense and compact with luscious foliage, perfect for trimming into neat shapes and designs.
It thrives in sunny, partial shade and has a slow growth rate of 10-20 cm per year.
2. Neat hedging options
English Yew, also known as Taxus baccata, is an evergreen species. Unlike Box, it has compact, needle-like foliage and bears small red fruits in the autumn.
It’s really easy to trim and its denseness means that pruning creates sharp and refined lines, perfect for achieving a classic hedge shape.
It has a growth rate of 30-40 cm each year and can be maintained to a height of 1-5 m, making it a popular choice for privacy hedging.
Lonicera, also known as Shrubby Honeysuckle, is another evergreen hedge plant that’s bushy and quick-growing. With lots of tiny stems that are filled with densely packed leaves, it also makes an excellent neat, formal hedge when clipped.
Shrubby Honeysuckle is easy to trim and tolerates pruning very well. We recommend cutting it back twice yearly: in early summer and autumn.
3. Colourful hedging options
Hebe albicans ‘Red Edge’, or Shrubby Veronica, is an evergreen shrub with small, glossy leaves decorated with striking red edges. Vibrant and compact, it creates a captivating display in any garden and is a brilliant option for creating privacy screens or defining boundaries.
Maintaining this species is a breeze thanks to its slow growth rate of 10-20 cm per year. It can be easily pruned to maintain a desired height of 50 cm.
Once you understand how to work with and care for Buxus, creating impressive box hedging isn’t as tricky as it seems. Shop our Box hedging to get started.
Or, for more expert gardening advice, take a look at our blog.