Box hedges – compare the different types and choose the right variety.
Box hedges are integral to the fabric of so many beautiful gardens, this family of small growing evergreen hedging plants look great in all seasons and can provide the backbone for many garden designs.
At Hopes Grove Nurseries we only grow the most reliable varieties, summarised briefly on this page, you can click on the photos below for full details:
Common Box (Buxus sempervirens) is the most popular variety, this versatile hedge can be kept at any size from 30cm to several metres – English Yew is the only other species with such versatility. No other hedging species can compete with these two classic hedging plants, it’s no coincidence that they are often seen together.
Dwarf Box (Buxus microphylla ‘Rococo’) we sell this variety of Buxus microphylla as an alternative to the traditional Dwarf Box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa) which has been badly affected by Box blight in recent years. ‘Rococo’ grows into a tiny hedge of comparable size but with some resistance.
Faulkner Box (Buxus microphylla ‘Faulkner’) is a favourite here at Hopes Grove, the more rounded leaves are emerald green in colour looking fresh and healthy all year. Less susceptible to Box blight in our experience.
Golden Box (Buxus microphylla ‘Golden Triumph’) is another microphylla variety that again seems to have less susceptibility to blight, the plants always look good on the nursery beds. An attractive variety similar to ‘Faulkner’ but with a colourful golden edging to the leaves.
Variegated Box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’) the variegated Box makes a departure from the traditional Box hedge with attractive creamy white margins on the leaves, looks great against other dark green plants.
All types of box hedges have small leaves making them excellent topiary specimens (you can view our range of top quality Box topiary plants here) and perfectly suited to small ornamental hedges, although slow growing most types of Box will grow into medium or even taller evergreen hedges with patience. Common box, so often seen growing as a hedge of knee-high proportions can grow to several metres and develop into one of the densest and most impenetrable of all evergreen hedges.
Box hedges come in a variety of leaf colours, from the classic deep green glossy leaves of Common Box, the refreshing emerald green of ‘Faulkner’ and ‘Rococo’, both of which provide contrast against the creamy white markings of Variegated Box and the golden yellow edging on the showy foliage of ‘Golden Triumph’. For low ornamental hedge designs, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination, especially when combined with other plants from our list of Small Ornamental Hedges to give further variations of colour and texture.
Box hedges are easy to grow needing no great level of gardening experience, these little plants are eager to please. Plant them in any kind of soil that doesn’t get wet or waterlogged and in any spot from full sun to dense shade, and they will grow. Slowly but surely developing into bushy little shrubs that will conform to any shape you choose, the more they are trimmed and shaped, the more they respond by bushing out with flushes of new growth in all the right places.
All varieties of Box hedges will grow in any type of soil including clay and chalk, their only real dislike is wet, waterlogged soil where you would be well advised to choose a species from out list of hedges for wet soil.
Box hedges are surface rooting, their fleshy white roots are found very close to the surface and really do appreciate having a generous quantity of organic matter added to the planting site, materials such as well rotted garden compost of manure are both ideal and should be well mixed as should a sparing amount of slow releasing bone meal fertiliser. We also recommend adding Rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi at planting time, these native and naturally occurring fungi are necessary for healthy establishment but take time to colonise the roots of your new hedge naturally, by adding Rootgrow you are greatly speeding up the process and getting your new Box hedge off to the very best start.
If you haven’t planted a hedge before, or just need some extra guidance, we have a useful how to plant a hedge page that you might find useful. We will also send a printed copy of the downloadable PDF with your plants, so you have it handy.
All types of Box hedges should be trimmed in early summer, according to tradition this was always done on Derby Day (first Saturday in June) when the man of the house left instructions. (presumably to be followed in his absence while he was away enjoying the sport of kings on the Epsom Downs). This is still good advice, once the first flush of growth is finished we would recommend choosing an overcast, dry and breezy day as this will allow the cut edges to dry quickly drastically reducing the opportunity for fungal diseases to enter the hedge. Choosing an overcast day will also reduce the chances of the newly exposed faces of the hedge from being scorched. The best tool to use when trimming a Box hedge is a sharp pair of hedge shears, a hedge trimmer can be used but again, make sure it is sharp so that it cuts cleanly, blunt tools will tend to leave many unnecessary ragged edges that could allow fungal spores to germinate.
Box hedges are available in a range of root types
Bare root Box hedge plants are field grown in the soil, during the dormant winter season from November until April they are lifted, and all the soil is shaken off to leave the extensive Box root system. These plants are then carefully packed to protect them and stop them from drying, delivered to you fresh and ready for planting. Bare root Box hedge plants need no compost or pots to produce them and are therefore the cheapest way of establishing a new hedge because they are a low input crop. This is a tried and tested production method and we sell literally tens of thousands of these beautiful bushy little plants each year, the ‘traditional’ economy hedging plant purchase that should be planted within a few days of reciept.
Root ball Box hedge plants are grown in our fields at a much wider spacing for a number of years to produce a much larger and more developed plant. They are lifted by our specialist machine root balling machine with the immediate soil and root system which is then wrapped in hessian to protect it. The hessian should then be left on when they are planted as it will rot away naturally while ensuring the root ball remains intact. Root ball Box hedging plants are perfect for more instant results at a comparatively modest cost, they can be trimmed and shaped immediately after planting to give the appearance of an almost instant hedge. Root ball Box hedging plants are available when dormant from October until early May which is the correct time for planting. Root ball plants should be planted within a few days of receipt.
Pot grown Box hedging plants are grown and delivered in pots, grown in compost instead of soil, there is no root disturbance and these plants can therefore be planted all year round with excellent success. We pick our top-quality Box hedging plants daily from our growing beds, packing them carefully and despatching them to customers the same day to ensure you always receive fresh top-quality plants.
Instant Box hedges are grown in 1 metre troughs for several years here on our own nursery and undergo a disciplined programme of clipping and feeding under the watchful eyes of our horticulturalist team to produce a product that give immediate landscape impact. This is the fastest route to having an established Box hedge in your garden. Instant Box hedges are available all year round for planting because, like the potted plants, there is no root disturbance, simply remove the trough, plant into a pre-prepared trench, backfill and water well.
Delivery is fast and free on most orders over £50 (ex VAT) in our main delivery area. Root ball and instant Box hedge plants are delivered on pallets because of their size and weight, delivery is still free, but we need a minimum order of £200 (ex VAT) to cover our costs which can be made up from any combination of plants in our range. You can find more information on our delivery page.
You can order securely here on our website of call our experiences sales team on 01580 765600 who will be pleased to take your order and answer any other questions you may have. We offer generous quantity discounts for larger numbers of plants and these discounts are applied automatically but if you are contemplating a large number of Box hedge plants over £1000 please get in touch for a bespoke discounted quote.
You can find all the varieties of Box hedges we have for sale by clicking on the links below, or scroll further down the page for more information about Box hedging plants.
Further Information about Box Hedging
Pests, Diseases and problems of Box hedges.
Box blight is usually caused by Cylindrocladium buxicola or Pseudonectria buxi, both fungal infections making the leaves turn brown or grey/pink or bronze and causing dieback of the Buxus stems, in ideal conditions of warmth and moisture hedges and topiary specimens can spread quickly. Fortunatly there are many practical measures that can be implemented
- Do choose a dry breezy day in early summer to trim your Box hedge plants and topiary, the cut edges will dry much more quickly, greatly reducing the chance of spores entering your plants
- Do trim just once a year, the less you trim the smaller chance of infection and a slightly ‘looser’ hedge will have better ventilation.
- Do use hand shears, they will make a neater job than a hedge trimmer with far fewer cut edges.
- Do trim back hard enough, the centre of a Box hedge that gets wider and wider each year will not dry so quickly and therefore will be more likely to harbour an outbreak.
- Do disinfect shears or other pruning tools as you progress with Jeyes fluid or dilute bleach
- Do consider a ‘before and after’ fungicide spray at trimming time. If you garden an area with a high incidence of blight then a belt and braces approach may be the way forward. Bayer have two approved products (Bayer fungus fighter and Bayer fungus fighter plus, both containing the active ingredient Tebuconazole) that could be used before and after trimming following the label directions.
- Don’t trim too late in the season, any re growth needs time to ripen fully otherwise it will be vulnerable to frost damage that will allow fungal spores entry into your plants.
- Don’t water your Box hedge plants if you can avoid it, if you must then always water from below so that the foliage stays dry.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t plant Box topiary next to a box hedge…. use Yew or Bay topiary instead, or plant a Yew hedge (yes you can keep it that small!) and have box topiary, in short don’t plant Box, Box and more Box – mix it up a bit by making your garden more species rich and so manage the risk. An outbreak of blight in these circumstances would be a matter of sadness instead of tragedy.
- Do experiment with other shapes of hedge, a palisade or wavy topped hedge has a bigger surface area and will dry faster, even a convex top is better than a square one. Experiment with cutting some circular ‘windows’ into your hedge to improve airflow or even a hedge with regular small gaps that would act like a ‘fungal firebreak’.
- Don’t use a high nitrogen fertiliser on your box, excessive soft leafy growth will always favour blight, use a more balanced feed instead with extra magnesium for a rich deep colour without extra growth, seaweed fertiliser is ideal, use in moderation.
- Do use a (shallow) mulch around your box plants, they have fleshy roots that like to stay close to the surface and will appreciate the moisture while the mulch will go a long way to reducing rain splash.
- Do enforce a trowels length exclusion zone around your Box hedges – keep border plants chopped back so that air can circulate right down to the base of your Box plants keeping the leaf surfaces as dry as possible.
- Do buy new Box hedge plants from a reputable supplier with a plant passport number, these nurseries are inspected annually by the Plant Health & Seeds Inspectorate. While they are not inspected specifically for box blight it is without doubt a nod to good practice and management. A specialist hedging plant nursery that grows its own stock (rather than a trading nursery or garden centre) will have a disciplined approach to the cultural control of box blight
- Do consider planting a variety with some resistance, Buxus microphylla ‘Faulkner’ has at least some resistance to blight and makes a lovely hedge or topiary subject of similar proportions to Common Box with slightly more rounded leaves of brighter green.
- Do design new gardens with Box hedges to have plenty of airflow, make the path a little wider, have grass or decorative stones or paving between the Box hedges instead of wall to wall planting.
- Do exercise the strictest gardening hygiene around your box plants, cleaning up fallen leaves and clippings, a ‘garden vac’ is worth its weight in gold for larger areas.
- Don’t compost your box trimmings or leaves, they are a potential source of inoculum and the spores can remain viable for up to 6 years. Burn it or bin it!
- Do observe your Box hedges regularly, early diagnosis can massively reduce the impact of an infection because remedial action can be taken quickly before the disease gets a real hold.
- Don’t plant Box hedges in dark or damp corners of the garden as this really is asking for trouble! Choose a different, more suitable species of low growing hedge.
Practical ways of dealing with Box blight
If you are unfortunate enough to have blight in your garden, above all else, act quickly. The sooner you remove and destroy infected plant material the quicker the outbreak will be brought under control and permanent damage to your Box will be minimised.
Before you grab a spade in anticipation of digging them all up and burning the lot – there are other options, (and yes they are effective) listed here in order of severity:
- Localised removal of infected wood, recommended where the disease has been caught in its very early stages it is often possible to cut out a little more than may appear necessary in conjunction with a fungicide application both before and after. Especially suitable for topiary specimens and hedges with a minor infection. Choose a dry day and remove all infected leaves and stems after they have been pruned out.
- Hard pruning to remove infected parts, if you catch the disease reasonably early it may well be possible to reduce your hedges by 50% or more on a dry day, being sure to remove every scrap of the trimmings and fallen leaves to the bin or bonfire. It pays to cut back further than you think, the infection can be latent in apparently healthy wood so be brave, they will grow back!
The photos show a series of Box hedges reduced in width from 60cm to just 20cm, seemingly brutal treatment but If timely and decisive action is taken (and the hedge is in otherwise good health) then re growth can be surprisingly quick, young shoots can emerge from even the most unpromising woody stems within a matter of weeks. Best practice would also involve removing a shallow layer of topsoil from immediately around the base of the hedge as this will no doubt be laden with fungal spores. Replace with a shallow mulch and give the hedge a moderate feed to encourage re growth.
- Pruning back to stumps, a more drastic approach if blight has really got a hold. Although blight wreaks havoc with the leaves and stems, it doesn’t kill the roots. The advice above still applies, bin or burn everything you chop off and choose a dry day. Cutting back to stumps of 5 or 10cm allows for an almost clinical post-operative clean-up of infected leaves and removal of infected soil followed by mulch and feed. Re growth will often be much faster than you might expect and probably quicker than re planting as the established root network is still in situ.
- Monitor new growth, having already carried out a thorough removal of all sources of infection, the chances are that the new green shoots will be healthy and free of blight and by following our tips for avoiding blight they should stay that way. There is no reason why a hedge should not recover completely with some sympathetic treatment and maintaining good airflow.
- Complete removal and replacement, if you have tried various degrees of surgery on your Box hedges and done everything possible to aid its recovery, only to see its new shoots become re infected – then it may be time to admit a gracious defeat.
Sometimes no amount of hard work can overcome local environmental conditions that seem to favour the blight much more than the box. Some gardeners prefer to deal with certainties from the outset and would rather commit to replacement over rejuvenation at the first sign of infection.
Box Tree Caterpillar
The most recent unwelcome visitor causing problems in our box hedges is the Box tree caterpillar Cydalima perspectalis. First reported on our shores in its adult moth stage in 2008, the devastating caterpillars were not discovered in private gardens until 2011 but they have since become more widespread in and around London.
The adults lay their eggs on the underside of leaves on Box hedges, the striped green and black caterpillars that hatch defoliate the host before covering it in the same silky webbing used to form its cocoon. Three or four generations of this voracious new pest are possible in a long warm summer. Affected Box plants are often severely defoliated, the leaves are devoured almost in their entirety leaving little more than a network of green stems and leaf ‘skeletons’ behind. The remaining leaf parts will die and an untreated outbreak will weaken a Box hedge making it more susceptible to other pests and diseases.
The adult moth usually has white wings with a slightly iridescent brown border although the wings can be completely brown, or clear. The pest appears to overwinter as small caterpillars hidden in between box leaves that have been woven together with its distinctive silky webbing, the caterpillars complete their development the following spring completing a new generation.
Practical ways to deal with Box Tree Caterpillar
These stripy imposters are never likely to be welcome in any keen gardener’s plot but they are thankfully somewhat easier to deal with than box blight – which is a good thing as they are becoming more common with each passing year according to the responses to the RHS box tree moth survey. (On a side note – At home I am a great believer in letting our brood of (very free range) chickens have full garden access on special occasions, they do a sterling job with slugs, snails and vine weevils leaving no fallen leaf unturned I am confident they would seek out deal with Box caterpillars too)
- Remove the caterpillars by hand, with a little patience (and manual dexterity!)
- Use a biological control, although this approach may take time as the predatory parasites will need to multiply and will only be effective in warmer temperatures. The nature of a biological control will need the pests to remain, albeit at acceptably low numbers to sustain the predators.
- Pheremone traps – these can be very effective and a specific impregnated lure for the box tree moth is available from Agralan ltd.
- Chemical control – by spraying with a suitable insecticide such as Bug Clear (pyrethrum) or Bayer Provado Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer (deltamethrin). Because of the persistent nature of the silky webbing surrounding the caterpillars as they feed, attention is needed to achieve effective spray penetration. (Special care should be exercised when applying insecticides to avoid plants with open flowers so that bees and other pollinating insects are not harmed).
Once an outbreak is brought under control monitoring is advised to determine if the caterpillars have returned and if so, further measures should be undertaken.