What are the best plants to replace a box hedge?
In the last few years, Box (Buxus sempervirens) has come under attack from imported pests and diseases. Box blight arrived a few years ago and has spread quickly through the UK. The tell-tale yellowing leaves on a prized piece of topiary has filled the hearts of gardeners with dread.
Hot on the heels of this fungus came the Box Moth Caterpillar, or Glyphodes perspectalis, to give it its fancy name. The moths were first spotted in 2011 and for the last few years have been fluttering their way across London, surrounding counties and now in many places across England and Wales.
The caterpillars can very quickly eat their way through the leaves of a Box plant, leaving it totally bare. A healthy plant can recover but it is likely to be attacked again and again as the moths go through their life cycle.
Many gardeners have decided enough is enough and are looking for alternatives to their Box hedges and topiary.
My Box hedge replacement suggestions
Without doubt the closest in look to the Box is Ilex crenata. It is a holly but doesn’t look at all like your average holly. It is small leaved, evergreen and compact. It is very clippable and can be used as a hedge or as topiary balls. However, after planting quite a few of these in the last couple of years, I’ve found they are proving to be a bit sensitive to any stress. The topiary balls seem to be particularly prone to suddenly dying or losing all their leaves and not recovering well. The hedges seem to be better at coping, but as an expensive plant to buy, I think there are better alternatives.
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’ is my favourite alternative to a Box hedge. Although it wants to be ball shaped, it clips well into a formal hedge.
Here’s one I planted only a few months ago and is already a good hedge.
I particularly like the softer green colour and the reflective leaves of the Pittosoporum. ‘Golf Ball’ also has a sister called ‘Silver Ball’, which as the name suggests, has a subtle silver coloured leaf. Although a looser shape than a traditional Box ball, these Pittosporums can also fulfil that structural role.
Although commonly known as Christmas Box, it isn’t any relation to Buxus so doesn’t suffer from the same pests and diseases. Sarcococca has small dark green leaves and can be clipped. It has a looser habit than Box so won’t make as sharp edges but makes up for this with its amazing smelling flowers in Winter. Chances are, if you get a whiff of something gorgeous on a Winter’s day, it’s Sarcococca you’re smelling. It will live happily in sun or shade and is drought tolerant too.
Euonymus are a group of shrubs that are well known for their ability to grow in the toughest of situations. Euonymus ‘Green Spire’ also known as ‘Green Rocket’ is proving to be a popular choice to replace a Box hedge.
Like most of its family, it is extremely hardy, drought tolerant and keeps its dark green leaves throughout the winter. A good choice if you don’t want to do too much watering.
Unlike Ilex crenata, other Ilex cultivars make useful hedges. Even kept clipped they would want to be a bit bigger than a Box hedge so might not work for every situation. Ilex aquifolium is very hardy, loved by wildlife, berries in the winter and shiny evergreen leaves make this a great hedge. It can also be clipped into balls if you are missing your Box topiary. The Silver Holly, Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’ is a variegated version which could add a touch of brightness.
Maintenance for your Box replacement hedge
As with Buxus (box) hedges a clean, sharp set of garden hedging shears is all that is needed to keep these plants looking neat and tidy.