Boxwood, also known as Box, is a hugely popular hedge plant, thanks to its tight structure and dense foliage. It is happy in most climates and is a great plant for trying topiary – let’s find out what’s inside the box!
- Genus: Buxus
- Most common variety: Common Box (buxus sempervirens)
- Other popular varieties: Japanese Box (buxus microphylla var. japonica), Korean Box ( buxus sinica var. insularis ) and Dwarf English (buxus microphylla)
An evergreen shrub with densely packed lance shaped leaves, there are over 200 varieties of Boxwood hedge, although the most common varieties are hugely popular. It prefers dappled sun light, but can withstand most moderate climates, which explains its prevalence in countries like the UK and USA.
Box has a wide range of heights from 1 to 8 feet and many varieties are fast growing, allowing for the quick creation of hedges and topiary projects. Some species tend towards ball shaped growth, whereas others are more columnlike in their general appearance.
There is a variegated version of box, but generally the foliage is green, ranging from blue-green to golden. If your boxwood hedge starts changing colour, it is usually an indication of a problem.
Box has small yellow-green flowers that are best described as underwhelming.
Box bears fruits, but these are small green capsules that turn brown when mature. They provide a seed-bearing function but have little aesthetic value.
Box is an ideal candidate for topiary and pruning, however the most important point is to ensure that you clean your tools before and after pruning, as this will stem the spread of boxwood blight.
To keep your boxwood hedge in good shape, prune twice a year:
- After the first growth phase, from late May to mid-June.
- Before the winter weather, in September or October.
This will ensure that your topiary efforts remain in their intended shapes while allowing the plant time to prepare for the changing seasons.
Try to avoid trimming in direct sunlight as this can scorch the leaves.
Big pruning jobs should be carried out in the Winter months to allow the plant to grow anew in the Spring.
In July or August, use a sharp knife to take cuttings of 3 to 4 inches in length. Plant them into a pot filled with a suitable rooting medium (avoid using potting compost at this early stage), having first removed the lower leaves and peeled away the bark from the bottom of the stem. You can use a rooting hormone to encourage growth.
Cover the pot with a bag and leave for three weeks, by which time roots should be forming below the surface.
Re-pot the rooted stems into pots with potting compost and keep them in a sunny place until the Spring season arrives and you can plant them into the soil.
How to Plant a Boxwood Hedge
Box doesn’t enjoy full sun or soggy soil, so you may need to add materials to provide drainage, and some protection from direct sun will save your box leaves from bronzing.
When planting them, ensure that the crown of the roots is sticking above the ground slightly, and provide enough space between plants, depending on the predicted width of the variety.
The biggest threat is Blight, a fungus that can be fatal to the plant if left unchecked. Signs of blight include coloured spots on the leaves, discolouration and death of the leaves and lesions on the stems. It is more common in warm and humid climates the fungal spores can be spread by wind and wildlife.
There is no known cure for Boxwood Blight, however fungicides can keep it in check if applied holistically – this is a challenge due to the density of the plant’s structure. If your plant is affected by blight, the best action is to remove the plant and replace with a different variety of hedge; replacing Box for Box runs the risk of the blight attacking the new plant.
The Box Tree Caterpillar can be devastating to the plant and has become increasingly common in the UK. Pheromone traps and pesticides can help contain the spread of these creatures, however the dense foliage that makes box so popular for hedges also makes it difficult to truly attack these predators.
Fun Facts About Boxwood
- It is used in making chess pieces and woodwind instruments.
- The wood is very dense and will sink in water.
- The leaves are toxic to dogs and generally unpleasant for most other species.
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