Box blight and box moth are devastating tiny hedges and stylish topiary. What can you do about it?
Are there alternatives to box, the highly popular small-leaved evergreen, Buxus sempervirens?
Not every case of so-called box blight
is actually that. Did you know that Buxus sempervirens is also affected by another little demon called Box tree moth
? It can defoliate the shrub quite quickly, and is often first noticed as fine, webbed strands within which the moth larvae feeds. They subsequently develop into hungry green caterpillars.
Buxus has been used for topiary and detailed hedging for centuries because its small evergreen foliage responds well to clipping.
Where did it come from?
The comparatively new pest was first recorded in Kent just over 10 years ago and it has been gradually spreading. It is now known to be prolific in many different areas of London. Gardeners have also reported it in East and West Sussex, Surrey and the Home Counties. It seems to have come from China and Korea, but it has also had significant impact in Japan, Russia and many European counties. The RHS is hosting a box tree moth survey and would love to know if and when you see this box-chomping problem. Visit the RHS to find out more, also complete the survey by clicking this link.
Buxus lends itself to creating all sorts of intricate shapes and styles. Pests and diseases can wipe out many works of art in just one season.
Give it a feed
Apart from disease, box also displays signs when its suffering from different problems. This versatile shrub often develops orange foliage as it matures. This isnt necessarily box blight. It might simply be a case of starvation. Nutrient deficiency of this nature is generally down to a lack of potash
and this is easily cured. Give Buxus a few doses of high potash (potassium) fertiliser such as a general rose feed, and it often does the trick. Even box suffering from box blight can be treated, and can recover. It just takes lots of feed and time. There are several Buxus feeds that have been especially formulated and they are certainly worth buying.
Buxus health problems might be simply remedied by regular doses of potash.
Gardens with formal features
such as parterres, knot gardens, topiary and low box hedging can look pretty awful when the plant is affected. Many gardeners are ripping out their box and replacing it with alternative, small-leafed evergreens. So, what can we use instead of box?
Affected box is highly noticeable and can destroy the appearance of formal gardens that have often taken decades to perfect.
There's no doubt that box blight and other Buxus disease can completely ruin the effect of formal parterres and hedging.
Consider these alternatives to box
There are several, highly suitable alternatives to box. The most commonly suggested swap is Ilex crenata
which is often called Japanese holly.
Ilex crenata is proving to be a popular substitute for Buxus sempervirens.
One variety in particular is proving to be highly effective, and this is Ilex crenata Convexa. It has small, glossy dark green foliage and it is dense and bushy. An ideal candidate for clipping. Then theres the shrubby Lonicera nitida
which loves being clipped so much that it needs trimming at least twice a season.
You need to clip Lonicera nitida regularly.
There are other alternatives to box ...
If this doesnt appeal, the Euonymus
genus provides a whole host of possibilities as alternatives to box, with oodles of potential lookalikes.
Euonymus comes in all sorts of colours and varieties. It lends itself very well to clipping.
Theres a variety called Jean Hugues which looks very much like Buxus and is just as accommodating. There's also Euonymus japonicus Microphyllus Pulchellus and Green Rocket,
both of which seem to make admirable substitutes for box.
The evergreen Euonymus comes in many different forms and the small-leafed varieties are highly suitable as a substitute for Buxus.
Then theres yew, Taxus baccata
, which is quite different from box but highly suitable for hedging and topiary. Always bearing in mind its toxicity, of course.
All parts of Taxus baccata are poisonous, with the exception of the red, fleshy parts of the berries. But it's a highly useful and rather beautiful shrub.
And now for something completely different
Another option for alternatives to box is to move right away from lookalikes and strike out into something quite different . Berberis, f
or example, will make a nice little hedge (albeit with prickles). So will lavender, rosemary, small-leaved Hebes, Teucrium
and even Santolina.
Some of these have aromatic foliage. This means that they are not only capable of forming neat hedges or topiary, but can also provide the bonus of scent and even flowers.
Lavender can make a good hedge and some people clip it to prevent it from flowering. It can therefore stay mounded, with aromatic foliage.
You always have choices and plant diseases encourage us to think outside of the box. The phrase seems to be apt, in this instance!
Love your hedge: there are so many different possibilities. But don't give up on Buxus, you might be able to nurse yours back to health.