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box hedge

5 Alternatives to Box Hedge

In recent years, box hedging and topiary in our gardens have been suffering a two-pronged attack.

The first invasion comes from the ‘box tree caterpillar’, which is the larvae of a moth that feeds on box (Buxus) plants. It was first reported in private gardens in around 2011 but has moved rapidly so that now, in 2022, it is well established in many parts of Oxfordshire. The caterpillars eat box leaves and produce a significant web over the plant, which may also show patches of dieback, especially apparent on trimmed plants.

box tree caterpillar
Caterpillar photo by Cydalima perspectalis (DPHNPE) –


box blight

A second problem is a fungal disease known as ‘box blight’, resulting in bare patches and die-back, especially in topiary and parterres, which is unfortunately hard to manage. Typically, the leaves turn brown and fall, leading to bare, brown, unsightly patches. As a result, many gardeners are now taking out box hedges and looking for a suitable alternative.

There are several plants to consider, out of which I would suggest the following top five:

Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) bears a close resemblance to box, making it useful for topiary or low hedging. It has small leaves that can be clipped into shape easily but a slightly looser habit. Ilex crenata ‘Dark Green’ is evergreen, grows well in full sun or part shade and, provided it’s kept reasonably moist, will make a good alternative to a box hedge.

japanese holly

Yew (Taxus baccata) can be cut quite low and into any shape, similar to box. English yew is almost certainly the best form of evergreen hedge. It can be pruned back hard and, provided the soil is well prepared before planting, will establish itself well and grow well. Yew has a reputation for being slow growing but is well worth the wait. When young it can be a little fussy about water (it doesn’t tolerate either being too dry or too wet). but otherwise it is very easy.

Yew (Taxus baccata)

Pittosporum in all its forms and colours is evergreen, with few pests or diseases. However, it needs full sun to thrive and will not tolerate low temperatures so is best planted in a sheltered, sunny spot away from frost pockets. Unlike box, which can be clipped once a year, pittosporum is vigorous and needs clipping twice in the growing season to prevent it becoming unruly.


Euonymus, like pittosporum, comes in many varieties and colours and tends to be pest- and disease-free. Most will tolerate a shady position and are easy to clip into shape, although it’s slow growing so takes time to form a hedge or to be shaped.


Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica) has large, glossy green leaves and attractive red stems that add a splash of maroon to hedging for extra interest in winter. ‘Angustifolia’ is the most widely used variety; it is easy to clip into shape and will grow quite happily in full sun or partial shade, making it a popular choice.

Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica)

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