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Alternatives to a box hedge

 Ideas for Alternatives to a Box hedge in the GardenBox hedge and topiary

In recent years it has become more common for people to ask for alternatives to a box hedge in their garden. Box (buxus) it is native to southern areas of the uk, thriving on hillsides, in woodland or scrub. The best known wild populations of box are found on Box Hill in Surrey, the North Downs, the Chilterns and the Cotswolds, where it can grow in large numbers.  In gardens it is planted as a hedge plant or for topiary.

The attack on wild and domestic box plants comes on two fronts:Box tree caterpillarHedge with box blight

1. The box tree caterpillar.

The larvae of a moth that feeds on box (Buxus) plants is what we know as ‘the box tree caterpillar.’ 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 the UK. The first sign to look for is when they find webbing and caterpillars on box plants. The caterpillars eat box leaves and produce a web over the box. Plants may also show patches of dieback which is especially apparent on trimmed plants. There are treatments available but it is for this reason that many gardeners are now looking for alternatives to a box hedge.

2. Box blight.

This is a fungal disease of box resulting in bare patches and die-back, especially in topiary and parterres and is unfortunately hard to manage. Typically the leaves turn brown and fall, leading to bare, brown unsightly, patches. There are treatments available but again, many gardeners are taking out box hedges and looking for alternatives.


Five plants to consider as alternatives to a box hedgeIlex creanata


  1. 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.Yew topiary
  2. Yew (Taxus baccata) is a good alternative to a box hedge and for topiary, it 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 (especially when compared to leylandii) 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 is very easy.pittosporum
  3. Pittosporum, in all its forms and colours, makes a good alternative to a box hedge. Evergreen, with few pests or diseases, it needs full sun to thrive and will not tolerate low temperatures so is best planted in a sheltered sunny spot. 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.Alternative box hedge
  4. Euonymus, like pittosporum, comes in many varieties and colours and tend to be pest and disease-free, making it a good, evergreen alternative to a box hedge. Most euonymus will tolerate a shady position and are easy to clip into shape, although it is slow growing so takes time to form a hedge or to be shaped.Alternative to box hedge
  5. Portuguese laurel, Prunus lusitanica, (here shown grown as a standard) has large, glossy green leaves and attractive red stems which add a splash of maroon to your hedging for extra interest in winter. ‘Angustifolia’ is the most widely used variety, it is easy to clip into shape and although not as tight, makes a good alternative to a box hedge as well as topiary. It will grow  quite happily in full sun or partial shade making it a popular choice.

As part of our garden designs we have used box hedging successfully  for many years. However, recently, very sadly, we are using these suggested plants as alternatives to a box hedge and topiary and have found best for hedges to be a reliable source of hedging plants.


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