Top articles on the subject of box trees
The name of the genus Buchsbaum (Buxus) probably comes from the Greek word “pyxis”, in German “Büchse”. In ancient times, cans and other small containers were made from the light-coloured, hard and small-pored wood. The genus gives its name to the box tree family (Buxaceae), to which more than 70 species belong worldwide. They are all spread from Central Europe and Africa to East Asia on the northern hemisphere. About 20 species can be found in Central America. In Central Europe, only the usual box-tree (Buxus sempervirens) is native. There are also relict occurrences in southwest the United States on warm, sunny mountain slopes on calcareous soils.
Of horticultural importance is beside the common box-tree still the Japanese box-tree or small-leaved box-tree (Buxus microphylla). Although it originates from Korea, it has been in culture in Japan for centuries. The species are generally quite undemanding and grow on all soils, as long as they are permeable and not bone dry or staunass. Very poor, sandy soil with a low pH value is also not optimal. The location should be somewhat sheltered if possible and not fully sunny. However, the shrub is very resistant and can also withstand temporary drought, as its fine, fibrous roots penetrate very deeply into the soil and root intensively through the surface.
Buxus sempervirens var. arborescens (left) and Buxus microphylla (right)
Appearance and growth
Both box tree species look quite similar. However, the domestic common box tree grows somewhat stronger and can reach growth heights of five to six metres with age. The leaves are strikingly small, depending on species and variety roundish to elongated, opposite and evergreen. The shoots have fine elongated bark strips and therefore appear slightly square. Younger branches have a green bark, the older branches are light grey. The branching is very dense and the crowns are quite compact and rounded even without cutting. The inconspicuous, yellow-green tufts of flowers appear in the leaf axils as early as the end of March. They are very rich in nectar and therefore an important food for bees. The greenish capsule fruits ripen in September.
Location and soil
The boxwood grows best on calcareous, loamy soils. If you have a pure sandy soil, you should work in plenty of mature compost when planting. The earth must be permeable and moist, but not staunassass. As far as lighting conditions are concerned, the box tree is very tolerant. It tolerates shade and also copes with the root area of trees. Hot locations with high solar radiation, for example in front of a south wall, are more difficult. Here the plants quickly get leaf damage.
Plant a box tree
The boxwood for edgings is usually offered in pots, sometimes also bare-rooted in small bundles. The optimal planting time is spring. Place the shrubs with the roots in a bucket of water, then loosen the soil deeply and work in compost if necessary. Then mark the position of the border with a planting string and lay out the plants. If you are planting a hedge or border, you should set the box tree relatively narrow. For plants 10 to 15 centimeters in size, you need about ten plants per metre. Five to six box trees are sufficient for higher hedges. The best way to insert the plant in loose soil is with a planting trowel. Finally water the new border and cut it back to two thirds with the hedge trimmer. The border should be kept moist until ingrown and fertilized at the beginning of June.
From the right location to the right pruning: Here you will learn everything about planting and caring for box hedges.
In the 16th century, the knot garden made of cut boxwood was very much in vogue throughout Europe. In England and Holland, knot beds are still very popular even today. You too can conjure up a touch of Renaissance in your garden – in just one day!
Maintain box tree
Although Buchs is more tolerant of drought than generally assumed, as a tub plant it needs water every day in warm, dry weather. Also spray the plants occasionally during prolonged heat periods to remove dust deposits from the leaves. Also in winter make sure that the root ball never dries out. Potted plants also need regular nutrient supply from mid-April to early August – preferably liquid box-tree fertilizer, which is administered once a week with the watering water. A typical symptom of nitrogen deficiency is reddish to bronze leaf discoloration.
Fertilizer for box trees in the our store-Shop
Box tree pruning
Boxwood tolerates any kind of pruning. The basic rule is: the more often, the better. Strongly growing varieties only become really dense when you cut more than once a year. Depending on the level of detail of the figures, cuttings should be made once to five times a year. The cutting season is limited to the main growing season from April to September. Outside this time, pruning is not necessary, as the plants hardly grow anyway. Apart from hedges, edgings and figures that have gotten out of shape, you can cut them back to the basic scaffolding without any problems from the end of March. Back cuts into perennial wood are no problem.
If you cut a box tree regularly in the garden, the evergreen shrub will really come into its own.
Cutting a box tree as a ball takes practice. But there is a simple trick with which it succeeds – with a cardboard template.
Only cut back your boxwood in summer when the sky is overcast. In full sun, leaf burns threaten because the foliage inside the crown is not accustomed to the intense sunlight. In case of doubt, the plant is shaded with a fleece for two to three days. And: the more often you cut, the better you have to supply your box trees with water and nutrients so that they can quickly replace the missing leaves. In early spring, mature compost is distributed in the root area, which has previously been enriched with a handful of horn meal or grits.
Who wants to get a beautiful box tree ball done without aids, proceeds as follows: First cut a horizontal “equator” and four vertical “longitudes” into the sphere. If these panels are evenly round, it is easy to shorten the remaining panels to the correct length. A good idea is a cardboard template: First measure the diameter of the box ball with a folding rule. Then attach a felt-tip pen to a string that is almost half the length of the diameter of the box ball. Fix the measured piece of string between thumb and index finger and hold it exactly to the edge of the cardboard. Then draw a semicircle from the top of the cardboard edge to the bottom. Finally, cut out the semicircle – and the template is ready. When cutting boxwood, place the template on the boxball in several places and cut all branches down to the edge of the template. Tip: Special metal stencils for box cutting are also available in specialist shops.
Cutting with a battery-powered shrub shear is indeed convenient, but for two to three box balls, the purchase is usually not worthwhile. Beginners should first use mechanical scissors for practicing, as it is easy to cut too much with motorized equipment. A special boxwood shear with a short cutting edge is ideal for cutting simple shapes. It must be very sharp so that the tough shoots can be easily cut and do not slip during cutting. The classic sheep’s shears are only suitable for shoots that have not yet become too woody. However, it is a good tool for regular contour cutting, because it allows the contours of more complex figures to be worked out well.
Wintering or winter protection
Boxwood is winter hardy, but somewhat sensitive to direct sunlight and ground frost. In order to prevent the leaves and shoots from suffering from the so-called frost dryness, potted plants should be wintered in a semi-shade outdoor place and the crown should be covered with winter protection fleece. Like all evergreen plants, the boxwood should only be watered in winter when the weather is frost-free. To protect the boxwood roots in winter, a “pot-in-pot solution” is recommended: Place the plant, including the pot, in a much larger planter and fill the space between them with chopped tree bark (bark mulch). Place both the inner pot and the planter on two wooden blocks to prevent direct contact with the cold bottom.
With shading nets you can prevent the worst from happening with tub plants, but this is hardly practicable with long hedges and borders. To prevent frost damage, do not plant Buchs in the blazing sun. You can also avoid damage by choosing the right variety – ‘Blauer Heinz’, ‘Handsworthiensis’ and ‘Herrenhausen’ are particularly hardy in winter. A fertilization in September with Patentkali (also called Kalimagnesia, available in the country trade) promotes the lignification and thus the frost hardness of the shoots and leaves.
Box trees are suitable for any kind of form cut, even for very detailed figures. In farm gardens, rose gardens and formal gardens it is one of the plants that can confidently be described as “indispensable”. The European wild species (Buxus sempervirens) and fast-growing varieties such as ‘Handsworthiensis’ are also suitable for cut screening hedges up to about two metres high. However, pruning is not obligatory for box trees: You can let the competitive evergreen shrub grow freely and integrate it into a wild hedge, for example, or use it as an underplant for taller trees. As a shaped cut plant it is also suitable for larger plant pots on balconies and terraces.
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Important species and varieties
Buchs is not the same as Buchs, because there are clear differences between the different Buchs tree varieties in terms of growth strength, leaf shape and leaf colour. While for borders we use the weakest varieties like ‘Suffruticosa’ or the frost harder variety ‘Blauer Heinz’, for higher hedges we use the wild species Buxus sempervirens or strongly growing varieties like ‘Rotundifolia’ and ‘Handsworthiensis’. The same applies to cut figures: for small balls you should use ‘Suffruticosa’ or ‘Green Gem’, for larger sculptures you should use the higher varieties. Coloured-leaved cultivars such as ‘Elegantissima’ are relatively frost-sensitive and therefore always need a protected location.
Box tree propagation
The propagation of boxwood usually takes place through cuttings. It is not difficult, but you need a lot of patience: it takes up to half a year for the first roots to form. Anyone who wants large plants quickly uses cuttings that are already 20 to 30 centimeters in size. So-called cracklings root very well: They are simply torn off from the mother plant in July/August and removed with a sharp knife the protruding strip of bark at the crack site. Then shorten all the shoots by about a third. The cuttings do not necessarily need a foil cover. They are placed in a semi-shade, sheltered place directly in loose, humus-rich and loamy garden soil. Professionals cover the bed with black foil before putting it in place. The following method is also very efficient for edgings that need to be strongly rejuvenated anyway: the shoot base is accumulated with humus-rich soil and removed again after a few months. The shoots have now rerooted themselves at the base – they are cut off in autumn and planted in the desired place. The existing border sprouts out of the old wood again in spring.
Diseases and pests
In this video, plant doctor René Wadas reveals MY BEAUTIFUL GARDEN editor Dieke van Dieken what you can do against the boxwood borer.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera and editing: Fabian Primsch; Photos: Flora Press/BIOSPHOTO/Joel Heras
Especially in more recent times, diseases and pests are infecting the popular wood. It is frequently attacked by the shoot-dying (Cylindrocladium) and by the box-tree borer (Cydalima perspectalis), a parasitic butterfly-type originating from East-Asia. The greenish-yellow caterpillars not only eat the leaves but also the soft bark, so that whole shoots often die off. Control is possible by timely and repeated spraying with a biological preparation based on Bacillus thuringiensis. The damage pattern of the box tree shoot dieback is characterized by dark brown spots on the leaves, which quickly become larger and converge. On the undersides of the leaves numerous small white spore deposits form at the same time. According to observations by various experts, the garden forms of the small-leaved box tree (Buxus microphylla) are quite resistant to the fungus that causes shoot death. Some experts also hope that the application of algae lime will prevent the fungus from spreading. The box tree can hardly be replaced in garden design. Plants with a similar spectrum of use include the weakly growing yew (Taxus) garden forms.
For some years now the death of boxwood shoots has been spreading in the United States. In the meantime, however, there are ways to curb the fungal disease.
The boxwood borer is hated by many. We reveal the three best household remedies that have proved their worth in the fight against the pest to date.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.