Alternatives to box hedge: top 6 evergreen & robust plants

Alternatives to box hedge: top 6 evergreen & robust plants

Due to the box tree moth, more and more gardeners are looking for suitable alternatives to the box tree, which are discussed in this article. 

Who does not admire them? The evergreen, flawlessly kept garden bed borders and the beautifully shaped shrubs of the box tree? There is no question about it, the box tree (Buxus sempervirens) enjoys great popularity. And for a good reason: it is evergreen, robust, hardy, easy to prune, shape and maintain.

Why choosing alternatives to the box tree make sense

Unfortunately, there are also a few valid arguments against cultivating a box tree in the garden.

Box tree: caution, poisonous!

One should not underestimate the danger of poisoning caused by the buxus, especially when it comes to small children and pets (particularly rodents). In fact, all parts of the box tree are poisonous – flowers, leaves and bark. If these parts come to contact with a person’s mouth or they swallow them, this can cause nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, dizziness and even paralysis. However, there is one other reason, why it may be a good idea to consider an alternative to the boxwood.

Box tree moth

The ever-gluttonous pest – the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis) – is feared by many of those who have a buxus in their garden. And rightly so! The pest can inflict tremendous harm to the evergreen plants. The box tree moth is a small type of moth that probably came to Europe in shipping containers from East Asia at the beginning of this century. Its caterpillars, which can go unnoticed at first, can completely devour the leafy foliage of the box tree.

Using harsh chemicals against the box tree moth

Early in the year (from March to May) you can find small collections of flowers in the leaf axils of the box tree. Many hobbyist gardeners hardly notice these, as they are well covered by the leaves. These flowers are very rich in pollen and nectar. And since they flower so early in the season, they are one of the first destinations for bees and other insects. For this reason alone, it is essential not to treat the box tree moth (and by proxy the box tree itself) with chemical products as it seriously harms bees and other beneficial insects.

Find out about the best 9 household remedies to treat the box tree moth here.

The intention of this article is not to discourage or put you off growing box trees in your garden. But because of the box tree moth, many garden owners are looking for alternatives, about which you can learn in the following.

Alternatives to the box tree: our top 6

In our suggestions for box tree substitutes, we have taken care to ensure that the alternatives have as many of the advantages of the box tree as possible. There is really something to please everybody: from low-maintenance hedges for garden bed borders and large plants that are easy to cut and shape, to screening and bee-friendly shrubs. If there is a possible danger of poisoning it is also transparently pointed out.

1. Box-leaved barberry

The box-leaved barberry (Berberis buxifolia, also known as Magellan barberry) is an evergreen, deciduous shrub. It grows to a height of two to two and a half metres. From April they are adorned with orange-yellow flowers. Their ripe fruits are blue, edible and can even be processed into jam. The dwarf form of this plant ‘Nana’ has very short shoots, is easy to cut and is a suitable alternative to the box tree, if you want to have a nice neatly shaped hedge in the garden.

2. Rhododendron ‘Bloombux’

At the moment, the most popular novelty among boxwood substitutes is the rhododendron ‘Bloombux’. It is a refined variety of the dwarf rhododendron shrubs, which can be easily maintained and effortlessly cut into shape. In winter it can withstand temperatures below -20°C. The evergreen shoots of the dwarf rhododendron are very similar to those of the box tree. Additionally, it has wonderful pink flowers. With a growth height of up to one metre, even smaller hedges can be well arranged into a desired shape.

3. Lavender

The lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can replace the boxwood as a convenient garden bed border. Due to their relatively low height of 45 to 50 cm, the beautiful lavender hedges can be planted around the edges of the beds. From June to August the robust plant blooms in a bright lilac and attracts bees, butterflies and other insects with its scent and numerous flowers.

4. The common privet

The Ligustrum vulgare (the common privet) is a robust and very adaptable shrub. It reaches a growth height of 50 to 70 cm. It blooms in dainty white flowers from June to July. During late summer it grows inedible black berries that have a laxative effect. The whole tree is considered inedible to moderately poisonous (provided that large quantities are ingested). The privet is resilient and a very good substitute for boxwood or other low hedges.

5. Thuja

The thuja (also called the tree of life) belongs to the family of cypresses. It is a favourite of many gardeners mainly due to its tolerance to being shaped and cut. The thuja is hardy, robust and can withstand almost any wind force. Throughout the winter, it cuts a fine figure in any garden.

6. Purple willow

The purple willow (Salix purpurea) is a species of willow with a striking red bark. It is especially stunning because of its red catkins. It has the shape of a large, bushy shrub and it is resilient to frost and resistant to heat. The flexible branches of the purple willow are great to use for making wicker fences and are therefore an excellent box tree hedge replacement.

There are of course other alternatives to the classic boxwood. While making your choice, it is also important to consider the purpose of the box tree replacement.

Note: Read about other evergreen and hardy shrubs and plants here. We have also compiled a list of seven evergreen climbing plants for you here.

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