How to plant and care for a box hedge

A box hedge is a classic yard choice – and so versatile. You can’t just plant and go though; they need some special care. Find out what it takes.

Woman trimming a box hedge in front of a white house using a STIHL HSA 26 cordless hedge trimmer

Box hedge basics

The familiar box shrub used for hedging is part of a large family of around 70 boxwood plant varieties. Its blossoms contain lots of nectar and pollen, making it particularly attractive to bees when in bloom.

If you intend to plant a box hedge in your own garden, it’s worth knowing that box is a little fussy about its neighbours: it is a good partner for plants with similar requirements, including tall-growing perennials such as hydrangea or delphinium, but does not thrive quite as well when planted beside sun-loving herbs and shade plants. Just note that in the latter situation a box plant will need more care.

How to Plant a box hedge: the perfect site

A box hedge prefers a location that is sheltered from wind. All types of box dislike growing in shade, but too much direct sun is also a problem, and the two extremes bring risks of scorching and fungal diseases. Box doesn’t like to be too damp, so it is best to plant it into sandy or loamy soil. The best time to plant or relocate a box hedge is between October and the start of May.

Box hedge care: trim regularly for best results

A woman wearing protective gear trimming a box hedge with a STIHL hedge trimmer

Box hedges look their best when they grow thick and solid-looking – especially if you want them for screening or topiary. To achieve good density you need to trim your box properly, regularly and with care. The right tool makes all the difference, as working with something precise, easy-to-use and reliably sharp ensures clean pruning and no unnecessary stress on the plant. STIHL has a wide selection of hedge trimmers, from manual to battery, which make the perfect accessory whether you want your box hedge trimmed with formal elegance or with a little more artistry.

Committed to your safety: protective equipment

Working with powerful tools is fun and means you can extend your abilities, which is great as long as you are relying on effective and safe protective clothing while using them. Always wear your personal protective equipment when working with your hedge trimmer. This includes safety gloves, safety glasses, ear protection and more. Please see the operating instructions for your product for further details.

Before you use any power tools for the first time, you should familiarise yourself thoroughly with the tool and ensure it is in flawless condition before each use. On request, your STIHL dealer will be happy to prepare your tool for its first use, and will also advise you on models and sizes of protective clothing that you can try at your leisure. Please remember that personal protective equipment is no substitute for safe working techniques.

How to plant box Hedges as a border

It’s no surprise that box hedges are such a popular choice as a garden border hedge; after all, with the right care it grows so dense that privacy is assured. Proper box hedge care techniques go hand-in-hand with having the right tool for the job. We recommend using a battery hedge trimmer such as the STIHL HSA 56 battery hedge trimmer. Whatever tool you use, make sure that the blades are sharp so you can guarantee a clean and effective cut and avoid crushing parts of the plant.

How to plant a box hedge border from scratch:

  • Plant individual young box plants in a row, spaced 10-15 centimetres apart.
  • Give the new box hedge several months to establish and grow, ensuring it never dries out.
  • Once your box plants have grown together into a uniform hedge, it is time to tackle the first trim. Trim each boxwood plant into a trapezoidal shape – so the cross-section resembles an “A” and the top is narrower than at the bottom. This will ensure that the individual plants get optimal sunlight and can grow well.
  • To help you cut the top straight, place a long timber batten at the desired height, using bricks or similar to support it, and then use the wood as a guide to trim along.
  • Once your box hedge is established, it will thrive with regular maintenance. We recommend trimming it once or twice a year between May and August. If you only trim it once, make it in August; May trimming encourages bushiness, but this new growth can be vulnerable to unsettled weather.
  • But don’t forget: it is an offence to damage trees and bushes that have birds actively nesting in them. The nesting season runs from March to August, so it’s essential to check your hedge before you get the trimmers out.

STIHL pro tip: If you “inherit” an old, neglected box hedge, don’t be afraid to be ruthless: you can cut the hedge back hard to rejuvenate it and get it back into shape. Cut the individual plants down to about 1 metre in height and trim outward growth so stems are a maximum of 10 centimetres long. This kind of trimming is best done in February and March, and should be followed with an appropriate fertilizer to boost the plants’ recovery. Healthy box cuttings can go in your compost bin.

Trimmed box balls on a green lawn

Box bush care: creative trimming and topiary

With a little extra flair in your trimming, you can not only maintain your box plants but also make them into eye-catching balls, pyramids or spiral shapes. This work is more intricate than most hedge trimming jobs, so we recommend that you start out using manual shears, though experienced box gardeners can certainly produce top-class results with an electric hedge trimmer.

  • To create a ball: starting at the top, make four rounded downward cuts towards the equator of your ball: front, left, right and behind. Once you have made these four cuts, smooth the areas between them. Then repeat the same technique from below; to finish, refine any uneven patches.
  • To create a pyramid: we recommend you first make a template from chicken wire. Place this over your box shrub and cut off whatever is poking through the holes.
  • To create a spiral: this one is sure to impress and yet easy to create. Start by cutting the box into a pyramid. Then just tie a piece of cord or rope securely to the bottom of the box trunk, and wrap it around the bush in the spiral shape you want to achieve. Make cuts to the right and left of the rope until the desired form emerges.
  • You should trim your box topiary 4 or 5 times a year to keep it in shape. Make sure to check each time that there are no birds nesting in the box bush.

Box hedge care: general cutting tips

In general, avoid trimming box hedges and plants if it is raining or if heavy rain is expected. Very sunny days are also not good though, as both kinds of weather can damage freshly cut box: rain may rot the cut surfaces, while the sun can scorch newly exposed tender leaves. It is best to wait for an overcast day if you need to give your box a proper trim.

In terms of cutting technique, whether you are using a battery or gas hedge trimmer you should always cut at a slight angle. You should also ensure that the blades of your trimmer are sharp, to prevent the plant from being crushed or damaged, leaving it open to infection.

Close-up: STIHL HSA 26 cordless hedge trimmer blades cutting through stems

Box hedge care: watering and fertiliser

You should fertilise your box plants three days after trimming. A suitable feed at this point helps ensure a quick recovery and also makes your hedge more resilient, as a box plant with strong growth and strong roots is also better protected against possible pests. Another important step for protection against pests is proper watering – doing the wrong thing here will render your box susceptible to fungal infections. You should never water from above so the leaves get wet; instead, always water the soil at the roots. If possible, use collected water from a water butt. Freshly planted box need more water in their first two weeks than established plants, though the exact amount needed is dependent on the soil, location, and the type of plant.

STIHL pro tip: A box with well-established roots – which can be identified by steady growth and a deep green colour – should only be watered on hot days and in dry locations. Box are hardy native plants that generally take care of their own water needs, using long roots to find moisture underground. The best way to tell if your boxwood hedge needs watering is to check the soil under the plant with your finger: if it is moist at a depth of 2 to 7 centimetres, everything is fine.

Growing box plants in containers

A box plant in a pot will broadly need the same care as one planted in the ground, apart from in terms of the amount of water it needs: because potted boxwood plants cannot supply themselves with water they need regular careful watering, though there should always be a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to prevent waterlogging. Ideally, you should place the pot in a saucer filled with ceramic shards to prevent mud from accumulating in the drainage hole. In pots as well, always water boxwood at the root as described above. If your potted box plant does fall victim to a fungal infection, this is relatively easy to treat: simply wrap it in a clear plastic bag and place it in intense, direct sunlight during the summer. The fungus should be dead after a day in the heat.

Box hedge care: how to overwinter boxwood plants

Box plants are hardy and do not require any particular care during the winter. That said, do remember to water occasionally on frost-free days and to regularly clear away any snow that accumulates on them. Potted box requires a little more care in the cold, as its roots are vulnerable from all sides. You can counter that by wrapping the container in a thick layer of bubble wrap; this insulates the roots of your box plant against winter temperatures.

Close-up of a box tree moth caterpillar on a boxwood plant

Box hedge care: identifying problems and eliminating pests

A box hedge is certainly a thing of beauty, but also quite susceptible to diseases and pests, with some problems necessitating radical measures. Here is an overview of the most common box diseases and pests, with some advice about how to treat them.

Summary: how to plant a box hedge

  • Box planting and care is not difficult, but does require a certain amount of knowledge
  • The first step is to choose the perfect planting location: neither deep shade nor full sun, and ideally in sandy or loamy soil
  • Box plants thrive with regular watering and cutting. Trimming should be performed in two phases: first, the rough cut, following by fine trimming in summer. You should also be sure only to water the plant at the root
  • Always wear personal protective equipment while you work, as directed in the operating instructions of your tool
  • Box is vulnerable to pests such as the box tree moth caterpillar and also to fungal infections. Cutting out affected areas is usually the most important step