How to plant and care for a box hedge

A box hedge is a classic garden 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 hugely popular evergreen box – officially known as buxus sempervirens – is found in southwestern and central Europe, North Africa and western Asia. The plant is an enduring choice for many gardeners, partly due to its versatility as a hedge or standalone shrub. Box is also valued as an evergreen that brings a splash of colour to the garden and looks handsome all year round – as long as it gets the right care.

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.

If you want to plant a box hedge in your garden, it’s worth knowing that box is a little fussy about its neighbours. It's a good partner for plants with similar needs, 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.

How to Plant a box hedge: the perfect site

A box hedge likes to be 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.

Trimming Box hedge borders and topiary: 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, 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 makes clean pruning and no unnecessary stress on the plant. STIHL has a wide selection of hedge trimmers, from manual to cordless, 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 extends 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 using your hedge trimmer. This includes safety gloves, safety glasses, ear protection and more. Please see the instruction manual for your product for further details.

Before you use your chainsaw for the first time, you should familiarise yourself thoroughly with the tool and make sure it's 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. 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. With the right care, it grows so dense that privacy is guaranteed. Proper box hedge care techniques go hand-in-hand with having the right tool for the job. We recommend using a cordless hedge trimmer such as the STIHL HSA 56 cordless hedge trimmer. Whatever tool you use, make sure that the blades are sharp to guarantee a clean 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 cm apart.
  • Give them several months to establish and grow to make sure they don't dry out.
  • Once your box plants have grown together into a uniform hedge, it's 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 the bottom. This will make sure that the individual plants get enough 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,  do 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 m in height and trim outward growth, so stems are a maximum of 10 cm long. This kind of trimming is best done in February and March and should be followed with an appropriate fertiliser 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 maintain your box plants and 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 outer middle point 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: start by cutting the box into a pyramid. Then 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's raining, if heavy rain is expected or if it's very sunny. 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's best to wait for an overcast day if you need to give your box a proper trim.

You should always cut at a slight angle and make sure 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 helps a quick recovery and makes your hedge more resilient and better protected against possible pests. Another important step for protection against pests is proper watering – doing the wrong thing here will leave your box susceptible to fungal infections. 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 depends 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 cm, 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 the amount of water it needs. They can't supply themselves with water, so 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. 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. 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 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 diseases and eliminating pests

A box hedge is certainly a thing of beauty but can be susceptible to diseases and pests, with some problems needing 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 choosing the perfect planting location: neither deep shade nor full sun, ideally in sandy or loamy soil.
  • Box plants thrive with regular watering and cutting. Trimming should be performed in two phases: the rough cut, followed by fine trimming in summer. You should also be sure to only 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.