Monty Don reveals the care box hedges need now

Look after box hedges and topiary with expert gardener Monty Don’s top tips

woman trimming a box tree in the garden
(Image credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

Box is a popular garden plant – and for good reason. The evergreen shrub is perfect for low hedging that can distinguish different zones of the garden without impeding views through the space. It’s perfect for topiary, too, because it’s dense with small glossy leaves and can be clipped into a whole host of shapes. It’ll thrive in sun or shade as well.

Sadly for its many fans, we can’t all grow box successfully anymore neither in the US nor the UK. But if you are still lucky enough to have healthy box in your yard, now is the moment to give it some of the care it needs.

And who better to tell us how to look after box than our favorite gardening expert, Monty Don? Read on for Monty’s advice on what you need to do with your box now. For inspiration on other shrubs to plant in your plot, take a look at our list of 10 evergreens that are easy to grow in any garden.

Monty Don’s top tips on looking after box hedges and topiary

Landscaping ideas for front of house: formal front garden with clipped topiary, alliums and garden path

(Image credit: Design, Abigail Hazell/Landscaping, Belderbos Landscapes)

Monty Don revealed how to look after box hedges and topiary on his website. We’re sharing his top tips below along with some of our own advice. 

1. Monty reminds us just how popular box hedges and topiary used to be in British garden design ideas. It’s under threat now because of a combination of two issues, he says: box blight and box moth caterpillar.

Boxwood blight is a more recent phenomenon in the US, but sadly the fungal disease has now spread to a significant number of states.

Box still thriving in your garden and want to keep it that way? Then the start of summer (early June) is the time to give your box a trim, says Monty.

2. The number one thing to bear in mind when you’re trimming box is that you need to make sure your best garden shears or best hedge trimmer are really sharp, advises Monty. This is because it prevents burning and tearing the cut edges, he explains, with the result that they turn brown and spoil the look of your glossy green plants.

woman trimming a box tree in the garden

(Image credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

3. The other imperative is to check the weather forecast, says Monty. You’ll need a few days of dry weather to do this essential job. The cut leaves and steams are more susceptible to the box blight fungus when the wounds are fresh, he explains. But dry weather stops the spores of the fungus being active, and leaves time for the wounds to scar over so they are less vulnerable to the disease.

4. Bear in mind that although box is perfect for low hedges, over time it can grow to around 16 feet (5m) in height if you neglect the trimming. If you’ve missed this garden job in previous years, or inherited overgrown plants, you’ll need to tackle this issue in late spring and cut it back hard then.

5. If you can’t grow box in your garden, you might be interested in the trial that RHS Garden Wisley has carried out. The trial resulted in some alternatives to box being recommended: including the common yew ‘Repandens’, Pittosporum ‘Collaig Silver’, Lonicera nitida ‘Maigrun’, which has the benefit of leaves that look very similar to those of box, and Berberis darwinii ‘Compacta’.

You'll also find suggestions for the best fast growing hedges in our guide.

Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She's spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes and gardens – long enough to see interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement, both indoors and out, and it's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, so she's a serial house revamper.