healthy box plants and lawn

Be clever with garden box

Box plants are synonymous with historical gardens, parterres and knot gardens, hedges and topiary, but they can be high maintenance. If you can keep them healthy and free from problems they are fantastic for hedges, boundaries, topiary and more.

Healthy plants

Box is very very hungry plant. If your plants even start to deplete the soil nutrients where they grow then they very quickly show their displeasure by going a sort of mossy greeny brown colour, dropping a few leaves and start to look a bit peeky.

In the battle against box problems your very first weapon is to keep your box plants as happy and healthy as possible, and that means keeping them well fed, especially if they are in containers. If you are planting new box plants then mix Root Booster into the planting hole and in containers you can add Container Magic and or Easy Feed, which are slow release feeds that will trickle feed your plants.

If your box plants are pot bound then you should repot them before the season gets too far away. Follow this advice from Geoff Hodge here.

Box blight

In recent years our box plants in our gardens have become victim to two types of problems, the first is a fungal disease known as box blight. Sometimes poorly fed box plants can look like they might have this problem. So make sure you have identified the problem before you start treatment. Poorly fed plants will quickly look unsightly, so feed them fast.

If your plants have got box blight then usually the best advice is to cut back affected plants or if they are badly affected dig them up and dispose of them. If box blight is very prevalent around you it will be very hard to prevent an outbreak and it might be worth considering planting something else that won’t be affected. There’s a lovely garden at RHS Wisley that demonstrates a wide range of different evergreen plants that can be planted and used instead of box, including some fabulous forms of pittosporum, elaegnus and corokia.

RHS Wisley Alternative Box Garden
Alternatives to box planted at RHS Wisley. Image: Jean Vernon

Box moth

It isn’t commonly understood that plants form the base of the food chain and that means many creatures need to eat plants to complete their lifecycle and become a food source themselves. If you don’t want particular plants to be eaten then sometimes it’s best not to grow them, especially if they are the larval plant for a specific species of butterfly or moth. These creatures have to find the correct plant to feed their babies. They taste the leaves through their feet to find a healthy specimen of the correct type of plant. They can’t lay their eggs on anything else, or their caterpillars would starve and die. Some of our garden plants are food for the larval stage of different butterflies and moths.

And that includes box. Unfortunately our lovely box plants are the target of the box moth, which is drawn to healthy green box plants where it lays its eggs. When the eggs hatch into little munching caterpillars they quickly feast on all of the leaves leaving a skeleton of stems and webs. And of course once these caterpillars mature, pupate and emerge as adults the process starts again. It’s a difficult scenario because killing these caterpillars deprives the garden birds and other creatures of a meal and can upset the natural balance.

Pittosporum Wrinkled Blue
Pittosporum Wrinkled Blue is one evergreen alternative to box. Image: Jean Vernon

Kinder control

But there is a way, and it’s a new product from your trusted garden expert Richard Jackson. Richard’s new Box Plant Health Cleanse and Shine is a new, natural product that appears to mask and disguise the smell of the box plant when the adult moths are laying their eggs. Moths, especially night-flying moths are driven by scents called pheromones and particularly sensitive to smells. Richard’s new Box Plant Health Cleanse and Shine needs applying several times through the growing season (full instructions included) to prevent the eggs and caterpillars establishing and decimating your plants.

But what’s really important here is that the product is 100% natural and has been tested and trailed by an eminent entomologist to gauge not only its effectiveness at limiting box moth damage but also to ensure that it is not detrimental to the natural balance in the garden. Even though many gardeners regard caterpillars to be a menace, they do play a part in the food chain and everything in nature is delicately interconnected.

Corokiaxvirgata Frosted Chocolate
Another alternative to box – Corokia virgata Frosted Chocolate. Image: Jean Vernon

Entomologist approval

Richard consulted the advice of expert entomologist Dr. Ian Bedford, now retired, but previously Head of Entomology at the John Innes Institute. Dr. Bedford used the product on topiary box balls in his garden over the summer months. He found that the plants not only looked tremendous, but that they also displayed clean and glossy leaves. And more importantly the damage being caused by box moth caterpillars had been effectively stopped.

His overall report was as follows: “I’m very pleased to say that having independently tested your Box Plant Health, Cleanse & Shine product on the box balls in my garden over the summer months, the plants not only looked tremendous, displaying clean and glossy leaves, but the damage being caused by box moth caterpillars was effectively stopped. Regular applications prevented any return of the problem to the treated plants.

I would also like to add that the box balls are in pots around a walled pond and that I was very happy to note that other garden wildlife did not appear to be affected by the treatments, which included blue tits, dragonfly and damselflies which were often seen sitting on the box balls.”

Dr Ian Bedford
Retired Research Entomologist – Consultant

So the conclusion was that not only does the new Box Plant Health Cleanse and Shine, appear to control the box moth caterpillar damage, but using the product did not seem to affect the garden wildlife.

Box plant cleanse and shine RTU and concentrate
Box Plant Health Cleanse and Shine is the natural way to protect your box plants.

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