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Boxwoods costly but lend touch of elegance

Posted Tuesday, May 3, 2005 - 10:08 am


By Durant Ashmore
GUEST COLUMNIST
durantashmore@aol.com



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Boxwoods have been used to enhance landscapes since the time of the Romans. There is some confusion whether the Romans introduced boxwoods into England or if the English introduced boxwoods into Rome. The only known indigenous example of boxwood is located at Box Hill in England where the plants are 30-feet tall.

Boxwoods establish a degree of formality and elegance that few plants can match. They are an absolute must to use in any historic setting. Boxwoods exhibit a character that can enhance the tone of any landscape.

Boxwoods basically are available in three categories. American boxwoods are the biggest and are classified as growing 4- to 6-feet tall. English boxwoods are dwarf and reach a height of about 3 feet. Oriental boxwoods grow faster and are more disease and insect free. They grow 4- 6-feet tall.

American and English boxwood are some of the most expensive plants that are available today. Because of the limited availability, wholesale growers will price large American boxwoods at $100 per foot. That's the wholesale price. An installed 5-foot tall boxwood may well cost $1,000 to $1,250. In certain settings large American boxwood is the only appropriate plant to use. Dwarf English boxwood will cost even more.

Along with the high cost, there are a number of insect and disease problems associated with boxwood. In fact, boxwood is susceptible to 14 different diseases. The worst problem with boxwood is not a disease but an insect. Boxwood leaf miners can utterly destroy a $1,000 boxwood if left untreated for a few years.

Leaf miners are characterized by a puffiness in the leaf. If you peel the layers of the leaf apart you can see an orange worm inside. This critter is eating the inside of the leaf and it ruins the entire appearance of the boxwood. After a few years the boxwood is worthless. Orthene is the best systemic insecticide for the homeowner to use for boxwood leaf miner control.

As a result of the problems associated with boxwoods, an alternative was introduced. This was the Japanese holly, which is very similar in appearance but has few of the maintenance problems associated with boxwood. Japanese holly (i.e. compacta, convexa, microphylla, hetzi, etc.) has the same color and habit of growth that boxwoods possess. These plants are low maintenance and are probably the most economical plants available on the market today.

Because Japanese hollies are so economical their use is widespread. This has led to a significant amount of confusion between identifying Japanese holly and boxwood. From 30 feet away they appear to be the same plant. A frequent question I get asked is what to do with boxwoods that are totally overgrown. Upon further investigation it will soon be determined that the plant in question is not a boxwood after all, but a Japanese holly. Also, many people are aware of the dollar value of big boxwoods. In hopes that they have a gold mine growing in their front yard they will call nurseries offering to sell their plants. Nurserymen know to treat these calls with suspicion. In almost every case the plant in question is a Japanese holly.

There is one sure fire way to tell the difference between a holly and a boxwood. Cut off a stem of the plant and look at the leaves. All hollies have leaves alternating along the stem of the plant. This basic characteristic of holly is one of its defining properties. All boxwoods have leaves opposite each other along the stem. Hollies alternate, boxwoods opposite.

One of the reasons it is important to know the difference is in the plant maintenance. Overgrown hollies can be radically pruned. When they get out of scale they can be cut back to One-third their present height (do it now) and be allowed to regenerate all over again. The Boxwood does not easily tolerate radical pruning and will take years to overcome it. Boxwoods should be selectively pruned with a light touch.

Oriental boxwoods have a few of the same exquisite characteristics that American boxwoods have without the disease and insect problems. Boxwood purists know the difference.

Your pocketbook will know the difference, too.

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or durantashmore@aol.com.

Wednesday, September 20  


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