Purple Wellies

One woman's musings of plant lust for intoxicating blooms

Closing the Lid on Pandoras Box

The deed is done. All traces of Buxus sempervirens (box) have been removed. The box tree caterpillars had bided their time waiting until we were just about to go on holiday before mercilessly attacking every leaf in sight quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.

In early spring the few caterpillars that had made it in to my largest box shrub were kept in check by the half a dozen or so blue-tit fledglings which would dive bomb in, barrel-roll around inside, swooping up every morsel of caterpillar insight and then hot-foot it back to the tree. To the uninitiated eye it would appear I was growing a chirping, pulsating bush. Now it was late summer. The blue-tits had grown and no-doubt developed a penchant for something else. I started picking them off by hand, all the while pleading with the blackbirds to come and try this new delicacy. They weren’t interested either. No wonder really given the caterpillars contain toxins to some birds. I consigned myself to the fact there was no point in trying to save the plants as they would not be in any fit state when we got back from holiday. I was right. I was left with each leaf as a skeletal outline devoid of all the green in the middle on all twelve shrubs.

We are not alone. Since then I have seen many a desiccated hedge or shrub on my travels in the village. The best thing is to remove the plants as you will be on a slippery slope to keep them looking perfect. Spraying with a pesticide, organic or not, has to be done every few weeks from late March to the end of October as they can have up to 3 lifecycles a year and they should be thoroughly soaked as it is difficult to penetrate through the caterpillars webbing.

So what alternatives are there if you have fallen foul of the box tree caterpillar. For a nice green mound, you could try Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Ball’, P. t. ‘Golf Ball’ or slightly more upright Euonymus japonica ‘Green Spire’. All come in under 1 metre tall. All could be grown as a small hedge or specimen plant. For the added bonus of flowers try Rhododendron ‘Bloombux’ which can be clipped and is tolerant of neutral soil pH. Ilex crenata also flowers and is hailed as the ‘box alternative’, but I do find this a little bit fickle. For a larger gap to fill try Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina with flowers in July and August or Lophomyrtus x ralphii ‘Kathryn’, also a summer bloomer, with dark foliage with a puckered effect.

There really are many alternatives to try. Whatever you decide to replant with don’t make it box. Its death knell is ringing and if the box tree caterpillars don’t finish it off then the box blight surely will. Just in-case I had any doubt in my mind about planting it in the garden again, the regular sightings of the box tree moth flying around, haunting me, are enough to make me think again.

Posted: 11/11/2019 17:19:51 by Pamela Barden