A few weeks back I did a video tutorial on how to prune box balls on Instagram. It went crazy and it was my most watched story ever! So, clearly there is a desire from all you budding gardeners out there to learn. Now, I’m no expert. I have no qualifications in horticulture other than trial and error and years of practice. Anything I tell you here is fact as far as I know it. I’m going to tell you what works for me, it might not be the professional way to do things, but its tried and tested in my garden.
I’ve always loved formal topiary, it appeals to my sense of order. There truly is nothing better than a well-trimmed bush and I’m here to show you how. I have about 46 box balls in my garden and two box spirals. I love the look of the spirals, but I would never buy them again. They are so much work and I never get them quite right. I’ve been known to take all day on them: a’int nobody got time for that!
Forty-six balls can take a very long time, but with some simple tricks I can make life easier for myself. Hopefully, you were more sensible than me and bought just a few! First of all have the right tools. You’ll need some good sharp and clean pruning shears. Always disinfect the blades before use to guard against cross-infection (I’ll talk about box blight later).
The next thing is to make sure you are pruning when the weather is dry and when there is little chance of rain in the next few days. The spores of the fungus Cylindrocladium Buxicola which cause Box blight can be spread by rain drops splashing onto any fungus that might be on the leaves of the plants and also from any spores on the ground, they live in the ground for up to five years! It’s also one of the reasons why I only water the plants from below. I have a mulch around the plants to reduce splash. The fungus can grow in humid conditions, which is another reason to not water from above.
I usually place an old bed sheet around the area I’m pruning to collect the leaves and prevent any diseased leaves from staying on the ground. I start pruning the balls in a hot-cross bun formation, creating a cross of pruned area across the ball. That is step one as in the photo below.
I then start pruning down the centre of the four quarters that I’ve created again in the hot-cross bun formation, that’s step 2 below.
Now, this is very important: STEP BACK! If you don’t keep stepping back to check your shape you’ll get it wrong and end up with an egg or worse! Then its just a case of keep going till you are happy with the shape. Practice makes perfect.
You should be quite happy with your shape now. All you’ve got to do is repeat the process for all your balls!
In recent years Buxus Sempervirens, or the common Box has had a hard time. There are all number of diseases and problems and it’s such an awful shame as Box has been a stalwart in the garden for centuries, creating elegant structure and form in both summer and winter. We can’t be certain of the original source of the fungus, but we do know that it reached the U.K some twenty years ago and was first reported here in the mid-nineties. It has now become alarmingly prevalent which could be due to the warm and damp summers we have been having.
When planting Box, do avoid planting in areas that are constantly damp, shady or have poor ventilation. Feed them! This is key as the best prevention, in my opinion, for the blight is to keep your plants as healthy as possible. I use a good liquid seaweed fertiliser. I also put good rotted compost at the base every year.
Don’t water them from above as the fungus can be carried and activated in water droplets. As I’ve said before, keep all your tools clean and remember that after pruning, do pick up all the clippings.
We had a bout of Box blight a few years back. The RHS advice at the time was to dig everything up and burn the lot! There was no way on god’s earth I was doing that, so I set about trying to find my own cure. I found a Box feed called Top Buxus – Health Mix. It was the miracle I needed! It’s a strong fertiliser with Copper mixed in, which burns the spores of the fungus. I used one tablet per litre of water in a backpack pump spray. I waited till it was dry outside and no chance of rain, then I sprayed every ball like it was going out of style! I repeated this every two weeks until I started to see improvement. Some of the balls had lost almost all their leaves. I cut back quite hard and removed any leaves within the soil. I also used Bayer Fungus Fighter Plus, which was reformulated to help with Box Blight. This dual approach saved my Box ball border and I’m so thankful I found my solution. I still spray with these around every six weeks, just to make sure.
Why not watch my video tutorial that I did for Instagram? I’ve tried to upload it here, but WordPress isn’t having any of it, so please visit me on Instagram @Jonpaulclark – this link will take you straight to the video in my highlights. You’ll get to see me nattering on like an old fishwife while I show you how I trim my balls! What’s not to love?