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British in its origins and formal, understated style, Buxus sempervirens (common box) forms low hedges and topiaries in many stately home gardens around the country. This versatile evergreen shrub grows 4 to 8 metres (13 to 26 feet) tall and wide when mature, but can be clipped to restrict its growth. The best time for replanting depends on whether it's growing in the ground, in a container, or as a bonsai specimen.
Often used as a hedging shrub, nurseries and garden centres supply Buxus sempervirens with bare roots, with its roots wrapped in fabric, or in containers. Whether planting out for the first time or replanting, the best time of year when planting in the ground is when the plant is becoming dormant. Although evergreen, common box stops growing during autumn, so planting in early autumn is the ideal time, though late autumn through to late winter are also suitable. Root-wrapped plants must have the wrapping removed before planting. Choose a fine day when temperatures are above freezing, and the ground isn't wet. Gardening on wet soil compacts it, making it difficult for plant roots to grow.
Common box plants respond well to growing in containers, and make attractive, shaped, specimen shrubs. Plants should not need re-potting for many years, but can be replanted in any season. Containers should be at least 45 cm (18 inches) wide and filled with loam-based compost -- John Innes No. 3 is suitable. Every spring, scoop out the top layer of compost, taking care not to damage plant roots, and replace with fresh compost mixed with some slow release chemical fertiliser or blood, fish and bone. Water plants regularly, even during winter, as box needs constantly moist soil.
Common box plants are suitable for growing as bonsai, and should be replanted into new pots every two or three years. The best time is when new buds are beginning to form in spring. Ordinary bonsai soil mix is suitable. After replanting, keep plants out of direct sunlight as they grow into their new pots. Common box bonsai needs feeding every two weeks during the growing season and a little water, given frequently. In spring, they bear pretty yellow male flowers and single female flowers.
Common box is easy to grow in its preferred conditions. Sheltered, partial or full shade sites are ideal. The shrub can cope with an exposed situation but its leaves suffer from sun and wind scorch. It grows well in all soil types and tolerates drought, but grows best in constantly moist -- though never waterlogged -- ground. Common box has many garden uses including as hedging, screening, topiary and ground cover, and as a patio plant or for planting on slopes and banks.
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