Ilex crenata and Bloombux® in comparison

Which boxwood replacement is the best - that's the question asked by many garden lovers who have had bad luck with their boxwood in recent years and now want to buy a new hedge, ball or other topiary plant. Here we compare the popular boxwood alternatives Ilex crenata and Bloombux® for you.


Ilex crenata and Bloombux® - what they have in common

First of all, both are evergreen plants that are often planted as a replacement for the disease-prone boxwood. Bloombux® closely resembles boxwood in this respect, while in the case of Ilex crenata the similarity depends on the cultivars. Some can also replace the boxwood well. Another similarity: Ilex crenata and Bloombux® are both shallow rooted and are very hardy - Bloombux® even down to -24 °C.

Ilex crenata and Bloombux® - what's behind them?

The Bloombux® is a dwarf rhododendron variety. It was created by expert breeding from crosses between Rhododendron micranthum and Rhododendron hirsutum, which were grafted onto a specially bred rootstock. In this way, the Bloombux® obtained exactly the ideal characteristics that make it a boxwood substitute with additional plus points. Ilex crenata (mountain holly or spoon holly) is a species of the genus Ilex. There are many different varieties of Ilex crenata, for example, Green Lustre, Dark Green®, Convexa, Golden Gem, Stokes or even the columnar mountain Ilex Fastigiata.


Ilex crenata and Bloombux® - Comparison of characteristics

    Size: The natural growth height of Ilex crenata is 2-5 m, in some cases up to 10 m. The trunk diameter can be up to 20 cm. Its trunk diameter can be up to 20 cm. The individual plants can become quite spreading, up to 3 m wide. However, with good pruning and depending on the variety, they can also be kept low. Bloombux® reaches a total height of around 70 cm, or up to 100 cm if the site conditions are right. The plants grow 50-120 cm wide - ideal dimensions for low hedges and topiary.

    Growth rate: Ilex crenata grows at different rates depending on the variety - sometimes slower at 5-10 cm, sometimes more vigorous at up to 30 cm per year. Bloombux® also belongs to the slow-growing boxwood alternatives. The attractive plants gain around 5-10 cm a year.

    Leaves: The leaves of Ilex crenata are glossy, dark green to fresh green depending on the variety, 10-30 mm long and 10-17 mm wide. Their edge is slightly toothed, sometimes also spiny. Bloombux® leaves are, very similar to boxwood, ovate pointed. The new shoots are fresh green, changing to deep green as they mature. A much sought-after feature of Bloombux® is that its leaves have a wonderfully spicy fragrance when rubbed a little.

    Growth: Depending on the cultivar, Ilex crenata has different growth forms, e.g. broadly spreading, shrubby, compact and dense, stocky, sparse or even narrow columnar as a tree. Bloombux® is an upright bushy small shrub that (like the boxwood) always grows densely and compactly, even if you do not prune it.

    Planting time: Ilex crenata is ideally planted in spring. You may plant the Bloombux® all year round except for the frost period.

    Buying: You can buy both plants in well-stocked garden centres and in many nurseries (also online).


Ilex crenata and Bloombux® -
the most important advantages & disadvantages

There are different varieties of the species Ilex crenata for different requirements. The Golden Gem variety, for example, has pretty golden-yellow foliage when budding in the right location.
Bloombux® is a variety speciality in itself (and not a species): it comes in two wonderfully pretty flower colours, pale pink and magenta, otherwise its characteristics are always reliably uniform. It is precisely these flowers that make Bloombux® so spectacularly special, because there is probably no other substitute for boxwood that is so similar to the disease-prone Buxus and yet has such an attractive and dense pile.


Tip: Both boxwood alternatives have ecological advantages because they are protected against the typical Buxus diseases, making pesticides and other poisons unnecessary. Bloombux® also scores points for its delicate yet lush flowering, which provides important food for bees and other insects.

What can Ilex crenata and Bloombux® be used for?

Both plants are good boxwood alternatives that are easy to cut. With Ilex crenata you should first look at what you need the plants for, e.g. for a hedge, as balls or as a tree. Depending on this, you should choose the varieties. Ilex crenata is suitable as a hedge plant, ground cover or topiary.
Bloombux® as an ideal substitute for boxwood has even more versatile uses: e.g. as a low bed border, as a medium-high hedge, as an evergreen, flowering ball in a tub or pot, but also as a grave planting. With its summery flowering decoration, the Bloombux® is a structural hedge, topiary, flowering shrub, scent and insect repellent all in one.

Tip: There are some other interesting species of holly, but they are not usually considered as a substitute for boxwood, e.g. Ilex meserveae (Bushy Holly) and Ilex aquifolium (European Holly) - the one with the red berries. Ilex guayusa is a species of holly whose leaves contain caffeine. Andean people traditionally use the leaves to make a stimulating tea. Even though the guayusa plant, together with Ilex crenata, Ilex aquifolium and Ilex meserveae, belongs to the holly family, the species of holly we use for gardening in this country are not suitable for consumption.