A species in the Ruscus genus, this is a low-growing, evergreen shrub. Butcher’s broom has become a widespread and popular garden plant.
This perennial, with insignificant, greenish-white flowers, has attractive autumn berries which are bright red.
This plant’s rather unusual name originates from its former use. The Ruscus shrub bears stiff, flat branches that were collected and used to make small brooms for cleaning off butcher’s blocks.
Moreover, in recent years, it has been discovered that the shrub contains antibacterial qualities in its leaves, so this made it a more effective cleaning material than originally realized.
|Scientific name||Ruscus aculeatus|
|Common names||Butcher’s broom, knee holly|
|Height||Up to 1 meter|
|Width||Up to 1 meter|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 7 – 9|
|Native to||Eurasia, North Africa|
|Flower colors||Green, purple|
|Plant specific features||Prickly foliage, bright red berries in winter|
How to Plant and Grow a Butcher’s Broom Shrub
This is a plant that offers color to the winter garden with its evergreen foliage and bright red berries. Because it will grow in poor soil, shade, and coastal, locations, it can be a useful shrub to grow where not much else will!
Where to Plant
Tolerant of full shade, this is a shrub that will be able to compete successfully if there are tree roots close by. So, if you have a spot where it is difficult to plant, consider the butcher’s broom.
Despite shade and competing plants, this shrub can still absorb sufficient moisture and nutrients in the soil to thrive.
Consider other difficult planting locations, too. As well as woodland areas, you can use butcher’s broom for planting on the north-facing sides of a house or wall. Or, in a location that is almost always in shade from other buildings.
Butcher’s broom can be planted as a houseplant and kept small by regular trimming.
This shrub is extremely prickly and sharp, the tips of the stems are like needles! Therefore, butcher’s brook should not be planted in a garden where it is likely to come into contact with small children.
When to Plant
As long as it isn’t frosty, you can plant Ruscus aculeatus in the winter. It is best to plant between the late Autumn and early Spring.
Butcher’s Broom Bushes Care and Maintenance
Whether your soil is acidic, or alkaline, this plant will tolerate the sil. The butcher’s broom will do well in all types of soil. Even if you have poor soil, your plant will thrive.
The butcher’s broom shrub will cope with drought conditions but does best if the soil doesn’t dry out.
For the best display of autumn berries, feed the butcher’s broom shrub twice a year, once in the spring and once in the middle of the summer. The fertilizer should be slow release and general purpose,
R. aculeatus is a non-fussy plant and will happily grow more or less anywhere, where other plants will struggle to grow. However, it will not perform well if it is planted in full sun.
Pruning and Repotting
Butcher’s broom has no need to be pruned. For a low-maintenance plant, this is a good choice. But, sometimes the shrub may become too untidy or too large for its planting site.
If this is the case, wait until the plant is dormant (during winter, after the berries have finished). You can remove unwanted growth and, at the same time, cut back any dead wood.
If you thin the shrub in this way, you will keep the plant healthy and productive. It will recover even if you cut old stems back right down to ground level.
The easiest way to propagate butcher’s broom is to divide root clumps. Providing there are at least tiny sprouts on the roots, you can replant them, and they will root and grow.
If you choose to grow R. aculeatus from seed, then you should start sowing in very early spring in a greenhouse or cold frame. Sometimes, seeds will take a year or more to germinate, so be patient!
Once they germinate, leave them to grow for a complete growing season before planting them into individual pots. Then, once again, leave them to grow on for another complete season, before finally transplanting the seedlings into their planting site.
A quicker way to have a productive butcher’s broom is to take cuttings in late winter. Take a piece of branch that is around 3 inches long. It will root quicker if it is placed in hormone rooting powder for a few hours prior to planting.
Place the stems into a tray filled with potting compost, and wait until new leaves appear. During this time, keep the tray moist and cover lightly to conserve moisture. Once the cuttings are growing well, their roots will have started to develop.
You can plant them out directly into their final positions. Just make sure they don’t dry out during their first growing season, whilst their root systems are developing.
Pests and diseases
Few pests attack this plant. Their prickles provide the shrub with a defense! Mealybugs, spider mites, and aphids can cause leaf damage, but can easily be treated with an organic pesticide. These pests will not cause serious damage.
More serious are the diseases that can adversely affect the shrub. These are usually caused by improper care, primarily planting in soggy soil.
Excessive moisture either in water-logged soil or watering cause roots to rot. Then, the plant will die.
If butcher’s broom is planted in too sunny a location and not provided with shelter, then the roots can dry out and the plant will not thrive and may die.
Temperature and Humidity
This easy-to-grow shrub has no specific humidity requirements, other than making sure it is not grown in soil that doesn’t drain adequately.
If you are not in a USDA zone that is applicable to the butcher’s broom, you can consider growing it as a houseplant and keeping it indoors.
Because this plant is shade-loving, is tolerant of changes in temperature, and resists frost, it is a useful addition to a garden.
Other Uses for Ruscus aculeatus
With its very prickly foliage, it is sometimes used as a border plant. However, unlike the prickly holly shrub, which also is evergreen and berry-producing, butcher’s broom will not grow more than 1 meter in height.
Its low growing quality has led to this plant also being known as box holly. So, it is less useful as a hedging plant than the taller holly.
In the winter, the long stems are covered in bright red berries, and are very popular with florists for Christmas and winter floral bouquets.
There is some evidence that butcher’s broom has anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used for a variety of medical conditions. However, it also has contraindications. Symptoms such as increased blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems are reported as a side effect.
Types of Butcher’s Brook You Can Grow
Some popular cultivars of this shrub have obtained awards from the Royal Horticultural Society.
R. aculeatus “Christmas Berry” provides a spectacular display of red berries during the winter.
R. aculeatus “John Redmond” is even more low-growing and again its stems are covered in bright red berries.
If you are a fan of Holly, but don’t have the space for a full-sized tree or shrub, then butcher’s broom may be a good choice, particularly if you are looking for a shade-tolerant plant.
Just be aware that if temperatures are extreme, the birds may quickly strip the shrub of its berries!
*image by nahhan/depositphotos