Boxwood blight serious garden disease

Just about everyone has a boxwood bush in their yard. They are great for hedges, sculpting and are prevalent in Gillette Gardens. Gillette is known for having established a regional style—known as the “Virginia Garden.”

But now there is trouble in paradise, boxwood blight, a fungal disease first described affecting boxwoods in Great Britain in the mid-1990s. In 2011, the disease was detected in a North Carolina and a Virginia nursery as well as in many northeastern states, mid-Atlantic states, Oregon and British Columbia.

According to T. Michael Likins, Chesterfield’s County Agent, “In September 2013, a landscaper brought samples of ailing boxwood to the Chesterfield County Extension office for diagnosis. The sample was suspiciously similar to boxwood blight.”

It was confirmed; the diseased boxwoods were diagnosed as having boxwood blight.

“This is a contagious disease among boxwoods and can spread easily,” Likins said. “We are working on developing a strategy and are in all different modes of research.”

Likins said there are three common symtoms:

  • Defoliation – usually starting at the base of the plant
  • Large, diffuse, dark brown leaf spots
  • Blackened twigs and stems

First discovered in a North Carolina nursery, “We’re acting like smoke jumper at this point,” Likins said. “We are going where the outbreaks occur.”

He said fungicides will work short term, but per their research there is not yet a fungicide that is a cure-all fungicide.

Landscapers are typically the first to realize there is a problem with boxwoods on a particular property.

There have been two confirmed diseased bushes in Chesterfield and four in Henrico, but Likins said if there are reports of a few there are many more unreported cases out there.

Likins wrote an information piece on the outbreak noting, “Box blight is a foliar and twig disease that defoliates shrubs from the ground upwards where conditions favor the fungus (wetter, darker conditions).

All boxwoods are susceptible to some degree with Buxus sempervirens types (American and English) being more susceptible in general.

Boxwood blight generally will not kill outright, but may weaken a plant to the point where secondary infecting organisms will kill it.

The disease organism is capable of being spread short distances in wind and wind-blow rain.

There is observational evidence that leaf blowers can spread the disease locally.

The spores of this fungus are very sticky and capable of adhering to shoes, clothing, planting stock and garden equipment.”

The Chesterfield Extension recommends a number precautions:

  • Actively maintain plant health with routine soil testing.
  • Use mulch sparingly; no more than 1 inch.
  • Don’t guess. Have any suspicious symptoms diagnosed by a qualified plant health specialist or your local extension agent.
  • When sending or bringing in samples, make sure they are securely double bagged.
  • Wash hands, equipment and clothing before tending uninfected material.
  • Do not take samples to your local nursery.
  • Excellent website for updates: www.boxwoodblight.org

Likins said that the Extension Service is planning a public information session sometime in December, but he doesn’t know the specifics yet.

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