Stemming Boxwood Blight

Dec 17, 2013

Scientists are asking the public’s help in stemming the spread of a blight on the Boxwood bush.  The plant is often used in holiday wreaths and garlands this time of year.

The Boxwood plant is prized for its emerald leaves and slow growing habit. But a blight, first seen in the US in 2011 has spread to Virginia, where it threatens home gardens as well as historic sites. The disease eventually kills the plant. It’s caused by a fungus spread by contact with a diseased boxwood.

Virginia Tech Plant Pathologist, Maryann Hanson tells us what to look for. “One of the obvious symptoms is leaf spots kind of circular leaf spots that eventually to be be lighter in the center and darker around the border and eventually the whole leaf turns brown and drops off the plant another, really characteristic symptom of the disease is is dark streaking on the stems.”

Hanson says, if you notice the signs, be sure to dispose of the diseased plant properly; double bag it and bring it to the landfill.  Or, better yet, take it to your local cooperative extension and they will send it to her lab at Virginia Tech to be studied. And because boxwood cuttings are often used in holiday wreaths and garlands, she says you should not leave the arrangements outside over the winter.

“If people leave the Boxwood plant debris from their holiday decoration out in the landscape over the winter, it’s possible the pathogens could overwinter and affect nearby landscape plants.  So that’s one thing we’re concerned about.  Especially at these some of these historic sites where they bring in a lot of greenery and you can’t trace back where they came from.”

Hanson says many nurseries here are participating in the ‘Boxwood Blight Cleanliness Program,” which involves a set of protocols to keep the disease out and inspections by the Virginia Department of Agriculture.  Scientists believe the blight came here from Europe where it was first seen in the 1990s.