Boxwood blight is a fungal disease that was first introduced into the United States in 2011 in North Carolina and Connecticut, through the nursery trade. Since then boxwood blight has been found in more than 30 states.
Recently a homeowner in Rocky Mount noticed her American Boxwood looking sick. She clipped a piece of it and brought the sample the Virginia Cooperative Extension office in Franklin County to be tested.
During a visit to the home, 12 American boxwood showed signs of dying, which include dropping large amounts of leaves, spotting on the leaves and showing black lines on stems. A neighboring home was also found to have more infected plants than the first home.
Boxwood blight is caused by a fungus that claims the plant as its prime host. Initial symptoms are dark or light brown spots on the leaves (this can mimic other diseases). Quickly following leaf spotting, the plants will have leaf drop in large amounts (the plants begins to look bald). The young branches and stems begin to show black streaks, a sign that sets it apart from other common foliage diseases.
Since that initial visit, three other houses have been visited; however, at this time they do not have the symptoms and can start preventive treatment.
Homeowners should educate themselves and set up a monitoring program for their boxwoods. The boxwood blight pathogen produces sticky spores as a dispersal and disease-causing agent. The sticky spores can attach and travel via birds, wildlife, pets and humans.
Long-distance spread can be the result of animal movement, movement of infected plant materials or landscaping tools. The spores can also attach to clothing, shoes and other personal items during visits of contaminated sites.
Homeowners who notice their boxwood showing signs of sickness, not looking bright or that have dying foliage, should contact the extension office.
They should not bring samples of boxwood into the office.
Never assume a healthy-looking boxwood is free of blight. Infected plants may not show any symptoms for some time, which is why it is important to set up a weekly monitoring plan.
What happens next if boxwood blight is found?
n The first step is to prevent further infection and contamination. Do not cut down or dig up infected plants and place them next to the road for the town to pick up as yard waste. This yard waste is mulched and given away, which can quickly spread the problem throughout the county even faster.
n Removing infected plants takes proper steps to prevent further spread. Homeowners who hire a lawncare company to take care of their plants and lawn, should notify the company immediately that boxwood blight has been found on their property. They need to start taking the proper steps to decontaminate their equipment (which they should be doing after each property).
n Homeowners must remove infected plants correctly. The extension office will provide a packet of information about boxwood blight.
n The next step is to properly remove infected plants. The most important action to take when removing infected plants is covering them in plastic before removal to contain all infected material.
n Once the covered plant has been cut down or dug up, it should be either burned or buried deep in a hole or sent to the landfill for burial.
n All dead leaves should be raked and bagged up to be burned or buried.
n The next step is decontamination after removal. All tools (saws, equipment/vehicle used to move plants) should be disinfected and cleaned. Clothing and footwear should be washed immediately and anyone removing the plants should shower immediately afterward.
For more information about boxwood blight, contact the Virginia Cooperative Extension office in Franklin County at 483-5161.
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