When decorating for the holidays, it’s a good idea to consider the possible spread of boxwood blight if purchasing holiday greenery that contains boxwood. Virginia Cooperative Extension plant pathologist Elizabeth Bush warns that boxwood blight can be devastating to susceptible landscape boxwood, such as English and American boxwood, once the boxwood blight pathogen is introduced into a landscape. She also noted that boxwood infected with the boxwood blight pathogen will likely not show symptoms of the disease during the winter months, so infected boxwood greenery may appear healthy.
Boxwood blight is a serious fungal disease of boxwood that causes severe defoliation of susceptible boxwood. Once the disease is present, it’s extremely difficult to control.
“If you have valued boxwood in your landscape, or your neighbors have boxwood, the safest thing to do is to simply avoid using any boxwood greenery. Instead, use holiday greenery that does not contain boxwood. Other types of holiday greenery, such as fir, magnolia or any plant material other than boxwood is safe. If you already have boxwood greenery decorations, you should place them in a sealed plastic bag when you are ready to dispose of them and dispose of the bag in a landfill,” said Bush. “Don’t compost boxwood greenery or put any out for brush pickup, since infected boxwood greenery can spread boxwood blight in your landscape and neighborhood.”
In Virginia boxwood blight was first identified in a nursery location in Carroll County in 2011. Currently it is present in many Virginia counties, but not widespread in any county, since the pathogen is not well-adapted to long distance transport by wind. The fungus most commonly moves long-distance on infected plant material. This is why it is so important to avoid introducing the pathogen into new locations, since the fungus can spread locally via blown leaves and hitchhike around the neighborhood with its sticky spores.
“With its glossy, green foliage, boxwood is beautiful when used for holiday greenery. Still to protect your landscape boxwood, it’s probably best to consider using other types of greenery like spruce, fir or magnolia, because none of those are risky to use,” said Bush.
For more information, Virginia Cooperative Extension has a comprehensive website on this disease with information, such as how to avoid introducing boxwood blight into your landscape and a list of boxwood blight-resistant boxwood cultivars: Virginia boxwood blight task force.