“Something as innocent as holiday decorating could be a threat to one of Virginia’s most cherished plants,” said Sandy Adams, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). “The plant is boxwood and holiday greenery may contain boxwood clippings that came from plants infected with boxwood blight. Greenery which contains infected plant material has the potential to spread this disease to other boxwood plants.”
Boxwood clippings in wreaths and garlands can spread this disease which could decimate English and American boxwood populations. Boxwood blight is caused by a fungal pathogen that causes leaf spots and extensive defoliation of boxwood plants during wet conditions. The disease is known to spread via infected nursery stock, and it also can be found on holiday greenery.
Today, even though a vast majority of gardens and nurseries remain free of boxwood blight, the disease is very difficult to eradicate once introduced into the landscape. VDACS will continue to educate consumers and industry about ways to stop the spread of the disease, but consumers can take measures to avoid spreading the blight when using boxwood cuttings in holiday greenery, pruning existing plants and maintaining plants at household and historical landscapes. Consumers should only purchase the greenest, healthiest looking garlands they can find and remove and properly destroy any boxwood material with leaf spots or defoliation.
VDACS recommends the following steps to mitigate the spread of this disease:
- Carefully inspect boxwood greenery for symptoms of the disease. Symptoms include leaf spots, leaf browning, black streaks on stems and leaf drop. Any greenery that has these symptoms should be double-bagged and discarded in a landfill immediately. Symptomatic greenery should never be used in compost. In addition, all greenery that contains boxwood plant material should be double-bagged and placed in a landfill at the end of the holiday season. The Virginia Tech Boxwood Blight Taskforce website has more informationand copyright-free images.
- When taking boxwood cuttings, sanitize pruning tools. In order to disinfest tools, consumers may use the following cleansers: Clorox (or other household bleach) (1:10 dilution), Lysol (containing 70-100 percent ethanol or isopropanol), or Consan 20 or Physan 20 (containing 0.5-1.5 percent quaternary ammonium).
Virginia residents who suspect their boxwood may have boxwood blight should contact their local Cooperative Extension Service office for diagnosis and control recommendations.