Boxwood Blight Update from Saunders Brothers Nursery

January 2, 2013

One year ago we were all preparing for the New Year and hoping for the best.  However in the back of our head danced this giant called Boxwood Blight.  We had heard of the serious problems it had caused in the fall of 2011 for growers.  Some people were even ready to declare Doomsday on Boxwood.

We traveled to Baltimore for MANTS 2012 where several hundred people attended an information and discussion forum on boxwood blight lead by several individuals from NC State, USDA, and state Departments of Agriculture.   We all learned a lot and left more informed but still scared.  As someone put it “our glasses were half empty”. 

One year has now passed and many people ask me what is the status of Boxwood Blight and what do we think now.  So a few of our thoughts:

  • It is still a very potent disease.  I occasionally hear of new locations that it is being found but we haven’t had the major explosion that everyone predicted would happen this past spring or fall.
  • We still must continue to take steps to slow the disease.  We must continue to highly scrutinize sources of all plants. 
    • Limit the number of suppliers used to those who exercise BMP’s to control the disease.
    • Growers should use their own stock for propagation.
    • Think Bio-Security.  Growers should use caution in allowing visitors into production areas.  One of its primary modes of movement is people and equipment.
    • There is a great deal of varietal tolerance.  Initially we thought it was going to be ruthless and equally attack all varieties of Buxus.  However, thanks to some great research that is underway at NC State, we are seeing some major differences in varieties.  Although not complete, the research is showing a very wide spectrum from tolerant to susceptible varieties.  In reality, it is going to take many years for production to move toward more tolerant varieties once data is confirmed.  Luckily, the US is much further ahead of Europe on testing and growing new varieties of Buxus, thus putting us ahead of the game.

Some observations thus far:

  • Lower growing compact varieties (with exceptions) seem to be more susceptible.
  • Sempervirens varieties (with exceptions) seem to be more susceptible.
  • Microphyllas (with exceptions) seem to have tolerance.
  • More open and/or upright varieties seem to have tolerance.
  • Some chemicals are showing to be effective in preventing Boxwood Blight.   Again, not complete but we are hearing that some chemicals are showing great promise. 
  • Production and landscaping practices must continue to be scrutinized. 
    • Overhead irrigation should be avoided when possible but, if it is necessary, care should be taken to minimize foliage wet time. 
    • Heavy shearing should be done with care.  Allow as much air movement into interior of plant as possible.
    • Use common sense with regard to sterilizing equipment between production areas as well as landscape jobs.
    • Unfortunately English Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, seems to be the plant we will lose in this battle.  In addition to several other issues English Boxwood struggles with, overwhelming evidence in Europe and now in the US says that it is the most susceptible variety and the one indicator plant when boxwood blight is present. 

Today, I think “our glass is half full”.  With one year of research in the US behind us, it is obvious that Boxwood Blight is still a serious disease and our hope is that with tolerant varieties we will learn to manage it in the same manner that we consider phytophthora, boxwood leafminer, cold hardiness, exposure, and other factors. 

Boxwood will always be the Aristocrat of the Landscape.  We must continue to move forward with better cultural practices, better genetics, and more education to enjoy the timeless beauty of boxwood. 

Robert Saunders

Saunders Brothers, Inc.

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