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Box Blights (Boxwood Blights)

Volutella buxi and Cylindrocladium buxicola

image of box blight on a Box plant

There are two organisms which cause Blight in the Genus Buxus; both are fungal and they can occur together. Volutella Blight has been around for many years. It is caused by Volutella buxi which is the asexual stage of the fungus Pseudonectria rousseliana. This results in browning of the leaves and dieback of branches leaving bare patches in hedges and topiary specimens. It spreads in wet humid conditions - pinkish spore-producing bodies appear on the undersides of leaves and asexual spores are carried in water splashes to new sites. Fallen leaves carry the disease over the winter and new spores are produced in the spring. They enter the plant through clipping cuts and other damage to leaves and stems.

image of boxwood blight affected leaves   image of box blight  showing spores

The other Box Blight, which is more serious, has only been recognised in the British Isles since the mid 1990s, but is causing great concern. The fungus Cylindrocladium buxicola produces symptoms similar to Volutella with defoliated plants. The leaves develop dark brown spots which enlarge to effect all of the tissues, patches of greyish fungal growth appear on the underside and asexual spores (conidia) are soon released to spread the infection. Black streaks appear on the stems. The spores are capable of penetrating the cuticle so wounding is not necessary for infection to occur.
The disease requires moist conditions to thrive - the asexual spores die in dry conditions. Viable spores have been found in decomposing leaves after nearly a year, so any debris should be burnt if possible - never add to the compost heap.

Treatment

Hygiene is the main treatment, so all affected branches should be pruned out and burnt along with any fallen material around the base of the plant to remove any dormant sexual spores. Check any potential purchases before buying to avoid bringing it to your garden. Good air circulation will reduce the humidity around the plants. Allow space between plants or if in a hedge cut back nearby plants. Avoid overhead watering to keep the foliage as dry as possible. If blight is suspected any implements used to clip or prune should be disinfected before using on healthy material. Household bleach or methylated spirits are suitable agents. There are no chemical controls named for the domestic use against Box Blights, but one containing a conozole fungicide such as penconazole or triconazole can be used for garden fungal infections, so it may help to slow the spread or prevent a recurrence. Bayer Fungus Fighter (Tebuconazole) mentions Box Blight on the label.

Dog urine damage to the base of a box bush.

Not all brown or dead patches are caused by Box Blight, it could be caused by dog or tom cat urine if it is at the bottom of the plant, as they 'territory mark' the same spot repeatedly and this scorches the leaves. If the dead area occurs suddenly and not gradually this could be the reason - the blight tends to develop slowly.
Late cutting can lead to frost damage, later causing the outer leaves to die giving a white surface on hedges and topiary. This may be mistaken for Blight, but the underlying foliage will be green and will regrow. To avoid this any trimming should be carried out no later than September to allow new growth time to harden off.

Alternative plants to use for topiary and parterres are the Box-leaved Holly (Ilex Crenata), Box-Leaf Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida), Euonymus, Pittisporum, Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa) or Yew (Taxus baccata).

A recently discovered threat causing defoliation to Box (Boxwood) is the Box Tree Caterpillar (Cydalima perspectalis) the larva of a moth native to east Asia which can strip the foliage. It first appeared in Europe in 2007, but some have been found in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. The caterpillars are similar in colour to the Large Cabbage White Butterfly larvae with a black head. Another symptom which may be spotted first is webbing among the foliage. Pick off the caterpillars or prune out infested material with defoliation and webbing. Insecticides containing pyrethrum, deltamethrin or cyhalothrin may work. Any sightings should be reported to the RHS at Wisley.

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