Boxwoods are the mainstays of landscapes in many historical sites across the commonwealth as well as an important nursery crop. The annual wholesale market value for boxwood nursery production is $103 million.
However, growers and researchers are concerned that boxwood blight could potentially decimate English and American boxwood populations along the East Coast if precautions to curb the spread of the disease are not followed.
Boxwood blight is caused by a fungal pathogen that renders the plant’s leaves brown and dry. The fungus can rapidly defoliate boxwood plants, making the plants unsuitable for commercial sale, leading to plant death, and wiping out ornamental landscapes. The disease spreads primarily via plant materials and soil from infected plants. The pathogen produces sticky spores that attach to plant containers, tools, vehicles, and shoes and clothing.
The boxwood is not just a plant. It’s part of Virginia’s cultural heritage.
– Chuanxue Hong
Extension Specialist, Hampton Roads AREC
Since the initial outbreak in Carroll County in 2011, the disease has spread to the Richmond and Northern Virginia areas in addition to several other counties across the state. “We have moved from trying to contain the disease to managing it,” said Hong, who is also a professor of plant pathology.
In order to help prevent widespread destruction of boxwoods, researchers have asked the public to take precautions when installing new plants, pruning existing plants, and maintaining plants at household and historical landscapes.
In an effort to understand the disease and take preemptive measures against the blight, Hong and other Virginia Tech researchers have partnered with several institutions, including North Carolina State University, Rutgers University, Oregon State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program.
In addition, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Virginia Cooperative Extension have partnered to form a task force to educate the public about boxwood blight. The task force developed a website for commercial growers, landscapers, greenery producers, and homeowners that provides best management practices for mitigating the blight, along with other helpful resources.