An incurable fungus that attacks boxwood plants, called Boxwood Blight, was detected in February at retail garden centers in Alabama.
The infected plants were Dwarf English Boxwoods from Scappoose, Oregon, and were found at Lowe’s Garden Centers in Anniston, Cullman, Decatur, Florence, Fultondale, Graysville, Guntersville, Troy and Trussville in late February.
“The biggest problem is that once Boxwood Blight is established in an area, you can’t get rid of it; the disease stays in the soil,” said Kassie Conner, plant diagnostician at Auburn University. “It doesn’t kill the plants, but it defoliates them.”
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI)destroyed infected plants, but some had been sold. The ADAI
and Alabama Cooperative Extension System urge consumers who purchased boxwoods in the past six months to check plants for symptoms of Boxwood Blight. Those include leaf spots, black stem lesions and defoliation.
Conner said Boxwood Blight has ravaged the industry in the Northeast, causing some growers to shut down.
The disease first appeared in the U.S. in 2011 and threatens to decimate the nation’s boxwood landscapes. Boxwood shrubs are staples in many iconic American landscapes, from the White House and Mount Vernon to colonial Williamsburg and the Pond Spring historic site in Hillsboro, Alabama.
“If a disease comes in and destroys existing Boxwoods, that’s going to be a huge problem,” said Phillip Hunter, chairman of the Alabama Farmers Federation State Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Committee. “In Birmingham alone, the potential harm would be hundreds of thousands of plants and millions of dollars in damage. Fortunately, the problem has been isolated so far.”
The fungus has spread to 14 states in part because it can live on plant liners and containers. To curb the spread of the disease, specialists suggest isolating new Boxwoods for two weeks to monitor for signs of Blight and buying plants from reputable businesses.
“I think trading with a known, good, local garden center or nursery grower is extremely important,” said Dave Bradford, a retired Extension agent. “They have an investment to make sure products are disease-free and successful.”
For Boxwood Blight questions, call Conner at (334) 844-5507 or Extension Plant Pathologist Jim Jacobi at (205) 879-6964 ext. 19.