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A Guide to Box Blight

Posted on 27th January 2016

Box blight is a fungal disease that causes severe die-back of box plants creating extensive, unsightly dead areas within a box hedge and is sadly becoming more and more prevalent.

As with many fungal diseases, by the time that the symptoms appear  the disease is already working its way inside the plant and is almost impossible to cure. The spores can survive on dead material such as leaves and clippings on the soil for up to 6 years and will infect new and existing plants.  During the life-cycle of the disease, spores will be released that can distributed on the wind, on tools and clothing and will quickly aid the spread of the disease to nearby plants. It is also wise to be vigilant when purchasing new plants.

Fungal diseases thrive where there is overcrowded growth and a lack of air movement, and their infection is aided by open wounds on the plant. Unfortunately the clipping of box hedges causes exactly this environment and therefore preventative methods are vital.

Clearing up of all fallen leaves, clippings and other debris from below the plants  should be thorough (not an easy task) and regular checks to ensure early detection of any symptoms, particularly when the weather is warm and humid can help with prevention. There are now fungicides available to amateur growers that contain  tebuconazole which should be used at the first sign of infection or at the start of the growing season where previous infections have been detected to prevent further spread. Other members of the Buxaceae family are also susceptible such as Sarcococca sp. so are not suitable as an alternative where blight has been a problem.

Alternative species that could be used for a compact, low hedge that are not susceptible to the disease include Ilex crenata the box  leaved holly which is a good alternative with slightly larger leaves and a glossy appearance, fairly fast to establish or Lonicera nitida,  the ‘shrubby honeysuckle’ is very similar with slightly smaller leaves and often mistaken for box, responds well to clipping and easy to propagate or Euonymus japonica which is a robust evergreen shrub with slightly larger leaves than box and also easy to propagate.