Holiday greenery can spread boxwood blight to your landscape, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension experts

Boxwood blight, a fungal disease affecting plants in the boxwood family, can be spread by discarded holiday greenery.

“Having a wreath hanging on your door is not necessarily a problem because those fungal spores are not going to jump off the wreath into the landscape, and this fungus doesn’t get around very easily,” said Mary Ann Hansen, Virginia Cooperative Extension plant pathologist. “It is mainly going to spread if you have discarded infected plant material lying right next to susceptible boxwood.”

Boxwood cuttings are popular in holiday greenery such as wreaths. In recent years, there have been documented cases of holiday greenery infected with boxwood blight, which if placed in the compost pile or left in the landscape, can spread the disease to nearby boxwoods. According to Hansen, decorations using the broad-leaf evergreen often come from western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, where the first cases of boxwood blight were seen in 2011.

Symptoms of boxwood blight include:

  • Severe and sudden leaf drop
  • Circular brown or tan leaf spots with a dark border
  • Linear black streaks on stems
  • Star-shaped, white spore clusters

To dispose of any holiday greenery, Hansen recommends double-bagging the decoration and sending it to the landfill. Beyond that, there are several ways to prevent the spread of the disease from holiday greenery:

  • Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of boxwood blight, found on Virginia Cooperative Extension Boxwood Blight Task Force website
  • Inspecting holiday greenery and plants before purchase
  • Purchasing from a reputable source, such as nurseries participating in the Boxwood Blight Cleanliness Program
  • Properly disposing of discarded boxwood greenery and infected plants
  • Do not leave unbagged infected plants and leaf debris on the side of the road to be picked up by waste collectors

In Virginia, the disease is often found on English and American boxwood, both of which are highly susceptible. A list of some of the available cultivars that have resistance, as well as some of the most susceptible cultivars, can be found here.

If you are concerned about your plants having boxwood blight, follow the Virginia Tech Plant Disease Clinic digital diagnostic guidelines.

For ways to prevent spread of the disease in the landscape, visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension Boxwood Blight Task Force website.

About Hansen

Mary Ann Hansen is an Extension specialist and instructor of plant pathology at Virginia Tech who co-manages the Virginia Tech Plant Disease Clinic, which serves as the central diagnostics service lab for Extension county agents throughout the state. Hansen has nearly four decades of experience working with the Virginia Tech Plant Disease clinic providing diagnostic services for plant problems caused by pathogens and abiotic factors. Hansen also holds a master of science in plant pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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