Think inside the box to combat box burn on your hedge

The TIME was when the only recommended solution for boxwood blight was to pull out infected plants and start over with a species less prone to disease.

But thinking inside the box now suggests that it may well be possible to preserve these precious hedges with reasonable precautions against reinfection, although it will take time for them to regain their former stature.

My ‘in-box’ box was overwhelmed with as many observations and investigations as in the summer, when the tomato blight, which has the same effect, reached epidemic proportions.

While this can affect boxwood (buxus) hedges of any age, it appears that more established specimens are at greater risk.

If your box has the blight, you must remove and dispose of all infected foliage.

The bigger they are, the more likely they are to have spores on them I guess.

A gardener at the top of my road reported that many yards of boxwood hedge he had planted – and maintained for 20 years – had been decimated.

Imelda Koray, of Cowes, was also upset to have enjoyed the results of cutting boxes two decades ago in her new garden.

Last year her blanket suffered from a minor illness, but this year has been devastating.

She wondered what to do about the problem – and the sick pruning, too.

Imelda can take some comfort from the fact that cutting heavily infected plants down to ground level – which should be done as soon as sudden leaf death and black streaked stems are spotted – will reduce the risk of spread.

Prunings can be placed in green waste and can be composted by the consulting contractor as their high speed, high temperature process will kill the spores.

Disposing over a bonfire isn’t ideal for many households – and putting them on the compost heap is certainly not recommended.

The spores can survive for many years, be carried by the wind, and spread easily, especially in humid conditions.

The boxwood blight fungus (Cylindrocladium buxicola) survives and reproduces in infected leaves and stems, including fallen leaves and dead stems.

Minor or isolated infections, especially in topiaries, can be removed and the area treated with a fungicide.

It can be done at any time of the year. The beauty of the box is that it can very rarely be killed by harsh treatment and will fill in the gaps.

When more drastic action is needed, clean your tools with diluted bleach during use and after you finish, and wash the clothes you wore to fight infection – as well as your boots.

Consider applying a fungicide before cutting – and again after two weeks.

Remove dead leaves and dispose of them along with contaminated soil, replacing with fresh topsoil and mulch.

Finally, cry well and live in hope …

  • If you don’t want to risk losing your hedge to disease, consider alternatives like privet, Japanese holly (which is almost as good as topiary box), bay leaf, or if you want some color, choose forsythia, pyracantha or oleansta.
  • You can learn more about the pretty boxwood moth (Cydalima perspectalis), whose caterpillars feast on boxwood hedges, by clicking here.

RICHARD’S BEST TIPS

Hang tomato and pepper plants with green fruit upside down inside to ripen.

If you haven’t already, cut the fruity stems from your summer raspberries.

Summer fruit raspberries only produce once on each stem, so they should be cut at ground level and any suckers that appear far from the main stem should be pulled out.

Move citrus fruits indoors to a bright, frost-free place at the end of the month, away from cold drafts and heaters. Cut back on watering in winter, but don’t let the plant dry out completely.

If your greenhouse is nearly empty, now is a good time to clean and disinfect it. This lets in more light and helps prevent pests and diseases from overwintering.

Lift and divide overcrowded herbaceous perennials while the soil is still warm.

If you plan to grow peas and beans next year, start preparing the site by digging trenches and filling them with manure and plant waste. They like rich conditions that retain moisture.

Are you a Isle of Wight gardener and have a question for Richard? You can email him at [email protected]

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