Is it the end for my box plants?
The beloved box plant (Buxus sempervirens) a traditional British garden plant used in many forms over the centuries in British garden design, but is that it for the plant, has the dreaded blight and caterpillar destroyed our love for box.
Here we talk about the necessary steps of dealing with these issues. If we should lose all hope with the plant or not and common gardening mistakes on dealing with our beloved plant.
Buxus sempervirens (English box) has to be one of my favourite structured plants, its tight growth habit, lush green foliage and ability to generate from old wood makes it such a versatile plant but with poor management they can quickly be turned to bare, defoliated and diseased wood and no one wants that do they.
The dreaded box blight (Cylindrocladium buxicola) has been wiping box plants out since 1994 in the UK. Warm wet weather provides the perfect conditions for a fungal outbreak, so keeping a careful eye on your much-loved plants is the key.
Areas of blackening foliage are a clear sign of the fungal growth, so it is important to spray these areas with an appropriate fungicide to prevent any further spread, giving the plant a chance to recover when dryer conditions return.
It is still possible to revive your blighted plants even when die back is severe. Cut hard into old wood, below any infected growth, this can be detected by black lesions on the stems on infected wood. Doing this in the spring followed by correct management of the plant will assist development of new healthy shoots and with the right care your plants will be back in order usually by the end of the year.
When the weather improves it’s important to focus on the general health of the plants, which we talk about further down.
If you are lucky enough to escape the blight then you may have experienced the box tree caterpillar (Cydalima perspectalis), easily identified by small areas of webbing and tiny green/black caterpillar poo usually found just below. After closer inspection you will usually find the caterpillar either happily munching away on your lush green foliage or tightly wrapped up between leaves in their webbing. If you see one or two or even ten, it’s best to remove these by hand immediately or they will continue to devour your plant.
Setting up pheromone traps close by to your plants will target the source of the problem by attracting the male moth to the female pheromone, this is a great way to monitor your plants for moth and caterpillar activity and reduce the reproduction of the pest. Again, by monitoring your plants regularly we can beat the pest before it gets any more serious. There are various insecticides on the market which are safe to use when bee’s, birds and other insects are present. A foliar spray covering the plants will not be such a treat for the caterpillar and within a couple of days the pest will be no more.
Keeping your plants healthy and regular monitoring throughout the growing season is the key to success. Mulching thickly around the base of your plant encourages healthy root growth which in turn leads to healthier and stronger plants, more able to recover after any potential damage. It helps to retain moisture and reduce stress to the plant. Lastly don’t forget to sterilise your tools between pruning and clearing your plants, reducing the spread of any disease.
By following these simple steps throughout the seasons, we can beat the box problems and hopefully one day our beloved traditional box plant will return in numbers to our gardens.