Friday, September 25, 2015

Boxwood Blight Rears its Head in Tennessee

Blight-striken boxwood in process of defoliating (photo via Oregon Department of Agriculture)

University of Tennessee has warned that boxwood blight - a fungal disease first spotted in the state in 2014 - could wipe out many of the boxwoods that are a mainstay in many residential landscapes.

I'll be honest. I've never liked boxwoods much. They seem boring and botanically 'inert' (except for the brief period in the spring when they flower and attract pollinators). If you prune a boxwood and leave the clippings on the ground, they turn an unsightly white/yellow but they don't actually decompose for many months. And boxwood foliage can get blasted here by winter sun and/or late freezes.

That said, it's a popular, tough evergreen mainstay in many residential gardens.

If the blight really does take its toll, what should home gardeners use as a replacement in Tennessee (and elsewhere)?

A dwarf version of our Southeast native Ilex vomitoria (yaupon holly) could be a good option. It looks similar and it's evergreen, although not especially cold hardy. I think most yaupons are only rated to zone 7 and we're right on the zone 6/7 border.

Any other ideas? 

We need more than one replacement, because monocultures tend to encourage the emergence and spread of plant diseases. I'm hoping we can use this as an opportunity to add more native plants to the garden that have wildlife value... 

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