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Agriculture officials have warned nurseries not to spread the boxwood blight through the Christmas wreath trade.
A fungus that kills boxwoods was found in October 2011 at unidentified nursery businesses in North Carolina with fields in Virginia. That was a first in the region, according to a report from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
The fungal pathogen known as Cylindrocladium buxicola causes severe dieback and defoliation in boxwood leaves and branches.
“Boxwoods originating from an infected block of plants at one of the North Carolina nurseries were planted in two productions fields in Virginia, " the report says.
Agriculture officials took steps to try to limit the spread last year, and Virginia Cooperative Extension officials have heard no new reports of the blight.
But now, ag officials worry that the disease could spread from using boxwoods for Christmas decorations.
North Carolina State University issued tips to avoid making the blight situation worse as the holiday season approaches.
The fungal spores easily stick to tools used to shear plants, warned Kelly Ivors, a North Carolina Extension plant pathologist. That means that nursery workers taking cuttings from the shrubs could infect the boxwoods that they touch.
“The greatest potential for long distance transport of boxwood blight is the movement of infected plants, cuttings and tools,” according to the fact sheet. “This fungus has the potential to spread throughout the boxwood tip production areas of North Carolina and other states through the use of contaminated tools during tip harvest.”
Good sanitation practices should always be followed to cut down on the risk of infection.
Ivors advised that nursery workers should disinfect tools in between working on different blocks of plants and different fields. Ag officials recommended dipping tools in ethyl or isopropyl alcohol for 10 seconds.
Ag officials also say that workers should wear disposable booties in fields or landscapes near known boxwood blight infestations.
Wreaths should be woven together away from plantings, and workers should avoid discarding any waste material where it could contaminate other boxwoods.
Virginia Cooperative Extension Service officials note that contaminated boxwoods require fungicides to control the disease, but the amount of damage done in other places shows that can be hard to do.
“The pathogen has caused significant damage to boxwoods in European landscapes, which suggests this disease can potentially damage historic boxwood gardens in Virginia,” the authors warn.