6000 Think Outside the Boxwood: Alternative Plants for Gardens and Landscapes | UGA Cooperative Extension

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) has been an iconic fixture in the garden for centuries. The fine-textured evergreen foliage and compact growth habit of this shrub make it an excellent choice for borders, hedges, and topiary. The boxwood is used as a bold structural element for defining beds, creating interesting lines and shapes, and establishing the evergreen framework that unifies the landscape.

Gardeners have sculpted boxwood hedges and topiaries into every shape imaginable, making the boxwood a cornerstone of tradition in the formal garden (Figure 1). With the dreaded spread of boxwood blight disease to U.S. gardens, this tradition may begin to take a turn. The disease was identified in Europe a decade ago and was observed in the Unites States by 2011. In July 2014, boxwood blight disease was confirmed in the Buckhead area of Georgia and additional samples of the disease have since been identified in other parts of the state.

The sticky spores of this fungus readily adhere to birds, animals, pruning tools, shoes, clothing, and leaf litter, and can be easily transported and introduced to new locations. All species of boxwood are susceptible to the disease, although certain cultivars of littleleaf boxwood (Buxus microphylla) and Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica) do not show symptoms of the disease as readily as the dwarf English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’). Because of this, certain plants have the potential to harbor undetected spores at the nursery and spread the disease into existing landscapes as new plantings. Once infected with the disease, there is no curative treatment. A regular rotation of preventative fungicides may reduce the chances of infection, but can be an expensive and time-consuming solution. Additionally, if the proper rotation of fungicides is not carefully followed, it can lead to the development of resistant strains of the pathogen. All of this translates to bad news for boxwoods.

To combat the spread of this disease, follow a strict regimen of sterilizing pruning equipment and be conscientious of any practices that may transport spores and leaf litter to other sites.

Dead plants should be removed and destroyed. Avoid using replacement groundcovers and shrubs from the boxwood family (Buxaceae) such as Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) and sweetbox (Sarcococca sp.), as the disease can persist in the soil and leaf litter and infect new plantings. In addition, avoid the introduction of new (or transplanted) boxwoods into existing plantings. For detailed information and updates concerning boxwood blight disease, visit the UGA Extension publications website at extension.uga.edu/publications.

Unfortunately, until an effective solution for managing this disease is available, it might be best to “think outside the boxwood.” Below is a list of plants to consider as alternatives to boxwood, ranging from conservative look-alikes to distinctly non-traditional options. When selecting plants, choose a species that both meets the goals of the project and suits the specific site conditions.

 

For detailed information regarding boxwood blight, contact your local UGA Extension county agent at http:// extension.uga.edu/about/county/index.cfm or call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

For more information about invasive plants in Georgia visit www.ga-eppc.org.

References

Disease Update: Boxwood Blight in Georgia. Retrieved from http://plantpath.caes.uga.edu/extension/extension/ documents/GA%20Boxwood%20Blight%20Alert%20v2.pdf


Status and Revision History
Published on Jan 19, 2017

Faculty
Bodie V. Pennisi Professor; Areas of Interest: Commercial landscape, Horticulture Greg Huber Public Service Professional, Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture (GCUA) Gary Peiffer ANR Extension Agent, Northwest District
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