Boxwoods on the Decline

Many people associate buxus sempervirens suffruticosa (aka the English boxwood) with Williamsburg. And in fact the colonists did bring boxwoods with them from England, so they’ve been here a long time. We’ve topiary-ed them, mazed them, grown them into huge, pillowing bushes, and framed our doorways with them. Williamsburgers love boxwoods!

Boxwood Decline

But these lovely slow-growing evergreens actually aren’t well suited to our area, and have been suffering from a host of problems, collectively know as Boxwood Decline since the 1970s. Even Colonial Williamsburg is considering ousting these shrubs for modern, more tolerant hybrids.

For one thing, our soil is dense and doesn’t offer enough sandy drainage for this shrub. Also, a nematode has taken up residence here and prefers to dine on boxwood. Yes, boxwoods will grow here, as many excellent gardeners and nearly four centuries will testify. But you have to give them just the right conditions and attention.

Colonial Williamsburg, FYI, is cycling its boxwoods out and replacing them with dwarf yaupon holly and Jim Stauffer boxwoods, which have been hybridized to be more tolerant of our local conditions. And that may include the oldest boxwoods in town, which is behind the Brush-Everard House (pictured above). These long-standing bushes were once an entire garden in themselves.

These particular boxwoods have suffered especially since Hurricane Isabelle, which felled the ironwood trees shading them. Boxwoods prefer dappled sunlight. CW officials say they’re considering a lattice-like shading structure that would allow the plants to slowly adjust to their new lighting conditions.

If you’re keeping your boxwoods, consider cutting out a small branch or two every growing season. (Call us and we’ll explain.) The idea is to allow light and air to move through the plant.

Boxwood Blight

On top of all these problems described above, there’s a new threat on the horizon. About a year ago, gardeners in 10 northern states began to see cases of Boxwood Blight caused by the fungus Cylindrocladium pseudonaviculatum. This fungus has been a problem in Europe since the 1990’s but is new to the States. Although this disease doesn’t typically kill boxwood, it does seriously affect its appearance by stripping the plant of most or even all of its leaves. Luckily, this fungus is not causing a problem in Virginia…yet. It did turn up in two nurseries in the state, but swift action by the Department of Agriculture has kept it in check. There’s no easy treatment now, so prevention is the best way to keep it out of your yard.

Hertzler & George Boxwood Care

Fortunately for our clients, Hertzler & George has a boxwood care program dedicated to this stately plant. We know how to successfully treat it for pests, the ecologically friendly way. Call us for details.757.229.9668

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