Beat Box Blight with Curved Tops on Box Hedging

I have noticed box blight affects the top part of hedges and topiary more than the base. The top is where the fungal infection seems to thrive, causing the most defoliation and stem damage.

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My approach with box blight infections is to treat the hedge twice a year with a commercial grade fungicide and encourage the gardener or homeowner to adopt good gardening practices such as watering from the base, regularly sterilising clipping tools and clearing up as much fallen box leaf litter as possible.

So far this approach has had good success. The fungicide helps stop the infection getting worse and gives the box hedge a chance to recover. But unfortunately you can’t kill box blight. Once a hedge has become infected, it becomes a case of managing the disease rather than finding a cure. There is always a chance the infection will flare up again as fungal spores can remain active for up to 6 years.

The hedge in the photo above did recover. But as most of the damage from the blight infection was concentrated on the top, I was left with a hedge that had lovely new growth on the sides and twiggy patches along the top. So I cut the box hedge with a curved top using the fresh growth on the sides to hide the twiggy areas that were taking longer to recover.

This did improve the appearance and I also noticed the incidents of reinfection on the top were reduced. The repeated fungicide treatments were obviously a factor but it started me thinking whether cutting the box with a curved top was better for the health of the hedge?

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Before I explain my reasoning I should add there is not scientific basis behind this theory! It’s based on my experience of working with box hedging and topiary.

A flat top is the popular choice for box hedging. This has be the same for centuries. Parterres and knot gardens created with box hedging used to be meticulously cut with flat tops using hand shears. Now we have the luxury of battery and petrol powered hedge trimmers that over time create a far tighter finish on the box than hand shears. This looks great but has the downside of reducing the air circulation into the hedge and creating conditions perfect for a fungus to thrive in. Cutting the box with a curved top improves the air flow into the hedge and discourages the box blight fungus.

The main difficultly with this approach is convincing the garden owners as most still prefer the look of a flat top. Changing the fashion to curved tops will take time. Personally I like the look of a curved top but it doesn’t work on all designs. The flat top suits formal parterre designs whereas curved tops work on more informal, organic designs like the snaking box hedge in the photos below. What do you think?

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Restoring Old Yew Topiary

As I was working in Dorset the other weekend, I took the opportunity to visit the beautiful Mapperton House gardens.

Their ‘Pool Garden’ is lined with large, cone-shaped yew topiary. Some of the yew topiary has become misshapen over time and I was pleased to see the brave decision has been taken to restore a few to their original shape.

This type of restoration is not for the faint hearted. It involves hard cutting the yew back into the old wood. The beauty of yew is that it will regrow from old wood. But this does take time. Probably two to three years before the topiary starts to look how it used to.

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For the restoration to work, the topiary is hard cut back to a supporting framework of strong branches. The yew will soon start to rejunivate, from the tips of the supporting branches and from within on the main trunk.

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For a while the hard cut topiary will look like a skeletal collection of branches with very patchy, irregular regrowth. Periodically trim this growth to encourage it to thicken and to maintain the restored shape. After a few years the yew will look better and with continued, regular trimming the topiary will be restored to its former self.

The best time for this style of extreme restoration is in late winter/ early spring. The yew is still semi-dormant but will not have long to wait before the sap starts moving and the new growth begins to appear.

If this restoration work is being carried out on a yew hedge, it is best to cut one side and then wait until next season to do the next. This gives the hedge a chance to recover from the traumatic shock of the hard cut.

Leaving one side to recover with round and cylindrical shapes is difficult. The top part could be cut first and then cut the bottom half next season. But sometimes I think it is best to risk cutting the whole shape and cross fingers the yew topiary recovers. Regular feeding and watering in dry spells will help the yew cope in this time of stress.

For those with less patience, pre-cut topiary can be purchased and used to replace the old misshapen yew. But for those who can wait, rejuvenating old yew and restoring it to its former glory can be a deeply satisfying experience.

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box blight

Fungicides And Good Gardening Practices Are Ways To Beat Box Blight

One of my services is fungicide treatments for the disease called box blight. The fungal disease attacks Box (Buxus sempervirens) and can result in large, twiggy bare patches and dieback.

Box blight was first recognised in the mid 1990’s and has now become a real problem in many gardens all over the UK, especially with the warm and damp weather.

If you suspect box blight in your garden then please feel free to contact me for advice or to discuss our fungicide treatments to help prevent the disease.

So what is Box Blight?

Box blight is a fungal disease that largely affects Buxus sempervirens (Box) and its cultivars.

Two fungi are the common cause- Cylindrocladium buxicola (syn. Calonectria pseudonaviculata) and Pseudonectria buxi. Identification is best in wet conditions. White spore masses on the underside of infected leaves signifies C. buxicola, whereas P. buxi spores are pink. Both can exist on the plant at the same time but C. buxicola will be the one causing the most damage.

What should I look out for?

Autumn and Winter is usually the time when you may see the first signs of  box blight.

The common symptom is dark brown or black spots appearing on the Box leaves. These will merge to cover the entire upper leaf surface and soon after the leaves will fall off, leaving twiggy, bare patches on the Box.

Look closer and you may see black streaks on the stems. This is caused by the C. buxicola fungus and will cause die-back on the Box plants.

What can I do?

Box blight is not a death sentence for your plants.

If possible, cut out any severely affected areas. As far as is practicable clear any fallen leaf litter and dead material. Destroy both, ideally by burning. Do not put any Box leaf litter, cuttings or dead material  in your compost as the fungus spores can remain viable for at least 6 years. Fungus can also remain in soil so best to remove and replace the topsoil around the affected plants.

Make sure the Box plant is as strong and healthy as possible to improve recovery and increase infection resistance. Do this by mulching annually in Spring with a good depth of quality mushroom compost or leaf mould to help improve the nutrient balance in the soil. Spray the Box plants with a liquid seaweed or Topbuxus every six weeks during the growing season to promote healthy growth.

Increase air movement through the Box plants by reducing the amount of times the box are trimmed. Regular clipping encourages denser growth, which is an ideal environment for the fungus to flourish. If your box is in a border or flower bed, best to reduce overcrowding and improve air movement by removing any other plants growing in close proximity.

Avoid overhead watering as spores can be spread in the water droplets and damp leaves create conditions that the box blight fungus thrives in.

Keep shears, clippers and hedge trimmers clean when trimming infected box to avoid spreading the box blight to healthy plants. Do this by dipping tools in a weak mix of bleach every so often when working, or apply to the blades using a trigger sprayer. One small capful of bleach to five litres of water works well.

Treat the Box plants in Spring and Autumn with a commercial grade fungicide. Applications must be delivered by fully qualified operatives who are certificated by NPTC (National Proficiency Tests Council).

Following this advice does not guarantee success at curing box blight but will certainly improve the chances of the Buxus (box) battling the fungal disease. Remember to continue with the fungicide treatments and good gardening practices even when your Box plants start to recover, to ensure the box blight does not return.

Take a look at the two photos from a garden where I currently work. The first photo was taken in early Spring and shows box hedging badly affected by box blight. The second photo was taken a year later in early Summer, after treatment with fungicides. The Box plants have recovered really well and although there are still a few signs of box blight, the hedge is looking stronger, healthier and with lots of encouraging new growth.

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Please contact me if you are concerned about box blight in your garden or would like to know more about my fungicide treatments to combat the disease.