Revitalizing the Garden After Boxwood Blight

Revitalizing the Garden After Boxwood Blight

Many gardeners are now becoming all too familiar with one of the diseases which affects Boxwood, called Boxwood blight. In addition to this, Boxwood, while  proving very useful and deer resistant for us here,  has many problems. Leaf miner, Psyllid, Winter burn, finicky reactions to pruning, are just a few of the problems afflicting this genus.

Because of its overall utility as one of the few deer resistant evergreens which tolerates sun, shade, drought, and its tolerance to pruning, this evergreen has become overused in our landscapes. As we all know, as plants become over utilized, when a pathological issue occurs, it can run rampant through our dense contiguous plantings. With the recent rainy seasons we have had in the last two Summers, conditions for spread of the disease have been ideal.

When the opportunity arose to revitalize an existing formal parterre of Boxwood, I felt it necessary to suggest a substitute. The obvious choice was Ilex. Sleepy Cat Farm already has a wonderful clipped Ilex crenata hedge around our reflecting pool. It has proven durable  without any of the above afflictions mentioned with Boxwood. The parterre in question, however, is only ten inches tall and an Ilex at that height is not readily available, or so I thought. Disease resistant Boxwoods are just now beginning to trickle into the market, and are not necessarily the right height for this project.

I came across a new cultivar of our native Ilex glabra, or Inkberry called ‘Gem box’. Both crenata and glabra provide Summer food for the bees while proving (thus far) resistance to diseases and insects. Even deer seem to leave it alone. The knock on Ilex has been their tendency to become bare at the base of the plant. We have also seen this to be true with our older Boxwood hedges, and hope to rectify this through more frequent applications of organic fertilizer.

Because Ilex glabra ‘Gembox’ was so new to the trade, we were forced to obtain small liner plants from a grower. They were quite small to start, however, they adapted quickly to the improved site and now seem quite happy this Winter. They grow quickly, and may require an additional pruning during the season. There seems to be no Winter browning, and the foliage has a beautiful sheen. Ilex glabra is also tolerant of wet soils, so overhead watering will not likely prove detrimental.

Here are some photos of the project from start until now, less than a year later. Carmine Labriola contractors was instrumental in translating Charles Stick’s original design into reality. Later, as we ran short on liners, the plant was available as a 2 gallon plant at Sam Bridge Nursery in Greenwich, Ct.

BEFORE – Garden with Boxwood blight.
AFTER – Replanting the garden with Ilex glabra.