Boxwood blight can spread easily though it's not active in the winter

For The Baltimore Sun

I’m horrified to see that the Christmas wreath my relative sent me has boxwood leaves infected with boxwood blight! What do I do with it? I would hate to spread this infection to my neighbors. To make matters worse, I live near a historic area with ancient boxwoods.

Brown spotted leaves and streaks of black stem cankers indicate boxwood blight, a new fatal boxwood disease. Do not compost the wreath or dispose of it outdoors. However, the spores are not active in cold weather. You may be able to safely hang it, though not where foot traffic could track leaves away and provided you do not have boxwood, pachysandra or sweetbox (sarcococca) in the vicinity.

Boxwood blight causes infected leaves to drop. The fungal spores are sticky and can adhere to man or beast, infecting nearby plants, though they don’t blow away — unless someone drives off with infected plants in the back of their pickup! After the holidays, bag your wreath and put it out with the garbage, not with recyclable yard waste.

Most infection is spread by nursery shipments or landscape care companies. Safe holiday greens for decorating include holly, pine, cedar, magnolia, spruce, fir and cypress. Search ‘boxwood blight’ on the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center website.

Last summer, I received iris rhizomes from my sister, originally from our mother's garden. I am most anxious to give them the best chance for survival. If I plant them now, will they survive the winter? Should I pot them up and keep them inside by a sunny window, then transplant outside in spring? I also have spring bulbs I dug up last summer.

Keep all your rhizomes and bulbs in a cool dark place, such as a basement or garage, over the winter. It is not necessary to pot them up before storage. A plastic bag with holes for ventilation can work well. Check periodically for rot. If you spot any, discard that rhizome or bulb. On the other hand, you do not want the rhizomes to shrivel up in a warm dry environment.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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