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Boxwood: Boxwood Pests

Boxwood leafminer (Monarthropalpus fulvus) emerging from the bottom of a common boxwood leaf; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Gilles San Martin
Damage caused by boxwood leafminer (Monarthropalpus fulvus) emerging from the bottom of a boxwood leaf; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Gilles San Martin

Common Boxwood Pest in the New York Area:

Leafminers (Monarthropalpus flavus)

Leafminers are the most problematic insect pest for boxwoods in the New York area. These gall midges overwinter in the leaf tissue and become apparent in the spring when adult flies emerge from the leaf underside, leaving the evidence of holes and/ or tiny casings behind. Females then deposit eggs in the newest  leaves, typically in protected positions low and inside the plant. Yellow - orange swelling, sometimes blisters, appear on the leaves in late summer as the insects grow. If you remove the lower layer of a leaf, larval leafminers are exposed.

If you have problematic leafminer damage to your boxwood, control techniques should be applied at the time the adult insects are exposed and most vulnerable.  Ruffle the leaves of the shrub and look for orange, winged, adult midges, beginning in late April, when they emerge from the undersides of leaves and, for a period of three weeks, preparing to deposit their eggs. There is one life-cycle per year.

Boxwood psyllid (Psylla buxi)

These very common boxwood pests can cause conspicuous damage to a plant but it is usually merely cosmetic. Characteristic cupping and bleaching of leaves takes place in the spring when the nymphs feed inside the leaf, along with waxy deposits secreted on the new leaves in spring. Growth may be stunted but further damage to the health of the plant is unlikely. Populations do not often reach levels requiring control.

Boxwood spider mites (Eurytetranychus buxi)

Mites can be a significant problem, particularly on Buxus sempervirens (common or  American boxwood) cultivars. Shade reduces mite damage, as does summer irrigation because hot, dry conditions speed the velocity of this insect's life cycle and promote population growth.

Mites feed on the leaf surfaces and make tiny punctures as they go, removing chlorophyll with the fluids of the leaf. The result is stippling that can be hard to see, but over time the leaves become pale and silvery. You should not treat mites unless they have reached a problematic level as there are natural, predatory insects that will feed on them if allowed to do so.

USDA photo of a healthy boxwood and one attacked by box tree moth; photos by Ignacio Baez (l) and Mafalda Weldon (r)
Healthy boxwood plant and one suffering serious damage from box tree moth; USDA photos courtesy of Flickr by Ignacio Baez (l) and Mafalda Weldon (r)

Box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis)

Box tree moth is a newly detected invasive insect in our area that can devastate boxwood plants. A pest in Europe for more than a decade and identified in Ontario, Canada in 2018, the moth appeared in our area in 2021, traveling on a shipment of plants to New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. A heavy infestation of box tree moth on your boxwood plants  can result in plant death as the insects devour the leaves and then move on to consume the bark.

Box tree moth can cause dramatic defoliation and desiccated areas of leaves with a few telltale identifiers: the entire leaf except for the tough midrib may be chewed through leaving a branch of curly leaf ribs; the lower portion of the boxwood plant is apt to be most affected; and the insects leave behind black-green droppings and easily detectable webbing on the interior of the plant while feeding. The yellow green caterpillars hatch in cycles, May through September, and the adult moths emerge beginning in June in our area. Photos of the moths, their eggs and the caterpillars can be found in the USDA Box Tree Moth Pest Alert linked in the Resources box on this page.  

The insects are expected to expand their range and have been identified in several Midwestern states. If you detect box tree moths on your plants, you should:

  • Report any occurrences to your state’s Department of Agriculture. The New York State Box Tree Moth Reporting Portal is linked in the Resources box on this page.
  • Treat if possible. Control approaches are in the development stage and being assessed for effectiveness. Techniques include knocking caterpillars off into soapy water, pheromone traps and horticultural oils but you should contact your county’s cooperative extension office for the most up to date information on the management tools that are effective in your location. If you are in New York State, you can find The Cornell University College of Agriculture control information on their Box Tree Moth Fact Sheet linked in the Resources box. (The webpage also has excellent photos of the damage experienced from a box tree moth infestation.)
  • Take precautions to prevent spread. In New York State, Cornell recommends that you securely bag any plant material you remove including entire plants, keep it on site and contact New York State Department of Agriculture through their box tree moth reporting portal (linked in the Resources box) for additional advice