The arrival of Spring means insect pests are just around the corner. One pest to watch out for is the Boxwood Leafminer (Monarthropalpus flavus). Although boxwood tend to have few pests, the leafminer can be a headache for growers. Damage starts small with some discolored leaves, but as populations build over a period of years, you will see defoliation, and in severe cases, plant death. Luckily, there are effective options to combat this pest.
Boxwood Leafminers are tiny, orange, gnat-like midges that have only one life cycle per year. The cycle begins each spring as the previous year’s larvae cause the boxwood leaves to blister and swell. Those larvae pupate and emerge as adults in April/May (Central Virginia). After pupating, the adults hover only inches above the boxwood because they are weak flyers and wind will blow them away. Over a 3-week period, adults emerge in waves to mate. Females complete their life cycle after they lay their eggs in the tender leaves. These eggs hatch in early summer (mid-June) and the larvae begin the cycle of growth that will conclude the following spring.
Saunders Genetics has done extensive work trying to determine the best timing and chemicals to control Boxwood Leafminer. In many programs, sprays are targeted towards adults, but because leafminer emerges in waves, you would need to spray every 2-3 days over the 3-week period, making it nearly impossible to eradicate them. Instead, control can be achieved with a single spray of a systemic insecticide after eggs hatch (mid-June). These types of insecticides remain effective until temperatures turn cold in the fall. When a spray is applied properly and thoroughly to all boxwood in a given area, you can receive control for up to 2-3 years. According to research, the most effective products are those that contain the active ingredient imidacloprid, thiomethoxam, or dinotefuran. Please note that Saunders Genetics bases this recommendation on in-house trials. We recommend growers and landscapers contact their local Extension personnel for recommendations and regulations in their area.
Although chemical control is a great option, there are also boxwood varieties available that have shown genetic resistance to Boxwood Leafminer. Saunders Genetics has done thorough research, testing over 129 cultivars. The results are listed in the chart below.
Genetic resistance is a defining feature in the NewGen™ Boxwood program. The goal of NewGen™ is to provide grower-friendly plants that can thrive when faced with pest and disease pressure. NewGen™ boxwood were chosen because they are more resistant to Boxwood Leafminer than many of the varieties currently on the market. If you are replacing or planting boxwood, look to these NewGen™ varieties which will be available for purchase in 2020.