January Plant problem – xylella

Plant pests and diseases are often sore points for gardeners, as invariably each season brings a new threat to our prized plants.  However small outbreaks of pests are best left for the birds to find and eat their way through.  Each month we bring you updates and advice on what may be causing you problems, and how best to deal with it.  If you have any plant problems that you would like to know about, please contact us and we will endeavour to answer it in the next blog in this series.


This month we focus on a new and rather serious threat to UK plants; the bacterial disease Xylella.  It has spread with worrying speed across Europe, but has yet to reach our shores.

Xylella (Xylella fastidiosa) was first found in Europe in 2013, killing many thousands of olive trees in Puglia, Italy.  Since then it has been found in France, Spain, the Balearic Islands and Germany on numerous ornamental plants and trees.  Xylella can affect at least 359 species across 75 different families, including many herbaceous plants and trees we commonly grow in gardens such as hebe, lavender, rosemary, oak, cherry, almond, ivy and floribunda roses.

The UK horticulture industry is on high alert to try and prevent this disease from coming to our shores, and we need to be ready to respond promptly if it does arrive.

Xylella is a bacterium that infects and clogs up the water conducting vessels (xylem) of plants, affecting the plant’s ability to adequately distribute water to its cells, leaves and stems.  This can lead to symptoms including leaf scorch, wilt, die back, and plant death, which can occur quickly.  Unfortunately these symptoms are not unique to Xylella and are easily confused with other diseases, or environmental causes of plant stress, and some plants are asymptomatic making them even harder to detect.  Xylella can only therefore be confirmed by lab testing, including plants known to be susceptible and sourced from disease affected areas.


Cross section of a stem. Image courtesy of http://www.bio.miami.edu/dana/dox/stem.html

Xylella is spread between plants by water vessel feeding insects such as common froghoppers and leaf hoppers.  Although insects spread the disease locally between plants, and can move within a radius of 100m from the plant, long distance movement of plants via trade is the main threat, especially for the UK as an island.

The UK government and horticulture industry are working hard to keep the disease out, and there are numerous measures and agreements between government and industry in place both to prevent the importation of plants from infected areas, and a highly planned and advanced response if it is discovered in the UK.   As home gardeners, we can ask questions about the origins of the plants that we buy, and where possible opt for UK grown plants in preference to imported plants.

Ecotherapy Activity – January

January is traditionally the time to reflect on where we are, and it can often be the time we set goals and resolutions for the next year.  This short but wholesome reflection on ourselves and our life can ease the often felt pressure of resolution setting and keeping.  It can help you to understand yourself and whether your goals and resolutions really match your values and where you are in your life; whether ultimately the goals you thought you wanted to set are helpful and productive, or just more stress.

Your Tree of Life for 2018

Choose a tree and stand next to it

What makes up your ‘roots’?

Think of the roots going deep into the ground anchoring the tree into the earth to help it withstand the winter winds, and those that are the feeder roots, seeking nutrients and water, which are needed on a daily basis.  Think of all the things that give you your ‘roots’, your anchoring roots that give you the strength to withstand ‘winter winds’, and those that ‘feed’ you on a daily basis.  Write them down or draw them.

The tree stands solid in the ground.  It is ‘here’, and many trees serve as landmarks and way finders.  Where are you at the moment? Are you ‘here’?  Describe this in a few sentences.

DSC_1442The trunk and its branches stretch up and out in all directions, shaped by both its genetics and its environment.  Does this reflect your own growth?  The branches reach out into the air towards the light.  The thinnest and youngest twigs carry the leaves and the fruit, but need supporting by the older branch’s achievements and growth.  What are the fruits of your life?  What things have you been pleased to have ‘produced’?  What achievements are those new productive branches built on?

Holly fruit

What ‘fruit’ do you want to produce this year?

Think of the new leaves that will grow in the spring, the flowers and fruit it will produce, and how that depends on its roots and its environment.  What new leaves and fruit do you want to produce this year?  Do you need to put some effort into strengthening your ‘roots’ so that you can grow stronger and withstand more ‘winter winds’ or do you need more daily ‘nutrition’?  Do you need to grow new branches in a different direction, towards a better environment? Or do you need to fill in a gap in your ‘canopy’?

If you want to share your reflections, please feel free to do so in the comments below.  And please Note that this is not intended to replace professional help and support, and if this exercise brings up any difficult and hard to manage emotions or thoughts, please seek the advice of a medical professional.

Copyright Hannah Hobbs 2018