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There is a so-called “Garden Killer” on the loose in Europe. Xylella or to be precise, Xyllella Fastidiosa is a bacteria that attacks and quite literally kills a variety of plants, in fact it affects over 350 different types of plants. The disease has spread rapidly throughout Europe and it could arrive on the shores of the UK, wiping out entire gardens. The Royal Horticultural society is taking the disease very seriously and believes it could be the blot of the landscape of gardening of all kinds as we know it in the UK.

So, what do you need to know about Xylella?

What is the disease or bacteria?

Xylella is a bacteria that grows in and attacks the sap channels of many plants. The sap channels are like the blood vessels of any plant and the bacteria simply dries up the sap and kills the plant rapidly.

Is there just one form of Xylella?

No, since 2000 five sub-varieties of the Xylella bacteria have been identified each affecting different types of plants, mainly woody and broadleaved plants. The five varieties or “sub-species” of Xylella are:

  • Fastidiosa
  • Multiplex
  • Sandyi
  • Morus
  • Pauca

Each sub-species attacks different plants that range from grape vines to citrus and oak trees.

How is Xylella spread?

There are essentially two ways that the bacteria has spread. The first is through the planting, export and just general proliferation of infected plants, at first it is difficult to see if a plant is infected. Secondly, nature itself spreads the disease via the numerous insects that feed on the contaminated sap spreading the disease from one plant to another regardless of its species. The spread can be very rapid.

How easy is Xylella to identify?

Xylella is not easy to identify and gardeners and horticulturalists alike are easily fooled by early symptoms appropriating them to frost damage or a lack of watering or feeding. The disease is often only identified after the fact.

Has it arrived in the UK yet?

Not yet, is the safe answer. The forestry commission and the Royal Horticultural Society are very aware of how close Xylella is and are making plans to prevent it arriving in the UK. Both organisations believe Xylella would be extremely destructive if it were to cross the channel or the Atlantic and thus stricter conditions for the import of foreign, potentially exposed or infected plants are being implemented.

What do I do if I suspect a Xylella infection?

Despite no absolute confirmation of Xylella in the UK any suspected infections must be reported to the following plant health authorities in their regions:

General UK

For Forestry Commission use the Tree

Alert form: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/treealert

England and Wales

Contact APHA Plant Health and Seeds Inspector or the PHSI Headquarters, Sand Hutton, York.

Tel: 01904 405138 or email: planthealth.info@apha.gsi.gov.uk

Scotland

Scottish Government’s Horticulture and Marketing Unit

email: hort.marketing@gov.scot

Northern Ireland

DAERA Plant Health Inspection Branch

Tel: 0300 200 7847

email: planthealth@daera-ni.gov.uk

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