British gardens could potentially be at risk from a ‘game changing’ disease that causes the death of plants.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has warned gardeners that the bacterial pest Xylella fastidiosa could arrive in the UK from the continent on imported plants.
It has wiped out entire groves of ancient olive trees in Italy and could affect more than 350 different types of plant.
Gerald Clover, head of plant health for the RHS, said it is probably only a matter of time before the disease spreads to the UK.
He said: ‘Xylella is a game-changer for gardeners and the horticultural industry and it is vital that we understand its potential impact.’
Transmitted by insects, the disease is likely to have a ‘fundamental’ impact on gardens.
It is made harder to detect by the fact that some infected plants show no symptoms – others resemble other issues such as drought or frost damage.
British garden favourites including lavender, hebe, rosemary and flowering cherry are particularly at risk, experts have warned.
Dr Clover added: ‘Xylella is in a bit of a class of its own, because it kills plants, has insect vectors and such a broad host range.
‘The RHS views the threat of Xylella as a pivotal point in the future of plant health in the UK and as such we have opted to increase our plant health provisions to counter the threat from the bacteria as well as the myriad other pests and diseases knocking at the garden gate.’
However, there are steps gardeners can take to protect their plants from an outbreak.
Gardens can be ‘future-proofed’ if people buy plants that are UK-sourced and grown rather than imported, varied planting should be maintained, and any potential cases reported to the Environment Department (Defra).
A spokesman for the department said the threat posed by diseases such as Xylella is a ‘very real and growing concern’.
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