Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 14:48 UK

'Pest plant' attacked by aphids

The damage that has been caused to hedges

The fast-growing leylandii hedge - often a bone of contention between neighbours - is under attack from a plague of aphids.

A two-year study carried out by the Royal Horticultural Society analysed 316 samples of the plant and found that 53% had been damaged by the insects.

Cypress aphids are thought to feed on leylandii sap, turning the leaves brown and killing the plant.

Invasive leylandii have caused rows and even legal action between neighbours.

They grow very quickly, take a lot of moisture out of the soil and can reach a great height, blocking out sunlight.

A survey suggested they were the plant most likely to put a buyer off a property, and could wipe thousands of its value.

'Injecting a toxin'

Cypress aphids have been growing in numbers in Britain's gardens for a number of years, but not much is known about them or their effects.

So a joint investigation was carried out by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and East Malling Laboratories in Kent, using plant samples sent in by RHS members.

Dr Jean Fitzgerald, from East Malling, told the BBC News website the aphids appeared to be attacking leylandii all over the UK.

People put them in because they want a quick instant result and then they don't realise they are a nightmare to look after
Bunny Guinness, gardener

"It's not clear whether they are injecting a toxin into the plant or whether they are damaging its water transport system, which then kills it.

"The aphid is a real pest in Mediterranean countries and parts of Africa, where it can wipe out entire populations, but here not much is known about it.

"We're still not sure whether it's a problem that's always been there, but not been noticed before, or whether it really is getting worse, perhaps due to warmer springs."

Some leylandii growers are now so worried they are trying to come up with an aphid resistant strain.

But Bunny Guinness, professional gardener and panellist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time, said she would not miss the plant if it disappeared.

"I have to say this aphid is doing me one big favour, because people put them in because they want a quick instant result and then they don't realise they are a nightmare to look after," she said.

"They get too big, they're too difficult to maintain and they're also not indigenous so you don't get much wildlife associated with them.

"They really take out all the light, take out the moisture from your garden, so it's difficult to grow things and they are antagonistic to neighbours."




SEE ALSO
Leylandii owners face new rules
01 Jun 05 |  UK Politics

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