GARDENERS have been warned about the dangers of a ‘devastating’ plant disease amid efforts to stop it coming to the UK.

The Horticultural Trades Association, based in Chilton, near Didcot, is calling on businesses to sign up to do what they can to prevent an outbreak of Xylella fastidiosa.

Strains of the disease, which block nutrients and water from getting through the plant, have already damaged ancient olive groves in southern Italy, the vineyards of California and the street trees of New Jersey.

The association, which represents the UK garden industry, is calling for ‘everything possible’ to be done to prevent it from being imported to the UK.

The HTA’s director of horticulture Raoul Curtis-Machin is writing to businesses to ask them to sign up to a responsible sourcing statement.

This states they will not source plants from where the disease is known to exist.

Mr Curtis-Machin said the statement shows the industry is ‘standing together’ and demonstrates to the wider world it is ‘acting responsibly.’

A five point plan has also been developed that states retailers should only source from disease-free areas and from known suppliers or visit suppliers to inspect their processes and procedures.

He warned that retailers and private gardeners could face a ban on moving plants if they are within a 5km of an outbreak which could have a ‘disastrous effect’ on the businesses.

He added: “We are trying to take as many precautions as we can.

“The dreadful ash dieback outbreak of six years ago showed how quickly and dramatically the industry can carry the blame for importing disease.”

At least a dozen Oxfordshire gardening businesses have already signed up to back taking action.

These include the Wyevale Garden Centres in Chilton and Oxford, the Notcutts Garden Centre in Nuneham Courtenay and Frosts in Frilford.