Sunday, February 8, 2015

Winter Gem Boxwood Leaves Turning White and Yellow

When our house was first built, it came with some cheapo basic landscaping, including a few winter gem boxwood [Buxus microphylla ‘Winter Gem’] that I ended up moving to the side yard because I didn't know what else to do with them. Now 3 out of 4 of those plants turned ghostly white and pale yellow, while the other remains as green as the day we moved in. What is the deal with these porcelain looking leaves? What is making my boxwood leaves turn freakishly white?

Boxwood pale yellow white leaves
Winter Gem boxwood with winter scorch, pale yellow and white leaves that are dry from winter dessication injury. They really look like porcelain, they even look like they have cracks running right down the leaves.

After a few quick Google searches, it looks like this condition is known as winter burn, winter desiccation injury, winter drying, or my favorite winter scorch. It occurs for a number of reasons, but basically it's when the evergreen shrub (or conifer for that matter) loses too much moisture in the late fall and winter - especially when the weather warms and cools rapidly. This is common in the Midwest, in fact it's about 50°F here in Indiana today and will be going back down to the 20's this week.

It took me forever to find close up photos of boxwood leaves to identify this as Winter Gem, but if I'm mistaken please correct me in the comments!

winter gem boxwood leaves close up
This one looks completely un-touched and sits literally 2 feet from one that is completely yellow and white. My guess is the roots took better for this one, and the others probably couldn't get a good footing before the cold.

The treatment is to wait patiently until spring and distinguish the new growth from the truly dead branches, then prune the dead branches to 1/4" above live buds. Until then, I can enjoy my porcelain ghost boxwood and see what happens. I'm glad it happened to these 'extra' plants on the side yard and not something I went out of my way to buy.

boxwood split stems and branches
A key symptom of winter burn or winter scorch is splitting branches. When the weather is temporarily warm, the plant sends water to the leaves and then when the weather turns all that water freezes and causes freezer burn along the stems.

boxwood turning yellow
One is totally fine and one is completely white. My guess is it has more to do with the roots than the wind in this case.

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