The Q&A Archives: Winter Damage

Question: I have both Wintergreen and Green Beauty Boxwoods for two years and this last winter they got winter burn. I have seen a lot of burn with other peoples boxwoods as well. I also have Hardy Korean and Green Velvet Boxwoods that did great this past winter. All of the boxwoods are planted on the west side of my house. Can you tell me why this happened and what can I do to save them? I am in zone 5

Answer: I know how disappointing winter damage can be! Winter damage occurs on boxwoods (Buxus sp.) when unseasonably warm winter days are followed by freezing temperatures. During the warm period, the plant begins to come out of dormancy and the cambium or conductive tissue begins to fill with additional water. When the temperature drops below freezing, the water freezes. The expanding ice splits the tissue resulting in death of the affected tissue. Cold, dry winds pull moisture from the affected branch resulting in a freeze-dried, "freezer burn" effect. Depending upon conditions, whole plants, just sections of a plant, or only the tips of branches may be affected. Tip burn is quite minor and only affects the tips of branches. Simply remove the dead tips with pruning shears or hand pruners. The plant will recover. Sectional winter burn or die-out occurs when one or more whole branches die. The most recognizable sign is when the leaves turn pale yellow to almost white. On close inspection, bark splitting from the branches will be evident. Splitting can continue all the way to the base of the branch. Prune these branches back to the point where the splitting stops. Full recovery can take several years. Winter burn of the total plant is the most devastating. In this case the whole shrub will turn a pale yellow and every branch will have splitting bark. For these plants, the only chance for recovery is to severely prune the plant. In spring after all chances of severe frost are past cut all branches back to a twelve to eighteen inch mound, depending upon the size of the plant. This method is not always successful; be prepared to completely remove the plant if it does not recover. Hope this coming winter is less severe!

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