Video: Treating Drought Stress In Boxwood Shrubs

This time of year can be hard on young boxwood plants, so keep moisture top of mind and heed the following signs if your plants look stressed.

Fall temperature and precipitation changes make it tricky to keep everything hydrated and not drowning. Summer’s stable heat and lack of precipitation remind gardeners to water daily. However, in the fall temperatures drop and rain increases—it makes it easy to lose track of your plants hydration levels, especially before your boxwood reaches a more drought-tolerant level (around 18 months old).

Very quickly drought stress can appear on your boxwood plants. Read on for symptoms and solutions for drought stress.

Freezes and frosts dry a plant out quickly and unexpectedly. They attack the plant’s root system, which can be unable to replenish itself through photosynthesis. Boxwoods planted in full sun and unprotected from winds will die quickly.

Drought stress first appears as orange or bronze foliage. In severe cases foliage will turn a dead, wheat color, which is the same for all evergreens. 

Is It Fungal?

Looking at the plants, you may be concerned about a fungal disease, which can also turn foliage similar colors. You can certainly have samples sent to labs for proper diagnosis, but a few key indicators are:

  • The pattern of symptoms. If the discoloration is random, it tends toward fungus. If it is uniformly patterned all over the boxwood, drought stress is more likely. 
  • Has the plant lost leaves? Loss of  foliage is usually more fungal, while still-attached foliage is an indicator of drought stress. Any stress, however, can make the plant lose its leaves. 
  • Browning pattern. If the leaves have brown in the center of the leaf or more evenly throughout, it is likely a drought issue. If there are spots over all the leaves, a number of fungi conditions could be present.

What to Do If You Suspect Drought Stress?

First, lighten the load. Any new offshoots will steal energy from the plant recovering, so prune and shape up the plant so it has less coverage to maintain. Anything that looks really dead needs to go.

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Next, you want to fertilize. If it is Spring or Fall in your area, now is a good time to give the plant fertilizer. Make sure to pull back any mulch you have close to the area. Remember, boxwoods have wide, shallow root systems and can be damaged by over-fertilization. Apply fertilizer throughout the root zone, extending beyond the crown of the plant. Keep fertilizer from coming into direct contact with foliage, trunks, and roots.

Then you want to mulch. This will help retain waterings. Make sure there to put down about 2-3 inches of mulch. 

Finally, test your soil. Boxwoods prefer a neutral soil pH (6.2-7.5) and require adequate drainage, with ample amounts of organic matter.

Boxwoods are hardy shrubs and can bounce back. Stay on top of nursing them back, and keep an  eye out for any symptoms of fungal infections that may creep up while the plant is stressed. 

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