Why your plants leaves have turned white – ‘environmental stresses’ that could be to blame

Homebase demonstrates how to create leaf mould

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Most plants can withstand mild weather conditions, and some will even thrive in a more extreme climate. While certain varieties are known to be frost or drought tolerant, there are plenty of garden flowers, trees, and shrubs that will show signs of environmental stress as the weather changes. White coloured leaves is just one sign of a damaged plant, but what is it that causes this common problem?

Why your plants leaves have turned white

Foliage can turn brown, or even appear white on some plants when it has been exposed to extreme heat.

The Japanese maple tree (acer) is particularly prone to this condition, which is known as leaf scorch.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), other cultivars with “heavily dissected foliage” are also more at risk of scorch, which occurs following “environmental stresses”.

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Leaf scorch can happen for several reasons, though the main cause is the rapid loss of water from the leaves.

When a plant loses water through the leaves at a faster rate than it can absorb moisture from the roots, it will quickly show up on the once glossy, green foliage.

Frost, strong winds and even human error such as under or over-watering can trigger leaf scorch, though the most common cause in summer is over-exposure to the sun.

According to the RHS, “salt-laden winds” found in coastal areas can also contribute to brown or white-looking leaves caused by scorch, which makes some gardeners more likely to experience it than others.

What does leaf scorch look like?

In most cases, the discolouration is more prominent around the tips and margins of leaves though it can also cause them to curl and shrivel.

The RHS warned that leaf scorch can cause entire leaves to become “crispy” and very lightweight, which makes them more likely to be knocked off the plant in a strong wind.

This common gardening problem often looks worse than it is, and is not widely known to cause severe or long-term damage to the plant.

While maple trees are most commonly affected, it should be noted that almost any plant – especially evergreens – can show signs of scorched leaves.

Can leaf scorch be prevented?

Depending on the weather, there are plenty of things that can be done to protect outdoor plants from leaf scorch.

For heat-induced scorch, the best preventative measures are focused on keeping plants out of direct sunlight.

To do this, you should avoid planting ‘at-risk’ plants in sites that are prone to drying out in the warm weather.

In addition, new plants that you do choose to add to your garden in the heat should be kept well-watered.

This is especially important for container plants which lose water more quickly.

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Other steps you can take to prevent leaf scorch in summer include:

Mulching around the base of trees to retain moisture

Mulching the surface of container plants with gravel or slate

Moving plants to a sheltered spot or first-free site ahead of extreme weather

Using wind-breaks in periods of very windy weather (stretch netting between canes)

Moving scorched plants to a sheltered area if they are grown in pots

Pruning at the right time of year to prevent “bleeding”

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