"Spring desiccation burn" refers to the brown areas that develop on gold leaf sections of some H. sieboldiana cultivars, as commonly seen on 'Frances Williams'. The non-yellow portions of the leaf are not affected. This is a genetic problem in which excess water collects in the leaf tissue during cold, rainy days in early spring. The plant cells die and turn white, and then eventually rusty brown.
Bill Meyer wrote,
"I don't know how the word 'burn' came to be associated with this, but it is caused by edema - too much water in the leaves on cold rainy days. On the rainy days it looks like it is water-soaked as cells are bursting in the leaves. The next day the water is gone, and a week or so later the dead cells start turning whitish, then tan, then brown. If you go out on a cold rainy day you'll see it in the leaves. It only happens in spring when the leaves are still soft. Ones that do better in a lot of shade may be getting less water from the rain being blocked."
Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done to prevent the browning caused by "spring desiccation burn". Some years will be better than others depending on the weather. The best alternative is to plant "non-burning" cultivars.
For further reading see the following:
Rodgers, Ray. "Spring Desiccation Burn." Newsletter of the Central Illinois Hosta Society,
posted by the Mississippi Valley Hosta Society,
Meyer, Bill. "Frances Williams 'burn'." Hallson Gardens Hosta Forum, Dec 12, 2007,
PlantsGalore.com. "Spring Desiccation Damage on Hostas."
Zilis, Mark R. "Spring Desiccation Burn ("Spring Burn")." Mark Zilis' Field Guide to Hostas.
Rochelle, IL: Q & Z Nursery, Inc., 2014. p. 363
'Emerald Ruff Cut'
'Exotic Frances Williams'
'May T. Watts'
'Old Gold Edge'
'Queen of Islip'
'Rosedale Lela Mae'
'Rosedale Moonshine Delight'
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