What to Do When Evergreen Trees Are Dying from Top Down

What to Do When Evergreen Trees Are Dying from Top Down

If you were admiring your evergreen and noticed brown, dead needles at the top, something is probably wrong. That isn't normal and could be a serious problem.

Plus, a pine or spruce tree donning a brown crown is no pretty picture. But does it mean the tree is dying from the top down? Or is the tree just in need of some TLC?

Read on to find out why your pine or spruce is browning and what you can do to save it.


How to Fix Pines, Spruces and Evergreens Turning Brown from the Top Down

1) Harsh Winter Wind

Problem: Frigid winter weather poses a threat to pine and spruce trees, particularly their treetops. The crown is an easy target for harsh wind or sunscald, turning needles brown or purple at the end of winter or beginning of spring.

How to Fix: Avoid winter injury by treating trees with an anti-desiccant spray in fall. Also, keep trees well watered throughout the year. A tree with too much or too little hydration gets stressed out and is more susceptible to damage.

2) A Pest or Disease

Problem: A number of pests and diseases can cause a pine or spruce treetop to turn brown. Let’s break down a few of the usual suspects:

  • White pine weevils lay their eggs on a tree’s main branches in spring. By early-to-mid fall, the hatched beetles start feeding on tree stems, cutting off their water flow.
  • Bark beetles leave a yellow-to-brownish tint on tree crowns. You’ll also find sawdust on the bark and base of the tree. They primarily target older or weakened trees.
  • One of the few needle diseases that attacks from the top down is pine wilt disease. Small worms called nematodes invade trees and quickly cause severe damage.

How to Fix: Inspect your tree for debris or insect remnants that can point to an infestation. Once you’ve identified symptoms beyond browning needles, call in an arborist for a free consultation. In many cases, using an insecticide or pruning away infected branches will get your tree back in shape.

If you’ve seen any of these symptoms, ask your Davey tree doctor how you can help your tree!

  • The Tree Doctor September 11, 2017 >Hi Joan. This sounds like it could be white pine weevil or a bag worm infestation. But, to be sure, we would recommend having a professional come out to your property to diagnose the issue. Hope this helps, Joan.
  • Joan Judd September 11, 2017 >My small blue spruces all trying brown on top. I trimmed the dead off but it still seams to be a problem. Can you help me?
  • The Tree Doctor August 29, 2017 >Hi John! From the information you provided, it sounds like this could be a Southern Pine Beetle infestation. But unfortunately without close-up photos or additional information, we can’t know for sure. You can send photos to blog@davey. In the meantime, you may find this article helpful, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev2_042840.pdf. Here if you have any other questions, John.
  • John Cassell August 27, 2017 >I have at least nine 30 ft. and higher pines in my yard. I have two in the back yard that appear to be dying in the top. All of the needles are brown. What can I do to help them survive? Thank you for your help in advance.
  • The Tree Doctor August 25, 2017 >Hi Ronald. Oh no! Let’s try to figure out what’s going on. From the symptoms you described, it could be a number of different diseases including Diplodia Tip Blight, Phomopsis Canker or possibly an insect infestation. Hope this helps, Ronald. Here if you have any other questions.
  • The Tree Doctor August 24, 2017 >Hi Darin! We would be happy to come to your property for a consultation! I have passed along your request to your local office to set up a free consultation, so they should be reaching out soon. Or if you’d prefer, you can contact them at 866.355.8093 or daveytree.ca/local-offices/east-toronto-tree-service/. Here if you have any other questions, Darin.
  • Darin Pilon August 24, 2017 >I would like if someone could pay a visit to my house to inspect my evergreen hedge that I have. I am noticing some unusual brown spots around the top, and would like to see if there is a treatment required to avoid this so I don't end up losing the bush all together. Regards Darin Pilon Scarborough, Ontario
  • Ronald Hartman August 23, 2017 >According to a tree man, two of my Douglas Fir evergreens are infected with a virus and will need a chemical medicate injection in order to slow up the process of the top of the tree withering away, the needles are brown, the ends of the branches have a Shepard hook appearance. Is there any other type of medication that a homeowner can apply? Your opinion will be appreciated. R. Hartman
  • The Tree Doctor August 15, 2017 >Hi Connie! Oh no! Let’s figure out what is going on with your evergreens. First, do you know what kind of evergreens you have? From your description, it sounds like they are blue spruce and may have Rhizosphaera needle cast, a fungal disease that will cause the spruce to lose its needles from the bottom up. To make the best recommendation, please send us photos of your tree to blog@davey.com. Here if you have any other questions, Connie.
  • Connie Cervantes August 14, 2017 >I have 3 giant evergreens in my yard. 2 of which look like they are dying. About 1/2 way up each tree is brown. I see no sap or insects around or on the trees. I will be trimming all the bottom branches off where the brown is at the most. When is the best time to do this? Any hope of my use to be beautiful trees to survive? I had Tru Green come today to spray all my trees and shrubs, and the lady spraying told me that my trees are dead. Is that true? No hope?!
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