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!

  • Ted Salkowski April 2, 2018 >Have a coast redwood tree growing from sapling about 15' tall. Brown needles from bottom to halfway up on side facing sun. What can I do to help it go back to green?
  • The Tree Doctor February 28, 2018 >Hi there, Butch. Based on your description, it could be a canker that developed on the upper trunk of the tree, causing the upper few feet of the tree to brown and die. If this is the case, the top can often be removed. There are other diseases that can also cause the upper crown to decline. The best option is the have a Certified Arborist evaluate your tree for a proper diagnosis. Hope this helps, Butch.
  • Butch Cruz February 27, 2018 >I have a blue cypress 50 feet high 20 years old but the top is turning brown. What should I do? Is it dying?
  • 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
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