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 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?!
  • The Tree Doctor July 14, 2017 >Hi Lucie! If the branches are still green, this may be a case of transplant shock. The good news, though, is that trees usually rebound. Be sure you are not overwatering the tree. You can learn the proper techniques of watering in our blog post, http://blog.davey.com/2016/07/how-much-water-does-my-tree-need-weekly/. Here if you have any other questions, Lucie.
  • Lucie Doyle July 11, 2017 >I have a small Norwegian spruce (about 2 ft). It was absolutely fine then after we moved house a couple of weeks ago I noticed the same day the tree going brown at the top. I thought it'd been damaged and cut away the dead stuff but it's spreading. I can see any damage or pest infestation, it just seems to be dying after being so healthy.
  • The Tree Doctor June 1, 2017 >Hi Scott. Thanks for reaching out to Davey for help with your Austrian pine. We'd never recommend topping a tree. Here's why: blog.davey.com/2016/10/what-is-tree-topping-and-why-topping-is-harmful-to-trees. From what you shared, it sounds like the next best step is to have an arborist inspect the tree in person. He'll let you know what can be done to help your tree. I've passed along your request to your local office, so they should be reaching out soon. If you'd rather, you can contact them at 262.395.7589 or connect online here: davey.com/local-offices/milwaukee-tree-service/#main-form. Talk more soon, Scott.
  • The Tree Doctor May 26, 2017 >Hi Brian. Oh no! Sorry to hear your pine trees aren't looking good. Could you please send a picture of your pine trees along with any other information about their overall health to blog@davey.com? The more information we have, the better answer we can provide. Thanks, Brian. Talk more soon!
  • The Tree Doctor May 26, 2017 >Hi George. Sorry to hear about the arborvitae fir in your yard. Without seeing your tree, we can't determine what went wrong. But as you guessed, there are many different environmental stresses (lack of sun, water, etc.) and diseases/fungi/insects that are known to kill these trees, like the seiridium canker. And, it always helps to plant the right tree in the right place, give it just the right amount of water and watch it for potential problems. Hope this sheds some light on your question, George.
  • George Hollis May 21, 2017 >The Arborvitae fir trees in our yard died. The turning of the needle leaf from rich green to a red orange eventually consumed the whole tree This started about January, 2017 and completed during April. Last September the same trees were dying in Honduras. Watching the European Golf Tournament in Italy on the Golf Channel we saw the same kind of trees dying. It seems to be occurring all over the world. What could be going on?
  • Scott Bednarke May 20, 2017 >My tree is probably 4 years old. Maybe 5 feet tall Austrian Pine. The top browned out. Should I cut it off? I am talking about the trunk here. What do you think?
  • Brian Ruff April 25, 2017 >Hello, I have a couple of pine trees (one maybe a ponderosa pine other some type of spruce). They are in our backyard and leads have turned yellow and appear dead. Other leads on the spruce treee have also turned yellow/died. Should I cut these off or treat with an insecticide? Thank you, Brian
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