Pine tree dying?

Asked May 3, 2016, 12:46 PM EDT

I have four pine trees planted in a stand that have been there for about 4 years. They have been growing beautifully up until now. This spring I noticed that the largest pine is suffering. The lower part of the tree has turned brown and is dropping needles severely. The next largest has just one patch of this problem. The other two trees are younger and are showing excellent growth. My concern is that this may be the disease that is affecting my to older pine trees which are about 60 years old and are located on the other side of our property. Could this be winter burn or the disease that affected the older pine trees on our property? I would like to know if I could save these trees and if so, how do I do that? Thank you.

Wayne County Michigan

1 Response

These are not pine trees.

They are spruces...white spruces. The dead branches can be trimmed off the spruces. There are only dead branches; there are no brown needles to inspect for problems. Dead wood is just dead wood. There is no way of knowing why the lower needles died. It could be any one of a number of reasons.

Try some remedial care for these trees during this season and see if this stops or slows needle discoloration.

1. Trim off any branches with no live needles or evidence of new bud growth.

2. Mulch under the trees with three inches of woodchips or other organic mulch to stabilize soil temperatures, prevent top evaporation and control weeds. Leave the trunk dry and clean to the ground with a narrow opening between the trunk and the mulch. Bring mulch out as far as the branches extend.

3. Purchase an inexpensive rain gauge and put it in the vicinity of the trees. If you are getting under one inch of water a week, check the soil under the trees. If the top inch or two of soil (not mulch) is dry, water the trees all the way around them in a circle. Trees can only utilize water on the side which you put it; there is no plumbing inside the tree to send it anywhere else.

4. Consider getting a soil test to determine soil pH and nutrients needed. You want a soil pH of 6.0 or somewhat above. If the soil pH is hight, trees cannot access the nutrients that are in the soil. You can purchase a Soil Test Self Mailer at: for $25.

Winter burn would cause needles to brown, starting at the tips and is usually directional: like from the south. A small amount of winter burn was seen but nothing to this extent and it would have been more of the tree than just lower branches.

These trees are kind of young for Rhizosphaera Needlecast, a fungal disease of blue and white spruces. But you have NO needles to look for Rhizosphaera. That's the problem.