Fir turning brown

Asked June 28, 2019, 6:43 AM EDT

Why is my large fir tree suddenly having lots if brown “twigs” on it? It seems very pronounced this year. Also there are some with little white “berries” on them. Does this tree need a visit from an arborist? It is a wonderful bird habitat.

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1 Response

There are possibly multiple things going on. Leyland Cypress was the 'go to' landscape plant for many years for evergreen screening in yards. In recent years it has become evident that they look great for the first 10-15 years or so, and then start to decline. Very often we see them planted too closely together, which leads to competition for water and nutrients. As the trees mature, lack of sunlight to the interior of the tree leads to the decline of the inner branches.

Stressful conditions like cold winters or drought can make Leyland cypresses susceptible to different insect pests and diseases. Common problems include 'winter burn', which is a browning desiccation injury from drying winter winds. Much more serious are canker diseases and needle blight. The following two pages provide more information about these problems. No fungicides are effective for these diseases.

The "berries" you see are actually flowers. Leylands do flower occasionally. There is more information about that here.

Eventually, the brown branch tips will drop out. You can prune out dead areas to improve the appearance of the tree. Prune only to where there is green growth. (Do not cut into the wood with no foliage. It will not regrow.) Keep the tree well watered and mulched in times of drought. Avoid pruning when the tree is damp.

If you would like to have an arborist evaluate the tree, you can find a certified arborist near you by using the "find an arborist" search on this website from the International Society of Arboriculture.

Trees in decline and the trunks or "snags" left behind do make excellent bird habitat. You could certainly leave it to run its course and continue to enjoy the tree for this purpose.