Dwarf Alberta Topknot

Asked September 30, 2019, 10:42 AM EDT

one of three dwarf albertas planted about four years ago has a brown “topknot” suddenly. Don’t notice any bugs, voles, etc. Sunny spot, well drained. What can we do? What should we look for? (it is the one on the far left in the picture of the three). Thanks!

Howard County Maryland

5 Responses

We think this looks like a type of root issue. The top dieback may be due to too much moisture, not enough moisture, drainage, etc.
Look at the area above the tree. Is there more rainfall coming from this area versus the other areas of deck or roof. Make sure there are no downspouts dumping water in the root zone.

We have had abnormal rainfall last season and this spring. If soils are saturated, there is less oxygen in the soil and the roots are affected. We also had a dry summer and this can affect the roots too. For some reason this tree may be weaker than the others.
Also, Dwarf Alberta spruce are native to Canada. They will not flourish in drought or high temperatures. The shrub looks like it declining as we see areas on the side that are browning too.

Follow good cultural recommendations. Check the drainage, water during dry periods. Wait and monitor the shrub for additional symptoms and/or decline. It is possible you may need to replace it in the future.


Thanks for such a quick response! No downspouts or dripline right there...actually fairly protected aside from direct rain. Trimmed the topknot out and will keep an eye on it, hoping for the best. Do you have suggestions for an evergreen replacement that might be more “native” to the Howard County area, direct sun most of the day, no taller than about 10-12 feet at maturity? Just in case

Root decline can also be the result of too little water. Roots will dry up and die in a drought. Keep in mind that dwarf Alberta spruce were found originally in Canada, and so do not prefer a baking hot site. You might want to water all these spruces during droughts (we're having, or hopefully just coming out of, a record-breaking one now.)

Inkberry is a nice native evergreen. There are various varieties available that come in a range of heights. No matter what you plant, water during droughts or when rain is less than 1" a week for at least the first 2 years.

In such a hot dry site, junipers do nicely and come in many shapes, colors and sizes.


thanks very much!