Balsam fir is turning white and then brown in spots

Asked January 12, 2020, 6:28 PM EST

Hi, I have what I believe is a Balsam fir that is starting to turn brown in one or 2 areas. I noticed in Dec the area was white at first and then it just turned brown. I now see another area that is now turning white. I attached a photo, it's hard to see. This year and last year I picked a bunch of bag worms (you can see a couple of them still attached) off of it during the summer. I was able to get most of them off before they could do any damage. It was a live xmas tree we planted about 10 years ago. Any ideas what it could be? Thanks!

Washington County Maryland

3 Responses

The tree looks like a blue spruce. There may be several reasons for decline such as a root problem - planted too deep, poor drainage, drought, etc. When stressed they can be subject to a needle cast disease for which there is no control.

Here is some information. This past season we have received many questions on decline of blue spruce. In general, they are not really well suited for our area as they are native to climates further to the north. Blue spruce are susceptible to fungal diseases when stressed due to poor site conditions, drought, etc. such as
Cytospora canker
and Rhizosphaeria needlecast.

For the above diseases all you can do is prune bare branches during dry weather and keep the trees well watered during dry periods. No fungicides are recommended. Also, here is our blog post on blue spruce

Eventually the tree will need to be removed.


Hi, Thanks for the reply. I don't think it's a blue spruce (Picea). I found my woody plant key, the needles are flat and 1.5 - 1.75 inches. Maybe Abies balsamea, leaves dark green and glossy above and pale below. We have several blue spruces and their needles are 4 sided and very sharp-pointed and more blue looking that this one. The needles are turning white first and then they turn brown and die. It's up on the tree in one area, not the lower branches like cytospora. Do you think it's a similar disease?
I added a couple more photos. The one has a blue spruce on the right and the diseased one on the left. The close up photo of the 2 branches are blue spruce on the left and the diseased one on the right. Also a close up.

Sorry for the delay in our response to you. Our plant pathologist was out of the office last week attending a conference and we wanted to share your new photos with him.

Your new photos show a type of fir. The fir is not native to our area and they can have several issues. Some possibilities may be a type of root issue, the tree may have been planted too deeply, trunk damage, environmental (weather related), etc. We cannot say for sure. These are abiotic issues and not insect or disease related.
For more information and to check for disease you can send in some samples to the Plant Diagnostic Lab at the U of Md.

To do this, we recommend a site visit by Annette Cormany, Master Gardener Coordinator in Washington County,, 301 791-1604.
She can offer more information and take samples. The samples should be sent to Dr. Karen Rane at the Plant Diagnostic Lab. Here is the form to fill out to send with the samples.