I am growing Canaan Fir and Norway Spruce (planted spring 2019) from Plugs on...
I am growing Canaan Fir and Norway Spruce (planted spring 2019) from Plugs on a 200' X 300' square piece of property that is somewhat poorly drained and made up of clay soil. This plot was formerly used for agriculture (Soy & Corn) back in 2016 and earlier, now converted to use for trees. While a few trees are relatively healthy appearing and green, many are yellowish and failing to produce buds. I have turf grass planted in field which is mowed regularly during season. I do not control weeds chemically in this field. Greater than 50% of these trees (150) are yellowish. Is there a likely culprit for yellowish needles? Will poor drainage cause yellow needles? Should I have soil tested?
Medina County Ohio
We always recommend a soil test before planting a crop, especially a perennial crop where amending the soil after-the-fact can be difficult. You could also look at any soil testing results you have from when the field was in crop production as a starting point. Evergreens generally like a lower pH than other crops so that may play a part, for example.
I would also suggest having a foliar analysis done to determine if the plant is actually taking up necessary nutrients. Even if adequate nutrients are present in the soil, pH or root issues can prevent the tree from actually taking and utilizing the nutrients in the soil. Having both tests done simultaneously gives you a fuller picture of the situation.
With this in mind, it is best to do the soil test and the tissue test at the same time, with the same lab, so that the lab can do the work of comparing results for trends and give complete recommendations.
Spectrum Analytic Labs is one that can do both soil and tissue samples and compare.
Here is their website on plant sampling: https://www.spectrumanalytic.com/services/analysis/plants.html
And here is the plant submission form, be as detailed as possible:
Here is the soil submission form:
Here is an example of how the results will come back comparing the soil and plant test together: https://www.spectrumanalytic.com/services/analysis/samples/plant.pdf
They usually bill you after the test is complete with the results, cost is around $20 for soil and $50 for tissue, but do contact the lab to confirm pricing. I would recommend sending an entire seedling if you are willing to spare one, otherwise the website has instructions on how much to sample and how to mail it. It must be mailed overnight shipping so that it arrives fresh enough to sample for nutrients.
This will give you the most complete look at what the nutrients are in the soil, and how the plant is or is not using them. The lab will give you recommendations for correcting the issue if there is one, fertility for the soil, foliar sprays, etc.
If you are not ready to do the complete analysis, do still start with a soil test. In Medina County there are two locations you can take a soil sample in-person, or you can mail the soil off to a lab of your own choosing from a list of labs, whatever you are most comfortable with:
Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District will take soil at their office at 6090 Wedgewood Rd, Medina, OH 44256. Cost is about $18. They mail it off to a lab for you.
Spencer Feed and Supply Store at: 227 N Main St, Spencer, OH 44275 Cost may be a little less and with the added benefit of having the fertilizers and other supplies available there once the test comes back with recommendations.
Or you can choose a lab from the list found at the end of this factsheet and mail a sample from home. The factsheet also explains how to collect a good soil sample. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1132
On whatever sample submission form you use, please indicate what you are growing- as that will help the lab give you recommendations on any key nutrients needed for the plants.
Beyond soil and nutrients.... Most plants do not like consistently "wet feet". Saturated soils can deprive roots of oxygen or lead to root rot. That said, Canaans are said to be more tolerant to wet soils. From a Penn State Factsheet, "An important asset of Canaan fir is its ability to grow in areas not well suited to other native firs. It will tolerate wetter soils than Fraser fir and is more resistant to spring frost injury than either Fraser or balsam fir because of its tendency to break bud late. While Canaan fir will tolerate soils with less than perfect drainage, it performs best in deep, well-drained loam with ample moisture. Some sources indicate that Canaan fir grows well in wet, poorly drained soils. In my experience, the tree languishes under such conditions. Canaan fir thrives in cooler climates and can be successfully planted balled-and-burlapped or from a container in spring or fall. The primary pests of Canaan fir include balsam twig aphid, spider mites, balsam wooly adelgid, and deer." https://extension.psu.edu/species-canaan-fir-abies-balsamea-var-phanerolepis
I cannot tell from the photo whether any insect or pest is involved here but in general, mite damage will cause the needles to turn a bronze color and the needles will have a stippled appearance. The photo you sent looks to have a more even light green appearance so I'm not sure about mites yet. But definitely something to keep an eye out for ESPECIALLY if the trees are doing poorly- they will be more susceptible to secondary disease or pests damage.
Once you get the soil and or foliar tests back, you can either work with the labs results or contact the local extension office for more input on the results and next steps.
Feel free to follow up with additional questions.