Dying Conifers

Asked May 9, 2020, 12:29 PM EDT

I have a 20 foot pine of some sort that over the last few years has had declining needles of about 45%. I have a 15 foot blue spruce that also may be losing health and both these trees are within 25 feet of each other. I have tried sowing some nitrogen underneath the large tree with no apparent success. Is there any thing to do that might bring these trees back to vigor?

Ingham County Michigan

5 Responses


Thank you for using the Ask an Expert Service. Sorry for the slightly slow response.

First off, I think that the tree that you are calling a pine is also a spruce. It looks to me, from the pictures, that the needles are attached singly to the stems, I THINK the branches look rough, and it looks like there are a few cones on the ground underneath the tree. You can help confirm by reviewing this article:

Pine, spruce or fir: Getting to know Michigan evergreen trees from MSU Extension

Here is an article to further understand spruce decline:

What is spruce decline and what should you do about it? from MSU Extension

To get an even better idea of what is going on with your trees, you might want to consider consulting an ISA-certified arborist. (ISA = International Society of Arboriculture) There are multiple issues that can cause needle drop on spruce. You can search for an ISA-certified arborist near you at https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist/arboristsearch .

You can also consult with the MSU Plant and Pest Diagnostic Services (pestid.msu.edu). Note modified operations. I think it would be best to send them some photos first and discuss the issue, before potentially sending in samples. If you send in a sample, make sure to send in some branch sections with needles in a range of states of health, i.e. with some needles that are browning or with black spots (if you find that) and some needles that look healthy. One basically cannot diagnose the true cause of an issue from a completely dead branch. Just a heads up.

If you are wondering if your trees are getting the proper amount of nutrients, you can consider doing a soil test in the area around the trees. Visit https://homesoiltest.msu.edu/ .

Please let me know if you have further questions!



Here is what another colleague said after looking at the 3 pictures of your conifers. Confirming the spruce ID:

"All blue spruces. Color can vary form powder blue to green, as in the second. Other common spruces are distinctive. White spruce is grey-green with much shorter needles. Norway is Kelly-green with orange stems, Serbian has up-turned branches with silvery underside to needles. More likely to confuse blue spruce with concolor fir than other spruces – concolor also has blue needles but longer needles and bushier, coarser overall appearance." My emphasis.

Thank You Irene. I didn't have any success confirming an arborist that I could hire to find my problem. Further advise on this would be much appreciated. Its really weird to me at least how so many of these branches have no needles within the tree but have new buds and growth on their tips so I can't wrap my head around why there are no growth at all for 3 feet. I really think an onsite investigation would be most fruitful but even any name from East Lansing wasn't found when googling. Thanks again


I don't know if you have checked here for an arborist. I would also recommend sending photos to pestid@msu.edu, MSU Plant and Pest Diagnostics.


If you go to the "treesaregood.org," ISA website that Angela and I mentioned, I found multiple arborists listed in East Lansing, Lansing, Mason and Dewitt that you might be able to contact. See attached screen shots.

Good luck!