Monday, October 20, 2014

Interior Browning and Fall Needle Drop on Conifers (Evergreens)

Do you have any conifers (evergreens) in your yard?  How about around the neighborhood?  Do the interiors of the tree seem to be dying?  Don't worry-chances are it is just Seasonal or Fall Needle Drop.  This is a common occurrence in conifers and is a normal part of the life of a tree.  Most people assume that conifers maintain their needles forever but this is not true-they are shed after a period of time.  Different conifers hold their needles for different amounts of time such as Pines (Pinus spp.) can hold their needles between 2-5 years, and Spruces (Picea spp.) can hold their needles for up to seven years. When Fall needle drop happens to conifers-especially White Pine (Pinus strobus) it is very noticeable and scary for homeowners.  Here is a picture of what my white pines look like when they start to loose their needles:

Pinus strobus fall needle drop

Drought, root injury, herbicide damage and environmental stress can make this occurrence seem more pronounced as well as White Pines that are mature-which can lose half of their needles every Fall.  As I said all conifers lose their needles at some time-here are some pics of other conifers in my gardens that are experiencing Fall needle drop:
Arborvitae experiencing Fall needle drop
Chamaecyparis obtusa experiencing Fall needle drop
Picea abies "Pendula" experiencing Fall needle drop
Thuja nigra experiencing Fall needle drop

Notice in the pictures how the browning affects only the interior part of the plant?  This is entirely normal.  Below is a picture of a plant that has browning on the tips (where there should be new growth) and quite a bit of the interior.  This is not normal Fall needle drop but instead it is damage caused from cold last winter:
Chamaecyparis browning not related to fall needle drop
Early yellowing of needles or entire branches browning and dying are not normal and can be indicative of insects, damage or disease.  In cases like that or if you have other concerns I suggest you contact you local county extension office.  They are very helpful and can help diagnose any issues you may have with your conifers. 

So what can or should you do?  Well, you don't really need to do anything.  Personally, I clean up the interiors of my conifers-at least the ones that are shorter.  I think removing the dead foliage helps to cut down on insects and disease by keeping the interior free of debris. Those needles can really build up in denser conifers such as Arborvitae and Thuja.  I also rake up the needles and use them as mulch for my gardens.  They work great and decompose more slowly than leaves.

I hope this post was useful and just remember that Fall needle drop is a natural occurrence in conifers and not to worry.  If you are still concerned contact your local county extension office or a certified arborist and seek advice.  It never hurts to ask questions or get help!

Until next time-Happy Planting!


  1. Would late Spring (now, 6/12/17) be considered "...Early yellowing of needles..."? We live in the Northeast, had a very long winter and wet Spring, and our pine tree has yellowing needles similar to your 1st and 4th images, above. Any help much appreciated. Thank you! -Lisa