Every autumn, gardeners see brown needles form in often startling numbers on their pine trees. This is especially true of certain species such as Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). There first reaction is something like, "What the heck is happening to my pine! Is it dying?"

The good news is that the answer is usually a resounding, "No! Your tree is not dying."

Although they are called evergreens, the fact is that the needles on these plants only last a certain length of time. Then, they turn brown and drop off the plant to be replaced by new foliage. The number of years the needles last varies from species to species. Some take 8 to 10 years to replace all their needles while some like the white pine take only about 3 years.

That means that for these trees, some years what appears to be a very large number of needles turn brown and drop. This happens most intensely in the fall just as the leaves of deciduous trees start to drop too.

The key to determining if your tree is in trouble or if it is just going through the normal dropping of old needles is the location of the needles that are affected.

If the needles at the tips of the branches are still green, flexible and look good and the brown needles are closer to the trunk...it is just needle drop. The older needles are always the ones in closer to the trunk. Also, they will just be a uniform brown in color with no telltale orange rings or spots which would indicate a fungal infection.

If the needles at the tips of the branches are brown...it is a problem. Disease, droughts and other stresses tend to hit those at the tips of the branches first.

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.

 

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