Pine trees are evergreen, so you don’t expect to see dead, brown needles. If you see dead needles on pine trees, take the time to figure out the cause. Start by noting the season and which part of the tree is affected. If you find dead needles on lower pine branches only, you are probably not looking at a normal needle shed. Read on for information about what it means when you have a pine tree with dead lower branches.
Dead Needles on Pine Trees
Although you planted pine trees to provide year-round color and texture in your backyard, pine needles don’t always stay a lovely green. Even the healthiest of pines lose their oldest needles every year. If you see dead needles on pine trees in the autumn, it may be nothing more than an annual needle drop. If you see dead needles at other times of the year, or dead needles on lower pine branches only, read on.
Lower Branches of Pine Tree Dying
If you have a pine tree with dead lower branches, it may look like a pine tree dying from the bottom up. Occasionally, this may be normal aging, but you have to consider other possibilities too. Not enough light – Pines need sunshine to flourish, and branches that don’t get sun exposure can die. Lower branches may have more trouble getting a share of sunlight than upper branches. If you see so many dead needles on lower pine branches that it looks like they are dying, it may be for lack of sunlight. Trimming nearby shade trees may help. Water stress – A pine tree dying from the bottom up might actually be a pine tree drying from the bottom up. Water stress in pines can cause needles to die. Lower branches may die from water stress in order to prolong the life of the rest of the tree. Prevent dead needles on lower pine branches by preventing water stress. Give your pines a drink during especially dry periods. It also helps to apply organic mulch over the root area of your pine to hold in moisture. Salt de-icer – If you de-ice your driveway with salt, this can also result in dead pine needles. Since the part of the pine closest to the salty ground are the lower branches, it can look like the pine tree is drying from the bottom up. Stop using salt for de-icing if this is a problem. It can kill your trees. Disease – If you see the lower branches of pine tree dying, your tree may have Sphaeropsis tip blight, a fungal disease, or some other kind of blight. Confirm this by looking for cankers at the base of new growth. As the pathogen attacks the pine tree, the branch tips die first, then the lower branches. You can help your pine with blight by clipping out diseased sections. Then spray a fungicide on the pine in springtime. Repeat the fungicide application until all of the new needles are fully grown.
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Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.
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