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Dealing with browning evergreens

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[SEPT. 30, 2004]  URBANA -- From early September into late October, many needle evergreens develop yellow needles that soon turn to brown on the branches closest to the trunk, possibly alarming the tree's owner, said James Schuster, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator based in Cook County.

"The browning needles are the oldest needles on the branches," he said. "The yellowing brown needles are dying or dead. This is a normal process that happens every year."

Many homeowners think their pine, spruce, fir, juniper or arborvitae is dying when they see the discolored needles for the first time. In most years, the older needles die and fall off all summer long, so their death is not noticed. However, in some years, the needles all die about the same time.

"When this happens, the dramatic yellowing-browning of the inner needles often causes a panic feeling in the homeowner," said Schuster. "Pines are more noted for periodically holding their needles and having the older needles die as a group.

"In addition, the effect of the needles all turning color and falling off in a short period of time is more noticeable on pines than on most other needle evergreens. Of the pines, the white pine does this more often and is the most noticeable."

 

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Schuster said that as long as the older needles are dying (the inner ones), there is nothing to worry about.

"However, if the needles on the branch tips are turning yellow and then brown, there is a serious problem," he warned. "No matter what time of the year it is, current-year needles should not discolor. They should remain green. If the current year's needles are dying, there may be an insect or disease problem."

He recommended that tree owners check http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/hort/ at the "Hort Corner" for information on needle evergreen diseases and insects. This website has many more gardening sections that most gardeners will find useful. There are also several interactive horticulture programs for children.

[University of Illinois news release]

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