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Why are the needles on my spruce tree turning brown and dropping?

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In the fall, evergreen trees will shed their inner-most needles.  This may look alarming, but it is a natural process.  Those inner needles have become shaded out and are no longer a productive part of the tree.  If you are seeing more than just the inner needles dropping, or there is a larger than normal amount of shedding, another issue may be at hand.

In Utah, there are very few infectious diseases that will attack spruce.  The climate is so arid that most conifers do not naturally grow here.  When we plant evergreens such as spruce outside their native habitat, they may not be able to adapt.  A lack of water, heat, and soil conditions are the most likely causes of needle browning and drop.  Conversely, too much water can also cause chlorosis (yellowing) and needle drop.  Both drought and over-watering can kill the tree’s feeder roots, which in turn results in a loss of foliage. 

To keep your spruce healthy, proper watering is imperative.  Provide deep watering at long intervals throughout the summer (every two weeks) rather than shallow watering at short intervals.  In particular, provide a good watering before the ground freezes and again in winter if it thaws and dries out.  Remove sod from the base of the tree out to the branch edge, and cover the area with mulch.

Posted on 22 Feb 2007

Marion Murray
Intergrated Pest Management Project Leader

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