How to Revive Dying Conifer

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Conifer trees are among some of the most beautiful and easily recognizable trees in the world. Having conifer trees on your property adds a classic touch of greenery to your house. But what happens when those trademark forest greens begin to turn, and your conifer appears to be dying? Worry not- we’ll be going over specific reasons why your conifer is dying and ways to revive dying conifer.

Conifer Trees: Scientific Info

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The term “conifer” is an umbrella term that covers most evergreen trees. Conifers grow needles instead of the typical leaves you would expect from other standard trees. In addition, they grow pine cones instead of flowers. These pine cones house the seeds used to grow future generations of conifers.

Conifers are native to regions where the winters are longer, and the summers are shorter. Conifers span a wide range throughout the entire world. However, they are most prominent in the Northern Hemisphere.

Now that we’ve become briefly acquainted with conifers, we can start breaking down the different ailments that affect them.

Help! My Conifer is Turning Brown

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Brown needles are always a very concerning sign in your conifer tree. Believe it or not, trees can feel stress just like humans can. Unfortunately, you’re not at your best when dealing with stress, and neither is your conifer tree. Pressure can come from many different angles, including disease, disrupted climate, and improper care. Let’s look at some of the reasons your conifer is stressed.

Diseases

Needlecast is one of the most common diseases that affect conifer trees. Luckily, the signs of needlecast are pronounced so that you can act quickly. However, if left untreated, needlecast can spread to other nearby conifers. Symptoms of needlecast include:

  • Needles that are browning or becoming dull in color.
  • Excessive loss of needles.
  • Dieback (when the tree begins dying at the tip of its needles and moving towards the inside of the tree).

You can treat needlecast by cutting away any dead or damaged tree parts. Once the diseased areas are removed, dispose of your cuttings by burning them. Under no circumstances should you compost these branches. Next, apply a fungicide to the tree to help prevent further infection. Moving forward, water the affected conifer(s) deeply to help mitigate the effects of stress and assist your plant with recovery.

Rusts come from a fungus that, when opened, attack your conifers with its rusty-colored spores. These spores can be easily identifiable by their bright orange or rusty colored powder that coats the foliage of your conifer. You may notice brightly colored swellings on branches as well.

You can treat rusts by cutting off any afflicted areas of the tree. Then, just like with needlecast, you should immediately burn any infected branches you’ve cut from the main tree; do not add to a compost pile. Burning the affected branches ensures that you’re killing the fungus and mitigating the risk of spreading it to other unsuspecting trees. After pruning away any signs of infection, apply a fungicide to your tree. Finally, water your tree deeply once a week, that way, you can alleviate the stress that your conifer is undergoing.

Environmental Stressors

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Drought is a stressor that affects many plants, especially conifer trees. When your conifer suffers from drought, it attacks the roots and can cause damage and/or death. A drought tree also makes your conifer a target for other diseases.

Your conifer might be suffering from drought if it starts to droop, wilt, or yellow. Other symptoms include needles dropping, cracks in the tree bark, dieback, and thinning. Unfortunately, it can take a couple of years before the symptoms become apparent to the tree owner; a conifer can live with drought before displaying any of these alarming symptoms.

Once drought has set in, it is impossible to cure your tree completely; but the symptoms can be treated. First and foremost, prune away all dead or damaged branches or needles. Then, once a week, water your conifer tree deeply. Giving your tree a deep watering will allow the water to permeate about 12 to 15 inches below the surface. Deep watering encourages root growth to stretch further under the soil, mitigating future drought.

Spreading mulch around the area is extremely helpful in that it helps water retention and discourages evaporation, keeping the water in the soil longer.

Abnormal temperatures can occur anytime during the year, causing a stressor known as winter injury. An extremely cold winter, a random freeze in the springtime, blazing heat in the fall are ways conifer trees can become victims to winter injury. Unfortunately, we cannot control the weather when it goes a little haywire, but we can manage the damaging effects on our conifer trees.

Signs of winter injury include but are not limited to dieback, loss of needles, browning, and splitting bark. While it hurts to see your conifers be affected by weather beyond our control, we can take treatment into our hands and nurse our conifers. Regrettably, there is no hard cure to reverse the effects of winter injury, but proper treatment can fortify your conifer and reduce damaging effects.

Pruning any areas of the tree that appear dead or damaged is the first step in treating winter injury. Cutting back any weakened spots of the tree is also helpful in preventing possible fungus or infections. You should water your conifer deeply once a week as with any conifer treatment. If your conifer can be wrapped, wrapping it in burlap can help shield your tree from extremely frigid temperatures.

How to Revive Dying Conifer

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Now that we’ve tackled some of the most common causes of dying conifers, let’s take a look at some helpful tips to make your conifer feel its best:

Try to avoid light watering. When you lightly spray water on the surface of the soil, you’re just encouraging the tree’s roots to grow closer towards the surface of the ground. When roots grow close to the surface, they dry out much easier, therefore putting your tree at a higher risk of drought stress.

Doing a pH test on your soil and adjusting the pH levels can benefit your trees in many ways. I would recommend researching which specific variety of conifer you own and checking to see that specific variety’s soil preferences. You can lower a pH level with aluminum sulfate and heighten a pH with limestone.

If you’re fertilizing your trees, only do so during the spring and early summer.

Mulching not only helps retain water in the soil (as previously mentioned), but it is also helpful in the winter by keeping the soil a touch warmer.

Taking these small tips into consideration can significantly impact the future of your conifer trees. While this might seem high-maintenance to some gardeners, I would argue that sometimes you have to put in the effort to have flawless greenery. If you don’t give your conifers a little love, the consequences are a dead conifer; and no one wants that!

In Conclusion

I know it might seem scary if it seems like your conifer tree is dying, but there’s no need to worry. Do not be alarmed if you find that your conifer is suffering from an unknown disease or stressor! The greatest tool a gardener can have in their kit is knowledge. By staying alert and being well-educated on your plants, you exponentially reduce the risk of having to dispose of a deceased conifer. I truly hope this article has shed some light on conifers and how to save a tree in need!


Works Cited

“Coniferous Forest.” NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/biome/bioconiferous.php

Emory Eckenwalder, James. “Conifer.” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/plant/conifer

Feely, Tivon. “Pine, Fir, or Spruce Tree?” Iowa State University. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/2005/nov/061401.htm

“How to Save a Dying Evergreen Tree.” The Tree Care Guide. https://www.thetreecareguide.com/how-to-save-dying-evergreen/

“Why are my Evergreens Brown? | From the Ground Up.” Youtube, uploaded by UWyoExtension. May 4, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbNJMpz7oJs

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