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Browned evergreens may still be alive

Robert Tigner
Chase County Extension

There seems to be a lot of browning of foliage on pines, firs and other evergreen trees this past winter. Don’t be in a hurry to cut down evergreen trees just because the needles browned this past winter. Give them until the last of May, at least, to see if they recover. Even though the foliage may be brown, the buds may be alive. Live buds form the new year’s growth and foliage. After a few years the old browned needles will be shed and the browning effects from last winter will not be noticeable.

Often the browning (winter drying) is the result of dessication of needles by warm, dry winds during the winter when water conduction is restricted by frozen plant tissues or frozen soils. Winter drying damage is often noticeable on the south and west side of trees. In severe cases the buds could be killed. If the tree hasn’t broken bud or if new growth isn’t obvious by late May, it may be dead or damaged enough to warrant removal.

The only exception is Scotch pine. If foliage on the entire Scotch pine tree turns completely brown over winter, it may be caused by pine wilt disease. Trees killed by pine wilt should be chipped, buried, or burned by the first of May to prevent emergence of the beetles that spread the disease to other trees.

Needle browning at other times of year may be indicative of a disease or insect problem. If you suspect disease or insect damage, take a sample to a local UNL Extension office for diagnosis.


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