Some pines, like Ponderosa and Scotch, drop needles growing on the lower branches. This is a normal sign of aging, and doesn't mean that the tree is dying. Other pine tree species also drop old needles, replacing them with new growth at the tip of the branches. Check your tree to see where the dropped needles are coming from. If 1/4 to 1/3 of the needles on the inner part of the branches are falling off, it's normal aging. However, if your pine is shedding new needles at the tips of the branches, it could be infected with a disease.
Brown-spot needle blight is a fungus that attacks 28 species of pine. The most obvious symptom is the appearance of spots on the needles. The most common spot is a straw-yellow spot that's 1/8 inch in diameter, but brown spots on an amber-yellow band are also possible. The tissue between the bands or spots usually remains green. In both cases, the spots have strongly defined margins, unlike spots caused by other needle diseases. Infected needles die from the tips back, until the entire needle is dead. Infected needles on Scottish pines are typically found on the lower branches. Although severe infections can kill branches, the buds usually remain healthy and produce new needles in the spring. New needles may also become infected. Brown spot can be treated chemically. Consult your local county extension for information about treatment; it varies, depending on the species of pine.
Needle Cast Disease
Needle cast disease can cause pine needles to turn yellow or brown from the bottom of the tree up. Although this fungus doesn't usually kill trees, they are weakened by it and so become more susceptible to other diseases and to insect attack. Over 40 species of fungi are responsible for needle cast, and fungi spores are spread by splashing rain and wind. Needles turning brown in late fall or early spring are a sign of this disease. Fungicides can be used to treat this disease, but the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension doesn't recommend it. Instead, they suggest that homeowners collect and destroy infected needles to reduce transmission.
Diplodia tip blight, also known as Sphaeropsis tip blight, usually infects trees that are at least 15 or 20 years old when they start producing cones. The diplodia fungus conlonizes the female cones, and release spores whenever it rains. These spores infect and kill young shoots, resulting in sprays of stunted and dead needles at the tips of lower branches. Although lower branches die first, most of the other branches will eventually be affected, and the entire tree can die. Diplodia spreads quickly in wet spring weather. A fungicide spray program can save even heavily infected trees, if repeated over several years.
An outward symptom of Dothistroma needle blight is the appearance of yellow-orange to brown bands around the needles. The bands can be water-soaked. The needles die and turn brown from the infection point to the tip. Infected needles drop from the tree, and heavy damage can occur in just 2 or 3 weeks after the disease first appears. Dothistroma starts on the lower branches and causes limb death. Austrian and Ponderosa pines are particularly susceptible to this fungus. Trees will usually respond to a fungicide spray program that's repeated over several years.
- Utah State University Forest Extension; My Pine Tree Is Losing Its Needles; Michael Kuhns
- North Dakota State University Extension Service Hortiscope: Questions on Evergreens; Ron Smith
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension; Common Diseases of Conifers in Oklahoma; Kenneth E. Conway, et. al.
- Iowa State University; Diplodia Tip Blight and Dothistroma Needle Blight; Mark Gleason; June 1994
- US Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service; Brown Spot Needle Blight of Pines; W. R. Phelps, et. al.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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