Can a Brown Evergreen Ever Come Back?

Last Updated on September 17, 2021 by Grow with Bovees

The answer is yes, depending on the cause.

When an evergreen turns brown, it can be both surprising and disheartening. The good news is that a brown evergreen can come back green as soon as the following year, although it may need a little work to help it through the process.

First, let’s look at the potential causes.

What Causes an Evergreen to Die or Turn Brown?

There may be a few different reasons why evergreens turn brown. The good news is that not all of these reasons are indicative of disease or death within the tree.

One of the reasons that evergreens turn brown is because they do not receive an adequate amount of water during the late summer and fall months.

When evergreens do not get enough water during these months, and you start to see evergreen brown needles, the cold winter often “seals the deal” for evergreens to turn brown.

When the ground freezes during the winter months, the ground dries out, and water does not reach the roots of the evergreen. This causes the evergreen to turn brown and lose its lush green color.

This problem can be somewhat avoided by using a spray which protects the plant from losing moisture through its leaves and needles. It is an organic polymer containing only carbon and hydrogen, and does not harm trees or plants at all. It can be used on many different garden plants to help protect them from winter stress. It’s also very good for Christmas trees!

Sometimes animals can also cause evergreens to turn brown by eating low-lying branches and rubbing the bark of the trunk. This can cause the evergreen to turn brown by losing nutrients and hydration when they are damaged by the animals.

Root rot is the most serious reason why your evergreen may be turning brown. Root rot is when a fungus has entered the roots and caused the roots to become diseased. The disease then spreads throughout the trunk and branches of the tree.

To determine if your evergreen is turning brown due to root rot, you can remove some of the bark on the branches or trunk of the tree. If the wood is soft, you likely have root rot, which is causing the evergreen to turn brown.

The last reason your evergreen has turned brown is because of rust. Rust is another fungal disease that can infect the entire tree. To determine if your evergreen is suffering from rust, you will need to look at the needles of the tree. If the needles of the evergreen have powdery spores, your evergreen has rust. Fortunately, these needles can be pruned to salvage the tree.

Why Is My Arborvitae Turning Brown?

Arborvitae turning brown can be due to either too much or too little moisture at the root zone, or incorrect pH of the soil the tree is planted in.

Either of the water problems should be quite easy to confirm, and you can test the pH quite simply with a soil testing kit or a pH meter, and adjust the acidity as necessary.

Check the trunk for accidental damage that can be caused by weed trimmer line or from lawn mowers, take care when using these tools around your arborvitae, as they can quickly cause unnecessary damage.

Take care to use the correct fertilizer for arborvitaes, they don’t like products such as Holly Tone, which is for more acid loving plants, they prefer a more neutral fertilizer.

If the tree doesn’t show signs of new growth in spring time, if it is completely brown, then you may have to consider removing the dead tree.

How To Save Brown Arborvitae Trees in Summer

The most common cause of browning in summer is lack of water, sometimes coupled with lack of oxygen within the growth itself.

Strong winds will have a drying effect, so bear this in mind if you live in a windy region. You should cut back the arborvitae branches that are dead, to open up the interior to more light and oxygen.

Give the root zone plenty of water. You might want to consider using a drip irrigation system instead of sprinklers, especially when planting new trees.

Turning a Brown Evergreen Green Again

The good news is that your brown evergreen will not stay brown forever. As long as there is a little life left in the tree, it can be green again.

Don’t mistake brown needless for a dead tree. Brown needles can appear after a cold, dry winter that was preceded by a dry summer. These two factors combine to cause the evergreen to become dehydrated. A dehydrated evergreen will turn brown because there is not enough water in the roots to create lush green needles.

Brown needles on a healthy tree do not need to be pruned. Although brown needles look like they should be dead, they are not. The branch of the needles will be very alive and, therefore, do not need to be pruned.

Cutting these branches under the impression that they are dead will cause your evergreen tree to become thin. Instead, leave the branches with brown needles in place so that the green needles will come back next year. The green needles will grow on top of the brown needles, which is why the branches do not need to be cut.

Green needles will begin to grow on their own as early as the following year; however, there are things you can do along the way to help the process.

How to Save an Evergreen Tree From Dying

1. Cut Branch Tips That are Still Brown

Once the green needles have begun coming through the next year, you will want to cut away any of the brown branch tips that still remain. Cutting off these brown branch tips will allow new buds to grow quicker and fuller the following year. A sturdy bypass pruner would be a suitable tool for this exercise.

2. Plan to Prevent

Prevention is one of the best practices you can put into place to keep your evergreen from turning brown. Even though healthy evergreens can turn brown naturally due to lack of water or a cold, dry winter, you can prevent this from happening with just a little bit of work.

Each fall, you will want to water the evergreen more than normal. The evergreen will store the extra water to use throughout the winter. This will keep the evergreen from turning brown in the winter months when the ground is frozen, and water is scarce.

3. Water New Growth

New growth can come in as brown if the tree has used the water supply from the winter to hydrate the already present growth on the evergreen. This is known as spring dryness. If you see that new growth is coming in brown, you should immediately start to water the evergreen. We recommend watering the evergreen with about 1 inch of water each week. Do this until the brown needles begin to turn green.

How to Stop Evergreens From Turning Brown

Preventing your evergreen from turning brown is not the same as maintaining or recovering your evergreen.


Actively taking steps each year to keep your evergreen green is prevention. Prevention should be done each year to ensure that the evergreen does not turn brown, to begin with. Prevention means that you will sufficiently water the evergreen each fall before the winter begins.

As soon the weather turns cold and the ground freezes, the evergreen will not be able to absorb water as it does during the warmer months. Prevention is ineffective at this point as the ground will be too cold for the evergreen to absorb any sufficient amount of water to keep the needles from turning brown. Therefore, if you are trying to prevent the evergreen needles from turning brown, you will need to do this in fall.


Your evergreen tree will only need to be maintained by correctively pruning the damaged, diseased, or dead branches in the tree. Branches that have become damaged, diseased, or have died will need to be pruned so that a new leader of the branch can be established.

Evergreen leaders are important because they create strong branches that will flourish and produce fuller and greener needles. If you notice you have more than one leader, you should cut the least dominant one. Dominant leaders will create full, green needles.


When the needles of the evergreen have turned brown, you will need to recover the tree. Recovery is easy if you know what to look for and when to do it.

First, determine if the needles are brown due to disease or dehydration.

The two most common types of diseases that cause evergreens to turn brown are root rot and rust. Root rot occurs when a fungus gets into the root system and travels throughout the tree. Root rot causes the wood of the tree to soften and weaken.

If you have root rot, don’t panic. Root rot is often caused by too much water and not enough draining, so make sure not to water your evergreen for a few days to let the soil dry out.

Touch the soil surrounding the root of the evergreen. If it is damp to the touch, it is still too wet. You will need it to be completely dry before restoring the roots.

Once the soil has dried, you can use a liquid fungicide to get rid of the root rot fungus. Once the fungicide has been applied, you should add mulch to the base of your evergreen. Typically, about 2 to 4 inches of mulching materials will do the trick.

When you water a plant or tree, the water can evaporate quickly before it is absorbed into the roots and dispersed throughout the tree. This makes the tree look like it did not get a proper amount of water, causing you to add more water. This over-saturates the roots because too much water has been added in a short amount of time.

By applying this product, you will reduce the amount of water that is lost due to evaporation.

Adding mulching materials to the base of the evergreen will keep an adequate amount of water in the soil and prevent evaporation. This will prevent the evergreen from being over-saturated and, thus, prevent root rot from growing.

What’s more, adding mulching materials will keep you from having to water your evergreen as often, which will also reduce the risk of root rot and over-saturation.

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