Why Is My Pine Tree Turning Brown and Losing Needles

Last Updated on January 13, 2022 by Grow with Bovees

Planting pine trees in your yard offers myriad benefits including shade, screening and windbreaks. Some underrated perks of pine trees is the soothing sounds through its branches, and aromatic fragrances from leaves and sap.

Pines are known as conifer trees—meaning plants that have cones, and are regarded as evergreen trees, so they don’t shed their leaves, but stay green year-round. The leaves of a pine tree are not like the leaves you’d find on most types of other trees, but are needles instead.

These needles do the same job as broad leaves do, that is capture sunlight, inhale carbon dioxide, exhale oxygen, and have a thick waxy coating called cutin that retains more water than traditional leaves.

Pines stay green all year long, because of their green needles that are working overtime to make food aka photosynthesis.

Just like all tree leaves, needles on pines contain chlorophyll—a green pigment that captures light energy to give them their green color.

But while most trees stop photosynthesis in the colder months, pine trees continue to photosynthesize. But trees also need nutrients from the soil to help them grow, which aren’t available in colder months.

Pines trees however are good at storing water in their needles, and nutrients to use them during the winter months to stay healthy and green. So, if your pine tree is turning brown and losing needles, it may be a sign of an underlying issue.

Why Do Pine Trees Turn Brown?

There are several reasons for pine tree browning, where some can be stopped, and others result in death.

Environmental Causes Of Brown Needles

Pine trees can survive a fair bit of inclement weather, but may brown in response to heavy rain or extreme drought.

One of the common reasons for pine tree browning is its inability to gain enough water to keep its needles alive.

When it’s exposed to wet conditions, but drainage is poor, they may experience root rot—a disease that attacks the roots of trees and plants growing in wet soil.

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When affected by root rot, pines generally begin to die from the inside out, hence the branch tips die first, then the lower branches.

At this stage, you still have a chance of saving the pine tree by giving it a deep watering, so that the moisture penetrates the root zone.

For pine trees that are turning brown in winter, you should continue to keep the soil moist throughout the cold season, especially during dry periods to greatly reduce the chances of severe damage from cold and wind.

However, brown pine needles will never turn green, and watering them is just a way of saving the branches from being cut.

If you prune living brown pine tree branches, thinking that they’re dead, will cause the structure of the tree to become thin.

Pine Needle Disease

Many trees of the Pinaceae family are susceptible to several types of fungus and diseases, which cause them to turn brown at the top, and center.

Also referred to as “fall yellower”, Cyclaneusma needlecast is a fungal disease that affects certain species of pines including Scots Pine, Austrian pine, White Pine and Ponderosa Pine.

The initial symptoms of Cyclaneusma needlecast include light green spots that gradually turn yellow in pine tree needles that are two years and older. These yellow spots on the needles eventually cause needle browning, and remain on the tree all through the winter.

To eradicate Cyclaneusma needlecast, you will have to ensure good air circulation around the trees, and apply a fungicide in early March and May.

If you’re providing the right amount of water, and there’re no signs of pests, you can use a broad-spectrum fungicide such as copper salts or neem oil, but take note that some fungicides may cause discoloration of certain species.

Pine Wilt Disease

A pine tree developing brown needles in the fall may be caused by pine wilt disease, which usually kills affected trees within a few months.

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Trees affected with this disease often turn totally brown, and die rapidly in the fall. There is no treatment for pine wilt disease, so your only option is to remove the infected trees immediately, and destroy them by chipping or burning to prevent the disease from spreading to other plants.

Dothistroma Needle Blight

Another condition is dothistroma needle blight, which can be treated with a copper based fungicide to prevent new needles suffering the same fate.

Symptoms are needles turning brown and falling off. A tree which has a severe infection of needle blight will likely die off after a few years with the condition.

Mulching around the base of the tree can help, also avoid spraying the needles with any in ground sprinkler system, and maintain good air circulation.

Ponderosa and Austrian Pines are the varieties most affected by this condition.

Is It Normal For Pine Trees To Turn Brown in the Fall?

The browning of pine branches can have several causes, and one of the ways to diagnose the problem, so that you can apply the right treatment is to consider the time of year the browning of needles and needle drop has developed.

If the pine needles are turning a brown color in spring, the causes could be infection, weather conditions or insects. After the cold, dry winter, and before new shoots are established, needles that are facing on the side of the winds tend to turn brown.

You can generously water these trees during late summer to replace these needles. If new needles located on the tips of the lower branches are stunted or turning brown, they may be affected by a fungus known as diplodia or tip blight, which you can treat with a fungicide.

How To Save a Dying Pine Tree

Sadly, there are many reasons why a pine tree may look unhealthy. One of the most common is water-related problems. Most pine trees grown in the United States are native to the southeastern states, where the climate is very humid.

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Moisture-loving insects and diseases are a huge problem for them in the winter and early spring, and the best way to avoid them is to make sure your pine tree has plenty of water, especially during the winter period.

Ensure A Good Mulch Under Trees

Always try to keep a decent mulch layer under the trees, a 4 inch deep layer is ideal. Wood chip mulch sourced from healthy trees works well, check the depth every year and add an additional mulch layer if necessary. This will help to protect the roots, and also inhibit weed growth.

Why Do Mushrooms Grow Under Pine Trees?

The fallen needles of a pine tree creates an acidic soil environment that’s perfect for mushrooms to thrive in.

If you’re wondering what kind of mushrooms grow under these trees, pine mushrooms include prized king bolete and matsutake mushrooms, and can also be poisonous like the death cap.

There are many ways of identifying wild pine mushrooms, but it’s highly recommended that you don’t touch them if you’re aren’t absolutely sure if they’re edible or not.

Browning Of Pines Final Thoughts

As you can see, browning pine trees could be caused by several reasons, most commonly the lack of water absorbed by the needles or exposure to the cold.

If you notice your trees suffering from water loss and drying out, you can try to revive them by keeping the soil moist, and watering until the root zone is moist.

Fungal infections, such as Mycosphaerella dearnessii can also cause brown-spot needle blight, for which you can use Bordeaux mixture to bring them back to a healthy state.

To be absolutely sure how to treat your particular pine tree turning brown, it is best to call in an arborist to help identify the problem, as many of the problems may appear similar, but require different remedies.