The Q&A Archives: Alberta Dwarf Spruce Burning/Dying ? Please Help.

Question: I planted 3 of your dwarf spruce trees in round barrel planters one year ago. They've grown well and are about 5' tall now. Earlier this Spring I decided to fertilize the trees as the green color looked faded. I used Viragro fertilizer for Evergreens. It's supposed to be added to the soil around the outside of the branch reach. But as I have them in pots I sprinkled it across the top of the soil in each planter thinking that water would carry some of the nutrients down. Within a couple of weeks the trees starting rapidly growing new pine needles light green in color. However within the last month I've notice that the old pines and particularly the inside ones have been browning and dying. Perhaps it's unrelated to the fertilizer but I fear that I've killed the trees as they seem to be dying from the inside out. I've broken off several twigs attached to the trunk and see no green inside. The trees are starting to look like Christmas trees in January.

Also some of the new growth is also turning brown.

Is there anything I can do to stop this from getting any worse and hopefully get the trees healthy again.

Many thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

Kind regards,

Ed Dunne

Answer: Unfortunately I think your trees may be dieing. These trees are difficult to overwinter successfully even in large containers. The winter stress (not only cold on the roots but also especially spring freeze thaw cycles) then accumulates along with the energy expended for the spring growth spurt and it is sometimes just too much. It is also possible they were overfertilized, and that would contribute too, in a container you need to be careful with that because the soil texture is different from soil in the ground and also the roots are restricted to such a limited area. There might also be a fungal or other problem happening. On the other hand, although evergreen these trees do shed some of their oldest needles each year so part of what you are seeing might be normal. So I would suggest you work with your local county extension to try to see if these can be saved, but sadly (although granted I have not seen them) I am not too encouraged. They may appreciate a selection of photos showing the overall plants and some closeups. I'm sorry.

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