Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
October, 2008
Regional Report

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Ponderosa pines may shed a lot of needles in the fall.

Are My Evergreens Dying?

It's fall in the Rockies with colors of rich plum, red, glistening yellow, and vibrant gold. One of my favorites in the fall is burning bush (Euonymus alatus), with its foliage that transforms to scarlet. But what's up with the evergreens, those pine trees and spruce with yellow needles scattered throughout? Are these evergreens dying?

As days get shorter and nights cooler, evergreens are responding. Even though we assume that their evergreen foliage is a permanent fixture, each spring a new set of needles are produced. In the fall, the oldest leaves, or needles, start to turn yellow, orange-yellow, and brown, and eventually drop. Pines, spruces, even junipers and arborvitae undergo these changes, beginning with inner needles turning yellow and then falling off. So if you see this natural phenomenon in your landscape, don't fret. Evergreens that produce more growth than normal need to shed a larger amount of old foliage.

One of our first reactions is to get out and water evergreens when we begin to see this natural needle shedding. Homeowners ask me if they should be feeding their evergreens in the fall. The answer is "No." Overwatering and excessive fertilizer will only aggravate the situation and may put your evergreens in a stressed state.

Before watering, it is best to dig down around the root system with a trowel or spading fork to visibly check the soil moisture. If the soil is moist to a depth of 6 inches or more, you don't need to water. Organic mulches placed around the base of trees will also reduce the need for moisture, as mulch helps to retain soil moisture and reduce excessive evaporation.

Water evergreens deeply in the autumn, but not frequently. The root systems need water in the fall so the soil has adequate moisture before it freezes. As for fertilizer, wait to apply it in spring when new growth resumes.

So take time to check evergreens in this season of needle shedding. As long as the current season's growth is healthy and vigorous, the life of the tree or shrub will not be affected.

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Today's site banner is by nmumpton and is called "Gymnocalycium andreae"