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Seasonal Needle Drop

Seasonal needle drop is the gradual yellowing or browning and eventual loss of older interior needles (Figure 1). This physiological process occurs in late summer to early fall. The casting of needles is triggered by weather and the time of year, and many evergreens are likely to show symptoms at the same time. Needles that drop due to age may have some spots and blemishes; however, they do not display typical symptoms of disease or insect damage.

Figure 1. The needles on this pine persist for three growing seasons. The tree is shedding needles formed in 2021. Photo: Edited by Eva Grimme, MSU.

The amount of needle loss is dependent upon species, temporal factors, and environmental conditions. White pines are seriously affected. Third- and even second-year needles yellow and fall throughout the entire tree. Austrian and Scotch pines typically lose only fourth-year needles (Figure 2). Cedars often display browning of leaves and flagging of older branchlets. Eventually entire branchlets are shed. Spruce and fir generally maintain many years of growth. Seasonal needle drop is typically not obvious but can be visible on inner branches. Larch and tamarack trees lose all of their needles every fall.

Figure 2. Yellowing of interior needles on pine tree. Photo: Sarah Eilers

Management for seasonal needle drop is not necessary. If the yellowing and needle drop is restricted to older needles and is not extreme, it is likely not a problem. Maintain tree health. Consider applying a layer of organic mulch (e.g., arborist chips) around the base of the tree to conserve moisture. Irrigating evergreens thoroughly before the ground freezes will help to minimize the possibility of winter injury through desiccation.

Sincerely, Eva Grimme
[email protected]

MSU Extension
Montana State University
P.O. Box 172230
Bozeman, MT 59717-223

Tel: (406) 994-1750
Fax: (406) 994-1756
Location: Culberston Hall
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