Why Is My Pine Tree Dying? [Common Reasons Explained]

A pine tree that have dried up and diedPine trees are a beautiful addition to any landscape, but it's essential to know the signs that they may be dying so you can take action quickly and have your trees vibrant again in no time. So, to help you waste no time, we've collected the internet's most valuable information about common pine tree ailments and how to cure them right here in this article.

There are a few common reasons that your pine tree might be dying, which include:

  • Too much or too little water
  • Fungal infections such as canker or needle blight
  • Insect infestations such as bark beetles
  • Environmental factors which could consist of salt-based de-icers, lack of sunlight, or the sun reflecting off the snow in the winter

Many of these problems occur when the pine tree is already weakened or stressed, which means that proper upkeep is vital for prevention. This can include a proper watering schedule, sufficient drainage, pruning only in late winter or early spring, and frequently checking the tree for potential problems.

Of course, even the most dedicated gardener can end up with a diseased or weakened pine tree, which is why we've given you all the information necessary to troubleshoot any potential problems. If you think your pine tree may be showing signs of age, check our article How Long Does a Pine Tree Live? to find out how long your specific variety typically lives. You'll also find recommendations for suitable products in this article.

How Do You Know If a Pine Tree is Dying?

There are several ways to tell if a pine tree is dying - some are easy to spot, and others are a little more subtle. Here are a few of the most common signs:

Falling Branches

It's not unusual for a tree to occasionally lose some branches, a little bit like how humans shed hair. However, if your pine tree is losing lots of branches quickly, or if they're large branches, it may be infected with a fungal disease.

Browning Needles

Browned needles can be a sign of too much or too little water. When a lack of water causes it, your pine tree is trying to protect itself by directing its water intake toward its roots, trunk, and branches, allowing the less important needles to die. However, brown needles caused by too much water are often a sign of root rot. Similarly, the tree is directing its resources toward its important parts to heal them and prevent complete death.

Trunk Holes

When a branch falls from a tree, it can leave a large hole. These usually heal with no problems, but sometimes they decay inside, which can quickly spread to the rest of the tree and eventually kill it. Large holes, in particular, might be a sign that your pine tree is dying.

Small Holes in Trunk or Branches

Keep an eye out for small holes in the trunks or branches of your tree, especially if they leak sap or sawdust. These are usually a sign of a bark beetle infestation. Bark beetles bore their way into trees to live, lay their eggs, create colonies, and they also bring along harmful nematodes (a type of threadworm). Unfortunately, if you notice these signs, it's often already too late to save the tree.

Missing Bark

If you see a loose or missing area of bark on your pine tree, this might be a sign of a canker sore. On trees, canker sores are spots that have become diseased, infected, or afflicted with fungi, and these areas of infection can spread rapidly.

Excessive Needle Shedding

Shedding needles in late summer and early fall is perfectly normal for pine trees. Dropping them at other times of the year or in excessive amounts can be a sign of too much or too little water, needle blight, insect infestation, or a nitrogen deficiency.

How Do You Save a Dying Pine Tree?

After you've identified the reason your pine tree is dying, the next step is to take steps to save it. The actions you choose will depend on the specific problem your tree is facing.

Too Little Water

If your pine tree is turning brown or losing needles because of a lack of water, start watering it every week unless you receive over 1" of rainfall. Make sure you're watering it long enough that the top inch of soil is thoroughly soaked, and avoid getting water directly on the trunk.

Click here to view this soaker hose on Amazon. A soaker hose can make it simple to provide your pine tree with plenty of water.

Too Much Water

The symptoms of too much water are very similar to too little water, but the remedy is very different. If your pine tree is growing in standing water or experiencing root rot, you'll need to dig trenches to redirect the water away from the tree. If it's a young tree, you might also be able to trim off the rotting roots. Just make sure you're only removing the dead portions and not damaging the living parts that the tree needs to survive.

Bark Beetles

Since bark beetles tend to attack pine trees that are already damaged or stressed, it's essential to keep your tree in good condition to prevent an infestation in the first place. A bark beetle infestation is usually a death sentence for a tree, since the intricate nests that the beetles build weaken the tree so much that it can collapse without warning.

However, if you catch the infestation early enough, you may be able to save the tree. If you notice the signs of a bark beetle infestation on particular branches, cut these branches off and burn them to prevent the beetles from reentering the tree.

Missing Bark or Holes on Branches

If you see patches of missing bark or large holes on your pine tree's branches, it's important to prune off these branches as soon as possible. They're usually a sign of infection, disease, or canker and should be removed to prevent the issue from spreading to the rest of the tree. Just make sure to leave a few inches of the branch when you prune it and cut it off at a 45-degree angle to prevent further decay.

Click here to view this pruning saw on Amazon.

Needle Blight and Other Fungal Infections

To cure more significant problems such as needle blight, you may need to use a fungicide. Fungicides can also help with other fungal issues such as canker, but be sure to contact an arborist or your county extension office first to figure out the best fungicide for the job.

Click here to view this fungicide for trees and shrubs on Amazon.

Keep Your Pine Trees Healthy

The most important step you can take to keep your pine tree healthy is preventing problems in the first place. This includes monitoring the plants that grow near it - you can check out our article What to Plant Under Pine Trees? to learn which plants are their perfect match. A few other things to do to keep your pine tree in tip-top condition are:

Prune at the Right Time of Year

Although pine trees often don't even require any pruning, it's important to only prune them when they are still dormant in late winter and early spring. According to the University of Idaho College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System, intensive pruning during their growth period in late spring and summer can leave them very susceptible to developing infections or being attacked by insects. It's also a good idea to avoid pruning in fall since pruning sparks new growth that might not survive the winter.

The only exception to this rule is if you need to remove a diseased or dead branch. In that situation, you should remove the branch as soon as possible, even if it's in the middle of the growing season. Just wait for a dry day to reduce the chances of accidentally spreading dangerous fungal spores to the unaffected parts of the tree.

Monitor for Potential Problems

To increase your chances of stopping a problem before it kills your pine tree, it's a good idea to inspect your trees a few times per month. Some things to check for include tiny holes leaking sap or sawdust, needles turning brown, excessive amounts of fallen needles, large holes, or loose or missing patches of bark. We'll discuss each of these symptoms in more detail later in this article.

Develop Good Watering Habits

To encourage your pine tree to grow strong and deep roots, give it a good soak every time you water. According to the Nevada County Resource Conservation District, young trees should be watered weekly. In contrast, established trees should be watered from the dryest days of summer to either a return of regular rainfall or the first freeze.

Is a Pine Tree Dead When It Turns Brown?

Pine needles that have dried and died in close-up

Brown needles do not mean that a pine tree is completely dead. However, they're usually an indicator of a problem. If the brown needles are appearing in the winter, you may have a tree that is suffering from dehydration or sunscald. Pine trees can quickly use up their stored supply of water, and when the bright sun reflects off the snow, it can dry the tree out even more and cause sunscald. Wrapping your trees in burlap or spraying them with an anti-desiccant spray can help them retain more moisture.

Do Pine Needles Grow Back?

Unlike deciduous trees, which lose and regrow their leaves every year, pine trees do not grow back their needles once they have fallen. However, a certain amount of needle drop is perfectly natural, as pine trees do grow new needles at the ends of their branches. If you notice that the fallen needles are coming from near the center of the tree and are a variety of brown, yellow, and green, this is a sign that your tree is experiencing regular needle drop. You should only be concerned if all of the fallen needles are brown and they're coming from the tips of the branches as well as near the center.

Will Dead Pine Tree Branches Grow Back?

Dead pine tree branches will not grow back and should be quickly removed to prevent them from falling and injuring a person or property.

Does Cutting Off Dead Branches Help a Tree?

Cutting off dead branches is one of the most effective ways to help a damaged or dying tree. Not only does this prevent infection from spreading by removing the problem area, but it also allows the tree to focus all of its energy on preserving its roots and core instead of trying to heal limbs that are already too far gone. It's also important to prune dead branches to prevent them from falling on people, pets, houses, cars, and other valuables.

If you have smaller dead branches near the bottom of your tree, you may be able to prune them yourself, but for large branches high in a tree, it's best to hire a professional arborist. They have the proper tools and climbing equipment to remove large branches without damaging the tree or themselves safely. Whenever you prune, make sure to leave a stub of the branch instead of cutting the branch off flush with the tree trunk to avoid infection.

Why Do Pine Trees Lose Their Lower Branches?

Pine trees can lose their lower branches for a variety of reasons. It can merely be a sign of aging, but it can also be caused by several different disease- and environment-related factors.

Fungus or Disease

Dying lower branches can be a sign of several different diseases, including fungus, tip blight, or canker. These diseases typically first attack the tips of the branches and then affect the lower branches. Trimming off infected areas and applying a fungicide can be helpful.

Not Enough Light

If your pine tree is growing near a lot of other trees, lack of sunlight may be the culprit. Pine trees need sunshine to thrive, and if it's missing, they can end up with browning, dying branches. You may need to trim some branches from the same pine tree or neighboring trees to let in more light.

Salt De-Icer

An environmental factor that can affect trees that grow near driveways or roads is salt used to de-ice driving surfaces in winter, and since the lower branches are nearer to the ground, they're often the most affected. Looking into alternative de-icers is a good idea since salt dries out tree's needles and branches and can eventually kill the tree.

Click here to view a salt-free de-icer on Amazon.

Too Much or Too Little Water

In addition to losing their needles to conserve energy, pine trees also often lose their lower branches first - basically, they tend to die from the bottom up. Investigate your tree's water intake and adjust it accordingly to help cure this problem.

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