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Alberta Spruce losing needles

Q: We have about 40 dwarf alberta spruce trees. In the past few weeks several of then have lost all their needles. The trees are completely bare!

Are they dying, infested with some sort of bug or is this natural. I live in PA.

A: It sounds like you have winter-burn and/or a spidermite infestation.

Check for spidermites by tapping the branches over a white sheet of paper. After 10 seconds, tip the paper to allow plant debris to slide off, then look for tiny specks the size of the period at the end of this sentence to move around on the paper very slowly.

You can also smear the mites with the back of your hand. Green streaks are bad-guy mites, orange or red are good guys.

However, spidermites rarely infest an entire plant, and if every one of your spruces is bare, I would lean toward winter-burn.

They may have been pre-disposed to winter-burn if they weren't planted properly, or if the root systems are underdeveloped. There are many possibilities for an entire plant to fail, so a thorough investigation is in order.

It may be possible for the plants to survive if they produce enough new growth this spring. I would wait for at least a month to see what develops, and take it from there.

If nothing comes forth, you may have to replace them.

In the meantime, check the soil moisture. If it's dry, apply about 1 gallon of water for every square foot of surface area over the root systems once a week, and keep your fingers crossed they're able to produce some foliage this spring.

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Tom Mugridge

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