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Alberta Spruce Needles

Q: When the needles of a dwarf Alberta spruce fall off will they grow back or is it dead?

A: Needles that are shed will not grow back, but this doesn't necessarily mean the plant is dead.

Pines and spruces shed their older needles as they become non-productive, so this is a normal thing. Generally you'll have a couple years' growth worth of needles at the end of the branches, and the needles interior to this will be shed naturally.

However, if the needles are falling off on the ends of the branches, there could be something wrong. If it's an isolated branch here and there, look for breaks in the branches.

Or, you may have spider mites than have fed enough to cause needle drop. In this case, the plant may produce new needles, but not until the next growing season on new twig growth. And, you'll need to start treating to control the mites.

If the entire plant is shedding its needles, you may have a root or trunk problem that is restricting, or totally preventing, water from ascending into the plant. In this case, you may have no choice but to replace the tree.

Q: I purchased a Dwarf Alberta Spruce around the beginning of December. The 16-inch miniature tree has not been transplanted into the ground or another pot. It was doing just fine until recently when I noticed all the miniature needles are completely dry and falling off.

Is there any hope?? If so, would you kindly suggest or offer advice. My inexperience will be compensated by my tremendous sentimental drive to breathe some life back into this little tree.

A: If the spruce has been out of the ground all winter, it's very likely that the roots have frozen or completely dried out in the meantime. If so, this very likely spells doom for the plant.

All you can do at this point is plant the tree, water it once a week during any dry spells this spring, and wait to see if anything grows.

You can gently scratch several twigs with your thumbnail to see if there's moist, light green tissue beneath. However, if the roots have died it may not matter if the top has some life to it -- the roots won't be able to provide it with the necessary water and elements, and the plant may be history.

Q: I was dumbfounded last evening when I noticed our two-year old (3 ft high) Dwarf Alberta Spruce was turning brown. Went up to it, shook the branches and saw many pine needles "shedding". Is it dying?

Water should not have been a problem, because of late we have had a lot of (Detroit, MI) rain. Insects? If so, what do I use for a spray? Help and I will be eternally grateful.

A "green-thumbless" Michiganian.

A: If the needles that are shedding are on the interior of the plant, it might just be normal needle drop of older, non-productive needles. If the needles are shedding from the tips, then you may have a problem.

First, check the soil moisture. It's possible that, due to our extremely wet spring, the roots actually got TOO much water.

Water-logged soils have low oxygen content. Oxygen is critical for roots, and if excess water forces the oxygen out of the pore space in the soil, the roots can be damaged and die. This can translate into symptoms like what you're seeing.

Check also for spidermites, although I would put them low on the suspect list so far this year. Cool wet conditions typically keep spidermite populations down (they don't like cool wet conditions), so their numbers, at least at this point, should be very low or non-existent.

Hold a white piece of paper beneath the branches and rap the branches soundly. This will dislodge needles, other plant debris, and spidermites onto the paper. Wait 10 seconds, gently tip the paper to allow excess plant debris to fall off, then hold the paper flat and swipe it with the back of your hand.

Greenish streaks are bad guy spidermites (orange or red streaks are, too, but these are the predator/good guy mites). If you have a lot of greenish streaks, you'll probably need to treat.

Use something labeled for spidermite control. Your local garden supply or garden center can help you choose the correct material, and be sure to follow the directions on the label.

Using more chemical than necessary doesn't work better, and can actually worsen your problem, so don't exceed the rate on the label!

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Tom Mugridge

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