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Q. One of my dwarf Alberta spruces is losing a lot of its needles. It seems that it is dying. I watered it almost daily because of the hot weather.

Could you let me know why the tree is dying and is there any way I can save it? Thank you very much.

A. There are many possible reasons for your Alberta spruce to be doing this. Spidermites absolutely love dwarf Albertas, and they also love hot weather, so this would be high on my list to check for.

To check for mites, hold a white piece of paper beneath some branches and rap them soundly to dislodge mites onto the paper. Wait 10 seconds, slightly tip the paper to let plant debris fall off, then smear the paper with the back of your hand. If you see green smears, you have spidermites. Depending on how many smears you see determines how bad of a problem you have.

If you seen red smears, these are "good guys" (predators feeding on the bad guys), but if there aren't enough good guys to take care of the bad guys, you may need to do a treatment anyway. Use horticultural oil at the summer rate listed on the label.

You can also dislodge mites with a direct stream of water from the hose. Once knocked off the plant, mites can't find their way back on very easily (if at all), so this takes care of them quite well.

The needle loss may be a normal thing as well. The older, interior needles naturally fall off as new growth is produced. Since Alberta spruces only grow an inch or so a year, you will usually have only a couple inches of green needles at the branch tips, and the ones interior to these brown and fall off.

If the dying needles are at the branch tips, it may be a result of girdling roots strangling the tree, or from insufficient water. If the roots have not dried out to the point of being unable to absorb water any more, you may be able to revive it with 1 or 2 deep waterings per week.

Check around the base of the trunk for any wounds or physical injuries that may effect uptake. Also check for any string that may be wrapped around the trunk, or a root that has encircled it. Both of these can choke the tree, and are another potential cause for the needle loss.

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Tom Mugridge

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