December 28, 2014

Is your evergreen turning brown? It could be winter stress

conifer1-263x300The rain is causing most of our yards and plants to green up, but some Nebraskans may notice branches on their pines, firs and spruce trees turning brown or yellow. Forester Tivon Feeley says those trees known as “conifers” are showing signs of winter stress.

“The ground is still frozen and the root system can’t take up the water, but the ambient air around the tree is warm enough where the tree is still using the water,” Feeley says. “It is respiring the stuff that’s in the needles and the tree essentially just dries up.” The condition is starting to show up in trees all over the state.

“I think it’s because the ground stayed frozen for so long and then we warmed up so quickly but the ground stayed frozen,” Feeley says. “So, I think a lot of that is going to continue going on over the next couple of months.”

The trees are normally green year-round, so it’s very noticeable when the problem happens. Feeley says the fate of the tree branches depends on the severity of the problem.

“It can be permanent, it really depends. The buds on the end of the tree, if they’re not damaged, the tree can come out of it,” Feeley says. “But the needles that have browned up right now — and that might brown up over the next couple of weeks as we warm up again — those will be permanently lost.” He says it’s possible you could lose part or all of your tree.

There’s no way to prevent winter burn, but Feeley says you can reduce the risk by properly mulching and watering in the fall prior to the tree going dormant.