Thursday, April 12, 2007

I have a browning evergreen in New York

My problem is that I have had this spiral pine since I moved in this house and it is dying.

I went to a couple of garden centers and florists and they could not help me beyond selling me "Systemic Insect Control", Acephate (O, S-dimethyl acetylphosphoramidothicate) 9.4%.
Instructions that I followed were to apply it on April and November, but did not stop the yellowing of the branches and the 80% of the tree has already dried out. I did not apply it this year.
They told me that since a couple of years ago it is not legal to sell anything stronger.

Could you please help me indicating if would be some hope for my dear beauty?

First, let’s clarify what the tree is. Thank you for the pictures by the way – always a huge help for me when IDing issues. Your evergreen is not a pine. I am guessing it is a kind of juniper. Ornamental topiaries are typically Alberta spruce, arborvitae, boxwood, or in this case, juniper. They are all evergreens, but the needles/leaves are all different for each so it is easy to tell them apart. Growers raise and prune them meticulously into these unique shapes that we then find and buy at our local retailers.

Regarding the care, I’m glad you have held off from using more of that chemical you were sold. If you haven’t seen insect damage on the tree there is nothing to indicate that that is the issue. The reason the tree is in decline, in my opinion, is because it needs more water and/or sunlight. How much are you watering the tree now?

Newly planted trees and shrubs often require a lot more water than most people think. In order for the plant to get established and push out new roots it needs to be watered completely at least a couple times a week. By this I mean put a hose at the base of the tree and leave it on at a slow drip, or even better, buy a soaker hose to attach to your regular hose and keep that wrapped around the trunk of the tree. Now, how much and how often? You should be watering new trees for AT LEAST 2-3 hours each time, AT LEAST 2-3 times a week. “Nature’s watering schedule” is not going to cut it alone. If you think about it, when we get an all-day rain that still only amounts to about an inch or two of water. The rootball of your tree, on the other hand, must be at least 8” or 12” deep. By deeply watering all the roots will be encouraged to grow out and get established in the tree’s new spot.

In this case junipers also require full sun, so you want to be sure the tree gets upwards of four or more hours of direct sun a day.

The good news is that your tree is still alive. The bad news is that all of those needles that have browned and fallen are not going to come back. Evergreen, in general, only put out new growth from the tips of the stems, in other words where the plant is green now. You can go ahead and remove any of the brown, clearly dead needles because they are not doing the plant any good. Once you clean it up you may realize it is worth starting over with a new plant. Even though that may sound frustrating, at least now you know how best to care for this kind of topiary.


  1. To add to the above, I found out the tree has been there since '89. In that case I imagine it's more an issue of the juniper not getting enough sun. Regarding supplemental water, the tree should not need so much at this point. In their natural habitat junipers do fine in dry conditions. This gentleman was also worried that too much water rots the roots - but you only have to worry about that if you know your soil does not have the best drainage. Knowing your soil is very important.

  2. I planted two different topiaries last spring. They looked beautiful all summer and winter. This spring, they are both getting a lot of browining/dead needles. Any advice? Should I water them as much this spring as I did last year?