Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Fall Dropping of Evergreen Needles

White Pine Needle Drop

White Pine Needle Drop

Hello fellow readers,

Several of you have asked what’s going on with the White Pines. It’s true that seeing evergreens drop their needles often triggers concern. It’s kind of like an abundance of hairs in your shower drain.

All trees and shrubs renew their foliage every year. The leaves of deciduous plants live for one growing season.   Evergreen foliage, despite their name, does not live forever.  As new growth emerges in the spring, previous year’s growth becomes shaded. During fall, the inner or older needles die and fall off. Pine trees hold their needles anywhere from 2 to 5 or more years, depending on the species. Spruce trees generally hold onto their needles for 5 to 7 years. So every autumn some evergreen needles are falling.

Sometimes this natural process goes unnoticed because only the inner most needles are affected.  It’s true that Pinus strobus / Eastern White Pine are not shy about disrobing. They only hold needles for two years and have an open structure and less growth at the tip of their branches to hide the needles as they undress. Ooh la la!

While autumn needle drop is natural (just like some hair loss), stress factors such as drought, herbicide injury, root damage and insect or disease damage can intensify the loss. Normal needle drop occurs only on the inner needles.  If entire branches or new needles at the tips of branches are dying, or if needles turn yellow and drop other times of the year, something else is happening. A close inspection to assess the presence of fungal leaf spots, spider mites, aphids or other pests and bad relationships is in order (Ahem).

Larix decidua Gold Fall Color

Larix decidua Gold Fall Color

There are a few conifers such as Larix decidua / European larch, Metasequoia glyptostroboides / Dawn Redwood and Taxodium distichum/ Bald Cypress that shed all of their needles every year so don’t think something is wrong when they go bald.  In fact these deciduous conifers with their golden and bronze colors are stunning in the fall and are magnificent additions to the landscape.  Baldness can be very attractive after all.  Ooh la la!

Garden dilemmas?


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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