Winter Burn or Evergreen Browning

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Physiological problems in evergreen, or coniferous trees include a condition known as evergreen browning and it is caused by excessive water loss. In the late part of winter and early spring many evergreen trees take on a reddish brown appearance, usually more toward their branch tips.


You enjoy the vibrant fall foliage, but winter is sweeping in quickly. That means the bright colours will soon be gone, and then it’s time for the evergreens to shine. However, you might have noticed your evergreens don’t pop as much as they used to. This could be because of evergreen browning.

While you can run into browning during the winter, it is also common in the spring if the winter was particularly harsh. If you’ve noticed your evergreens aren’t as vibrant as they used to be, this could be why.

Read on to learn more about evergreen browning and how to keep your evergreen trees looking their best, no matter the weather.

What is Evergreen Browning?

A common problem in yards, evergreen browning is characterized by a reddish-brown colour on your evergreen foliage. This issue is often noted at the tips and innermost branches of your evergreens.

You’re most likely to notice browning in the winter during dry, windy, and cold weather. Additionally, environmental stressors or pest and disease infestations can contribute to this problem, so it’s essential to be vigilant about your trees to avoid long-term concerns.

Evergreen tree browning with pine cone on it

Causes of Browning in Evergreens

As mentioned above, there are multiple causes for evergreen browning. Common factors include drought, high winds, and extreme temperatures.

One of the top concerns for evergreen browning is water loss. While coniferous trees have adapted to retain moisture and nutrients in harsh conditions, there are times when the foliage doesn’t receive enough water to keep up with its needs.

For example, when air temperatures increase in March, evergreen needles will start to transpire or lose water. Since their roots are ice-bound, they cannot take in water and replace what is lost through the needles. This moisture loss causes the foliage to turn brown. This specific type of browning is called winter burn.

Additionally, strong winds may cause water stress to exposed needles, so evergreen browning tends to occur in the areas most exposed to the southwest.

There are several other considerations to keep in mind. One of those factors is soil moisture, so too little or too much can affect the root system of your evergreens. Other factors include pests and diseases, as well as over-fertilization.

How to Spot Browning Before It Ruins Your Evergreens

While the most obvious sign that your evergreens are under stress is the browning itself, there are several physical signs you can look for if you’re concerned about evergreen browning. These include things like:

  • Yellowing or shedding needles
  • Dry, brittle, or wilted foliage
  • Stunted or slower growth
  • Dying branches

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult a certified arborist to receive a formal diagnosis. Once you have that, the professionals can recommend a treatment plan for your trees.

Are you concerned about your evergreens? Talk to the Green Drop tree experts today!

Ways to Deal with Winter Burn and Evergreen Browning

There are things you can do to stop evergreen browning in its tracks. From prevention to treatment, we share what our arborists think you should know.

Preventing Evergreen Browning

To minimize browning, ensure trees are well watered, especially in late fall, before the ground freezes. It’s also essential to protect your trees with burlap sunscreen wherever possible.

As most evergreens are shallow-rooted, they require watering almost constantly during hot, dry weather periods. Trees that do not get enough water during hot, dry weather often suffer from needle browning and, occasionally, branch dieback.

In the spring, you should ensure trees are watered well and fertilized to encourage new growth. This is especially important because it's easy for plants to be underwatered in the spring, which can keep them from flourishing for the rest of the growing season.

How to Treat Evergreen Browning

A browning evergreen can be an unsightly issue in your yard, but it doesn’t have to worsen. Once you’ve diagnosed the problem, you can work with a professional tree company to advise you on the best course of action.

We recommend a few methods depending on the severity of the problem. One of the most popular treatments is pruning damaged branches. Doing this encourages healthy growth and allows the tree to focus on growing where it isn’t damaged. It’s also helpful to remove eyesores.

Additionally, we may suggest improving soil drainage to bring life back to the roots and ensure that water can reach the tree's base. As we’ve mentioned, moisture is one of the most significant factors in the browning of evergreens, so this is an important factor.

If we’ve examined your trees and found a disease or pest problem, we may decide that applying fungicides or insecticides is necessary to improve the life span and health of the tree. Choosing a professional service guarantees you’ll get the best suggestions if necessary. Plus, you’ll have access to someone with the skills to apply any products.

Of course, regular maintenance is one of the best things you can do for your evergreens. Our RootBoost system ensures your trees are fertilized and ready for every season.

Evergreen Browning FAQs

Can Evergreen Browning be Treated?

Yes, there are several treatments for evergreen browning. They include pruning, fertilization, and increasing your trees' water intake. The treatment for your specific tree will be based on the underlying issue, so consult our arborists for an accurate diagnosis.

What Evergreen Plants Are Most Susceptible to Browning?

Any evergreen can experience browning, so it isn’t uncommon. But some of the trees and shrubs you hear about the most are pine, spruce, fir, juniper, and arborvitae. You’ll find that some varieties offer more resistance, but you should still care for your plants appropriately.

Are Winter Burn and Evergreen Browning the Same Thing?

They are not the same thing, but they are often related. Winter burn happens specifically during cold, dry weather and impacts evergreen foliage. Evergreen browning can also occur for a list of reasons, like drought and disease.

Is Evergreen Browning Contagious?

No, evergreen browning on its own is not contagious. If a disease or pest infestation causes it, those issues can be passed to other trees if not identified correctly.

Stop Evergreen Browning with Help from Green Drop Arborists

When you spot browning leaves on your conifers, you’re not alone. This common problem affects plenty of yards, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with it alone.

The Green Drop team is ready to help you diagnose any issues and develop a treatment plan. After that, we’ll help you with tree maintenance services for your evergreens so they stay beautiful year-round.

Worried about shedding needles and unhealthy branches? Set up a free consultation with our arborists today.

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