It’s fall, and we expect our maples, oaks, dogwoods, and hickories to lose their leaves. That’s called deciduous. Leaves drop, but you see the woody structure of the plant during winter. It’s our signal that the gardening world is going dormant, and so can we.

Cue our evergreens that give us visual pleasure during the barren months. As the garden coach, one comment I often hear is, “I want something green to look at in winter.”  Blue spruces, white pines, hinoki false cypress, and arborvitaes give us bones in the garden, but they also add winter interest. It’s essential to add them to your garden.

But then this happens:

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A Japanese White Pine losing it’s needles in late summer/early fall.

Shedding Needles on Evergreen Is Normal

If your evergreens are turning yellow or brown from the interior out, don’t panic. Every fall, our evergreens shed. They shed older needles starting in late summer. As the evergreen grows, the inner needles (the oldest ones) are shaded, and they photosynthesis less effectively, causing interior (older) needles to shed. This is normal.

Most of the shedding is interior to the plant, but sometimes you’ll see it on the outer branches. Not to worry, this isn’t the evergreen apocalypse happening in your yard.

Think of it this way. The plant sheds because the weight of all those needles isn’t healthy for the plant. When winter snow or ice comes, it allows the evergreen to hold up under that weight.

Shedding varies by species and worsens when conditions are harsh, and this year was severe. September’s recent heatwave and drought, extreme rains of spring, and remember the 90 degree days in May? Our gardens contended with a lot this season. Extreme weather may accelerate the shedding with some evergreens.

This is not unique to conifers. Other evergreens, such as rhododendrons, Schipka cherry laurels, Otto Luyken English laurels, and azaleas, exhibit yellowing leaves and shedding as they push older leaves off.

For more information on the condition, check out this fact sheet from Cornell:
Cornell Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet

White pine shedding in fall. I see this pine on my morning walks with Aggie (short for Agapanthus) my dog. Proof that sometimes the shedding is actually pretty.

 

White pine shedding in fall. I see this pine on my morning walks with Aggie (short for Agapanthus) my dog. Proof that sometimes the shedding is actually pretty.

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‘DeGroots Spire’ arborvitae. Typically their shedding is close to the leader so you must pull back some of the branches to see the yellowing leaves. If the yellowing/browning drives you nuts, this may not be the evergreen for you.

When Evergreen Shedding is Not Normal

Browning and yellowing at the tip of the plant can happen at any time of the year and are caused by drought, pests, or diseases. Click on these links for pictures of diplodia tip blight (in pines) and phomosis tip blight (in junipers and spruces) and kabatina tip blight (junipers). This is not normal. Call an extension agent for further help. But, if the browning is happening now, it is mostly to the interior of the plant, however sad that might look, it’s okay. This is a typical fall shedding for evergreens.

Cinthia Milner is the garden coach and blog writer for B.B. Barns Garden Center. 

B.B. Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.