Are your evergreens turning brown inside? Are your evergreens dropping needles in Fall? Don’t panic! Here’s why it happens.
Have you noticed yellow or browning needles on your evergreens? And does it seem like the brown needles weren’t there yesterday but are today?
In this article I’ll explain exactly why this happens and what you can do.
All evergreen conifers lose their needles.
So we’re used to leaves falling off trees in Autumn ever year, right? Trees like Maple and Oak have cycles and in the Fall they shed their leaves before going dormant for the Winter season. We get to enjoy wonderful Fall foliage colors . . . and raking them up too!
Evergreen conifers have a similar cycle, even though they never go dormant like deciduous trees and shrubs do.
An evergreen conifer is an evergreen that has needles. An evergreen can have either needles or leaves. Some examples of leaved-evergreens include evergreen azaleas, evergreen rhododendrons, Red Tip Photinia and the many forms of euonymus shrubs.
In late Summer and Fall, conifers — which are needled evergreens like Arborvitae, Hinoki Cypress and my beloved Fall Cypress “Devon Cream” — shed many of their needles, similar to how deciduous trees do in the Fall. This is a seasonal needle drop, sometimes called Routine Dieback. The needles begin by slowly turning yellow to brown in color, or they may begin by turning brown straight away.
Not all conifers are evergreen!
There are some exceptions to conifers being evergreen.
Larch, Bald Cypress and Dawn Redwoods drop their needles completely every year before the Winter season. These three conifers are considered deciduous conifers, and their needles grow back in the Spring just like other deciduous trees. So although they have needles, they aren’t considered to be evergreen.
Evergreen needles don’t last forever
Needles on evergreen conifers live one or more years on the plant. So some evergreens may shed needles that are only a year old, while others shed needles that can be five or more years old.
Certain shrubs may hang onto their brown needles for quite some time before they drop, while other evergreens easily drop them in wind and rain.
And this varies in timing. Some shrubs take a few years for you to begin visibly noticing this seasonal needle drop, seeing needles yellowing or turning brown in the late Summer and/or Fall.
What does Routine Dieback look like?
The evergreen needles dropping in the Fall are going to be on the inside of the evergreen shrub or tree. These brown needles on the inside are the oldest needles, and usually the ones that don’t get as much sun, if any.
However, on this Hinoki Cypress (below) for example, there’s still brown even though these needles are more exposed to the sun.
Evergreens turning brown inside: it’s normal!
The first time I noticed brown needles on the inside of one of my evergreen shrubs was on my False Cypress “Devon Cream” a few years ago.
And it freaked me out, as I immediately worried that something got into the plant, such as a pesticide blown on the wind from a neighbor’s yard.
Since I wasn’t sure what to do, I began painstakingly cutting out the brown needles, thinking if it was a fungus I’d try my best to get rid of it.
Only later, while researching why this happens, did I learn this is a naturally occurring process. Some evergreen conifers may start in late Summer, others in the Fall. On some shrubs and trees it will be very obvious, on others not so much.
But it’s normal. And that’s good news!
If your evergreens are turning brown inside, what should you do?
Do you need to do anything?
Some people cut the brown needles out — like I did a few years ago.
Some gardeners will wait until the needles are completely brown and can be easily removed using a gloved hand — watch out as some needles can be sharp. Wear gloves!
And I read where one couple actually uses a leaf blower and aims it at their evergreen shrubs to force the brown needles off.
That seems a tiny bit extreme — but hey — whatever works for you!
I’m sure the satisfaction of seeing all of the brown needles go away quickly is quite nice!
So what do I do with my seasonal needle drop?
I’m not too concerned now that I know it’s a naturally occurring thing that happens every year at this time.
For those evergreen shrubs where it is really noticeable, I’ll go through periodically while doing Fall gardening chores and gently remove some of the brown needles, usually starting at the top and working my way down the shrub or tree.
It’s very easy once the brown needles have truly turned to dead needles, as they fall off easily!
And for any shrubs that are in containers, I make sure to remove fallen needles from the container, so that they don’t block sun and rain and all that good stuff from getting into the soil.
New growth comes from within!
Here’s something to look forward to: there will be new green growth that will sprout forth from the center of your evergreen trees and shrubs! It may take awhile, but if you look closely into the center of the shrub, you will see it, usually on the center trunk or trunks. And sometimes the new growth will sprout from the ends of brown stems that have lost their needles. So that’s a reason to take your time and not be so quick to remove what look to be dead stems.
Evergreens turning brown video guide
To see examples of this in my own gardens, watch the video below. I show how easy it is to remove the needles too, if that’s what you want to do.
So there you have it! Don’t panic — it’s normal!