What To Do When a Newly Planted Blue Spruce Turns Brown

The Colorado Blue Spruce is a beloved tree for many people. Rightfully so, as their silvery-blue needles and perfect Christmas tree shape offer a pleasing addition to any landscape. The Blue Spruce is often used for privacy, windbreak, or as an ornamental tree. Yet, we often get confused customers who want to know why their once-beautiful Blue Spruce is now losing its needles and turning brown from the bottom up. We will talk about a problem we see a lot with Blue Spruce trees in the Springfield, MO area in this blog.

Colorado Blue Spruces are not well adapted to our wet springs and hot, humid summers. The climates they prefer are cooler and dryer. Missouri’s weather is perfect for a number of fungal diseases, including Rhizosphaera Needle Cast Disease, because it is always wet.

Needle Cast disease usually affects trees that are at least two years old. It starts at the base of the tree and works its way up. The needles turn coppery-brown and fall off. If not treated in time, it can infect and kill the entire tree. You will need a trained eye to look for tiny black fruiting bodies in the stomata of the needles to see if the disease is really Needle Cast. Unfortunately, once needles on an evergreen die they do not come back. If treatment starts early, however, new growth can form, and the damage will become less noticeable over time. The Blue Spruce is most likely to get this fungal disease, but the White Spruce and the Norway Spruce may also get it.

On our plant health care route, we treat a lot of Blue Spruce evergreens. As part of our treatment plan, we apply fungicides to the trees over a few years in a row. Three fungicide applications every year are recommended a month apart, starting at bud break to ensure proper coverage.

If you want to treat your tree, you should think about how much it will cost and how much the tree is worth. Is this a valuable tree in your yard, or is there something else that would work better there? It may take a few years of treatment to get rid of the disease, and even then, the changing seasons can bring in new fungal bodies. If the tree is already severely affected there may not be much we can do to save it. Treatment is best if started early in the disease cycle.

Blue Spruces are beautiful trees and might be worth investing in on your property. We suggest that you talk to your arborist about how to protect your trees and the work you’ve put into your landscaping. We’re local arborists – and we’re here to help. For more information – contact your tree care experts here at Cherokee Tree Care.

Blue spruce trees are prized for their striking silvery-blue needles and conical shape. But if the needles on your newly planted blue spruce are turning brown it can be worrying. Brown needles on a new blue spruce are often a sign of transplant stress, but other factors could be to blame. This article covers why a newly planted blue spruce may turn brown and what you can do to restore its health and color.

Overview of Blue Spruce Trees

With their dense, blue-green foliage and conical form, blue spruce (Picea pungens) make an attractive landscape tree. Some key facts about this popular evergreen

  • Native to western North America

  • Grows 40-60 feet tall and 15-25 feet wide.

  • Has prickly needles and woody cones.

  • Thrives in full sun and well-drained soil.

  • Tolerates cold climates.

  • Provides year-round color and screening.

Why a New Blue Spruce Turns Brown

Seeing a new blue spruce with brown needles can be worrying but is often just due to:

Transplant Shock

Digging up and replanting a mature blue spruce is stressful. The trauma of moving can cause transplant shock, and brown needles are a common symptom as the tree struggles to recover. Root damage makes the spruce unable to take up water properly, resulting in needle browning.

Improper Planting

How the spruce was planted can also lead to problems. If the tree was planted too deep, roots may suffocate. Or if left balled-and-burlapped too long before planting, roots may dry out. Both situations stress the tree and cause needle browning.

Under or Overwatering

Insufficient or excessive watering commonly causes evergreen needles to brown. Spruce trees need regular deep watering after planting to establish. But overwatering can damage roots, prevent oxygen uptake, and also cause needles to brown.

Sun Scald

If foliage on only one side of the spruce is turning brown, it may be sun scalded. This occurs when sun exposure suddenly increases after transplanting to a new sunny spot. The abrupt light level change can burn tender needles.

Signs Your Blue Spruce Is Dying

Brown needles don’t necessarily mean your blue spruce is dying. But these signs indicate your spruce may be beyond saving:

  • All needles are shriveling and falling off.

  • No new green growth appears on branches in spring.

  • Bark is splitting and peeling off the trunk.

  • Main trunk and branches are brittle and snap easily.

  • Tree is leaning severely or falling over.

If your spruce shows several of these symptoms, it is likely dead or dying. Removing the tree and replacing it with a healthy new spruce is recommended.

How to Revive a Newly Planted Blue Spruce

If your spruce just shows some needle browning and is still mostly green, try these revival methods:

  • Water deeply and regularly to reduce transplant stress.

  • Add a layer of mulch around the base to retain soil moisture.

  • Stake the tree for support if leaning or unstable.

  • Prune away any fully dead or damaged branches.

  • Fertilize lightly with a balanced evergreen fertilizer.

  • Check for signs of pests or diseases and address any found.

  • Protect the spruce from harsh sun and wind exposure.

  • Be patient as recovery can take 1-2 growing seasons.

Ideal Growing Conditions for Blue Spruce

To avoid future issues, be sure your spruce has these ideal care conditions:

  • Full sun – Blue spruce thrives with at least 6 hours of direct sun daily.

  • Well-drained soil – Wet, compacted soil causes root problems.

  • Moderate water – Water 1-2 times per week, adjusting for rainfall. Don’t oversaturate.

  • Shelter from wind – Reduce needle desiccation and breakage.

  • Good air flow – Promote foliage drying to prevent fungal diseases.

  • Annual pruning – Remove dead branches and shape as needed.

  • Occasional fertilization – Apply balanced fertilizer every 2-3 years.

  • Pest/disease monitoring – Watch for pests like spider mites and diseases like fungus.

Preventing Transplant Shock in Blue Spruce

To give a new blue spruce the best chance of avoiding transplant shock:

  • Choose a spruce with a wide root ball – This contains more undisturbed roots.

  • Transplant in early spring before growth resumes.

  • Ensure root ball stays moist when moving the tree.

  • Don’t let tree sit with roots exposed before planting. Plant immediately.

  • Handle root ball carefully when planting to avoid further root damage.

  • Water thoroughly after planting and continue deep watering for the first year.

Alternatives If Spruce Doesn’t Recover

If despite your best efforts your new blue spruce fails to recover, consider these options:

  • Replace with a new healthy blue spruce in fall or the following spring.

  • Choose a different but similar looking conifer species that may be more resilient. Evergreen options like juniper, arborvitae, or fir could work.

  • Try a more transplant-friendly deciduous tree like oak, maple, or ornamental varieties.

  • Convert the area to a shade garden or ornamental planting bed instead of replanting a tree.

  • Use the space for a non-living feature like a garden sculpture, water fountain, or decorative pot display.

It’s disheartening when a newly planted blue spruce starts turning brown. But stay patient and focus on adjusting care to help it overcome transplant stress. Ensure it has adequate water, nutrients, sunlight, and protection. Also, give it time to re-establish since recovery can take multiple seasons. With attentive care, the spruce’s beautiful blue color should return.

Evergreens Turning Brown Inside: Don’t Panic!

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