What Causes Pine Trees to Lose Their Needles?

What Causes Pine Trees to Lose Their Needles?

Have you discovered one or more pine trees shedding needles in your landscape?

Being that pine trees are evergreen – not deciduous – conventional wisdom should lead you to believe that this isn’t normal. After all, evergreens are characterized by their ability to retain leaves year-round.

So, if you discover a pile of pine needles blanketing your landscape, you may assume that one of your pine trees is sick or dying.

While this may be true, though, it’s usually just a normal phenomenon that doesn’t jeopardize the health or longevity of the affected pine tree.

Pine Trees Shed Their Needles Once Every Few Years

You might be surprised to learn that pine trees shed their needles once every few years.

There are roughly three dozen species of pine native to the United States. Some pine species shed their needles as frequently as once every two years, whereas other pine species shed their needles just once every five or six years. Regardless, all pine trees shed their needles.

Pine trees shed their needles to make room for new needles. Unbeknownst to many homeowners, pine trees grow new needles each year.

As these needles emerge, they’ll push out old needles, causing them to fall to the ground. Known as “needle drop,” it’s all part of a pine tree’s natural life cycle. If pine trees didn’t shed their old needles, they wouldn’t be able to grow new needles.

Lack of Water Can Cause Pine Trees to Shed Their Needles

Most instances of needle shedding in pine trees is a natural phenomenon, but this isn’t always the case.

If a pine tree is severely dehydrated, it may shed some or all of its needles in an attempt to survive. The fewer needles a pine tree has, the less water it needs.

Normally, you’ll discover the needles turning brown on a dehydrated pine tree first. Assuming the pine tree doesn’t get an adequate amount of water, the brown needles will die and fall off.

Fungal Disease Can Also Cause Pine Trees to Shed Their Needles

A fungal infection can cause pine trees to shed their needles as well.

Dothistroma, for example, is a fungus responsible for needle blight. When the needle blight-causing fungus infects a pine tree, the needles will die and fall off the tree.

You can usually diagnose needle blight in pine trees by looking for common symptoms like yellowing of the needles, the formation of a reddish-colored band around the needles and general discoloration of the pine tree’s foliage.

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