We have received many calls from concerned clients lately that their spruces, pines and arborvitaes are shedding needles and turning yellow or brown. We are so happy to report that this is a completely normal occurrence and is no cause for alarm! These species of trees and shrubs are what we refer to as “narrowleaf evergreens”. While evergreens get their name because they stay green all year, this does not necessarily mean they retain the same needles for their entire life. Each species of evergreen works on a different needle life cycle. They retain their needles anywhere from one to five years and then they quickly drop and refresh the older ones keeping their fir green and healthy. The process always occurs in the fall, but as mentioned, typically does not happen every year. Spruces retain the same needles for a full 5 years before dropping, while Pine’s have a yearly cycle of dropping and refreshing. Arborvitaes typically follow a two year cycle, and firs such as Douglas firs and Hemlocks can retain their needles anywhere from 3-5 years.
One of the most surprising aspects of this process, is that we never see a bald evergreen! As needles are yellowing and dropping to the ground in huge batches, the tree is rapidly reproducing fresh needles keeping the full evergreen appearance. What’s more, is that they are not shedding their entire set of needles each cycle, just the oldest ones that are located on the inside of the tree, closest to the trunk. This brings up an important point, if you notice your evergreen losing needles from the ends of their branches, this may be cause for concern. Young needles and buds found on the end would only be dying and dropping if something more serious was occurring within your tree.