Old needles dying on scots pine - how did I screw up?

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#1
I’ve been growing this pine for ages - at least ten years - slowly developing the branches. I always prune in the fall. This past fall I was finally seeing the design coming together and the tree was very healthy so I got a little cocky with the pruning, taking some of the branches back to the next bud and removing some but not all of this years growth.

Now I’m seeing the two year old needles shriveling. Not abscissing and dropping off just dying. Last years needles are still fine, as are the buds it seems. But it’s never done this and I don’t think it’s right.

What did I do wrong? What do you think it’s chances are for the spring? I’m constantly reminded I don’t really know what I’m doing ...
 
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#2
I don’t have Scott’s Pines. However, my Eastern White Pines always shed the old needles every year. The needles turn brown....and the winds blow them off the trees. The new growth takes over after that.
 
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#3
Yes all the 2015 needles turned brown and fell off last autumn as they were supposed to. These are the 2016 needles that are turning grey and shriveling while staying attached. The 2017 needles (I did not prune them all off) look fine, so far.
 
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#4
I usually just see the current year needles....which right now would be the 2017 needles. The 2016 needles would be long gone in most every case.
 
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#6
I dunno, I usually have two years worth of needles on this. And they don’t turn grey in the middle of winter when they decide to die. Well, as long as the newer ones are ok the tree may be also. I hope. I would like to know what happened tho.
 
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#7
I dunno, I usually have two years worth of needles on this. And they don’t turn grey in the middle of winter when they decide to die. Well, as long as the newer ones are ok the tree may be also. I hope. I would like to know what happened tho.
Your tree is likely reacting to the additional stress placed on it. It may be that your timing was early in the fall compared to normal or the weather in your area last fall was warmer than usual. Could be the more aggressive approach to cut back, leaving too little new growth.
I would make sure the roots are not too compacted or wet and refrain from any fertilizer until it shows signs of healthy growth progressing. If you are very concerned about root condition after observation then you can consider an emergency repot, or slip pot to dry the roots out a bit.
 
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#8
Thanks. I don’t fertilize my pines until new growth is hardened off so no problem there. It is due for repotting but I certainly don’t intend to stress it any further this year by disturbing the roots if I don’t have to. Only a slip repot if there appears to be problems. It’s not been a particularly wet winter. Hopefully it will just bud out as usual. Should know soon.
 
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#9
This winter was pretty cold. A lot of the pines near me look a little worse for the wear. Perhaps the last two warm winters did the tree a disservice?
Probably more likely it's wet feet or extra pruning stress
 
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#11
Well pulling trees out of protected wintering this weekend I found dry pockets of soil on this tree. We had a dry spell for a couple months and although I tried to water appropriately it appears I was not fully successful. Once the soil dries out past a certain point normal watering won’t re-wet it and the water channels itself to the bottom and out of the pot. This is what happened here.

All two year old needles are dead and still stuck fast to the tree but all of last years needles look fine without hint of the “death cast” coloration that we learn to pick up on quickly. But the tale will be told when dormancy ends as things can go downhill very very quickly if there had been too much damage.

Worked on this tree for at least 15 years so would be kinda sad to lose it, regardless of how good it is, or isn’t. Quick documentation pic from last fall.
E63C89BE-E441-4289-88C1-B20B663E1156.jpeg
 
Last edited:

my nellie

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#12
Well pulling trees out of protected wintering this weekend I found dry pockets of soil on this tree. We had a dry spell for a couple months and although I tried to water appropriately it appears I was not fully successful... ...
Worked on this tree for at least 15 years so would be kinda sad to lose it, regardless of how good it is, or isn’t.
It would absolutely be a shame to loose this tree... much more for such a reason...
I will be glad to read the recovery of your tree.
May I ask what is your substrate mixture?
 
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#13
It’s mostly inorganic w turface, granite, some pine bark, etc. I find this phenomenon happens regardless of the soil mix. This tree has never had a good rework of its roots since it was purchased from Julian Adams so there is still some of his soil in there as well. It was a somewhat taller tree then with a big ball of branches and foliage on the top. It’s required a lot of work to get it where it is. I’ve just been very slow and not very methodical with it. The design such as it is is just starting to gel now.

This is how I lose trees unfortunately. Stupid mistakes, often in the winter. Alas. We just have to wait now.
 

0soyoung

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#14
I am not convinced that you, @Velodog2, did anything wrong, but I'll share some thoughts.

Maybe the error is your winter storage arrangements. If it (the substrate( isn't frozen, it will require water. So, if the substrate can thaw in your winter storage you need to water when it happens. On the other hand, if you are saying that you water and still find dry spots, water heavily, wait, water heavily again or immerse the pot in a tub for a few minutes if you can, until there are no more dry spots.

Second thing is, AFAIK, p. sylvestris is hardy to zone 3. You should only need to secure this tree so it isn't damaged by wind during the winter. Maybe shelter it a bit from sunlight.

Third, Scots can be bare rooted - the roots recover quickly. They can be repotted and root pruned annually, you want. I don't know the extent to which Julian's soil may have contributed, but it could/should have been washed out long ago.

AFAIK, each year's needles are connected to that year's xylem. These connections get stretched by the next year's xylem and after some number of annual xylem additions, the connection breaks and "that year's" needles die. I'm having trouble understanding why some dry roots would lead to a particular year's needles dying. IOW, it seems possible that you have two separate unrelated issues, not one. It seems to me that a root problem would not affect the needles of a specific age. All needles on one branch or toward one side of the tree or the entire tree, yes (root problem).

Right now, I think the needle and root observations are two separate and unrelated things.
 
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#15
Well pulling trees out of protected wintering this weekend I found dry pockets of soil on this tree. We had a dry spell for a couple months and although I tried to water appropriately it appears I was not fully successful. Once the soil dries out past a certain point normal watering won’t re-wet it and the water channels itself to the bottom and out of the pot. This is what happened here.

All two year old needles are dead and still stuck fast to the tree but all of last years needles look fine without hint of the “death cast” coloration that we learn to pick up on quickly. But the tale will be told when dormancy ends as things can go downhill very very quickly if there had been too much damage.

Worked on this tree for at least 15 years so would be kinda sad to lose it, regardless of how good it is, or isn’t. Quick documentation pic from last fall.
View attachment 183318
Drying out over the winter would be guess.
 
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#16
Oso thanks for your reply, and it would be good if the needles weren’t related to the dryness. I agree completely with your reasoning, but don’t have any other smoking guns to point to.

I only provide protection from the wind in the winter. The temps of course have been all over the place as is typical now, but it had plenty of freezing although temps didn’t get below 7 F. It’s withstood colder. And although I attempted to water during dry thaws apparently I failed to do so sufficiently.

The strangeness of just these particular needles dying is why I made this post at all. I’m very familiar of course with the normal needle loss on pines each fall of older needles which some have tried to attribute this to. It ain’t that, as this happened in the winter and the needles are stuck right.

As for my lack of attention to the roots, I guess I’ve been focused on the top and didn’t feel comfortable working on both ends at once. Pines frankly intimidate me and I tend to be cautious with them.
 

0soyoung

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#17
As for my lack of attention to the roots, I guess I’ve been focused on the top and didn’t feel comfortable working on both ends at once. Pines frankly intimidate me and I tend to be cautious with them.
I started in this game afraid to touch any roots. Somehow I got brave and then I got too aggressive for a while. I buy lots of inexpensive garden center cast offs just for the sake of experience. I think I've lost more conifers by postponing the removal of dirt/soil than by aggressively cleaning it out circa August. Buy some junk pines (Scotts, JBP, mugo, say) and try it for yourself. The experience removes so damn much anxiety!!! Repotting of pines can be done in spring. I prefer circa August.
The strangeness of just these particular needles dying is why I made this post at all.
Okay. No accusations, just trying to contribute to solving an intriguing condition/problem.
Lets focus on why it might be that a specific generation of needles be affected and another not. I believe this describes your issue.
Maybe closer examination of each generation of needles, condition of the bark in the area of each. If there was a branch to spare and you have a microscope, it would be interesting to look at a longitudinal cross-section - I don't think this is a possibility.

Hmmm.

What to do to get more clues?
 
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#18
Well my apprehension comes from having lost pines in the past so I’m not without experience. The long response time with conifers in general between the cause and the result scares me as it’s usually too late once they show distress. I’ve not had the losses with junipers and spruce that I’ve had w pines so less anxiety there. And so far being conservative with this has worked. So far.

I can get a close up pic of a problem area tonight for what that’s worth. I can also lift it from the pot and see if there is anything interesting to see there, such as new root tips, or lack of them. Thanks for the interest.
 

my nellie

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#19
Interesting discussion!
Please, allow me to stress this out :
... ...The long response time with conifers in general between the cause and the result scares me as it’s usually too late once they show distress... ...
I believe this is kind of a nightmare for pine growers... or at least some of them...
 
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#20
Here are pics fwiw. I don’t think fully 100% of old needles are dead, but very nearly. Looking at the roots I don’t see any signs of growth there but it may be too early yet. It is not particularly root bound btw, and there didn’t seem to be any problems with them. Most are nearer the bottom of the pot as you would expect and may not have been affected by the dryness.
8659EB25-43FF-4605-A4FA-4F2CF27C11F5.jpeg 8F872788-3443-47A3-BCFE-CDDBCD5EEFA7.jpeg E25DF8BA-97E5-4A56-B072-D6A56DB4B96A.jpeg
 

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