Archive for October, 2015

White pine shedding 1-year old needles

White pine needle sheddingI have been noticing a lot of yellowing needles on the pine trees in our area this fall and it reminded me of the blog post I published in the fall of 2012.

When a large number of pine needles start to turn yellow then drop, homeowners can become quite concerned and this may be one of those years when needle drop, especially in white pines, is especially noticeable.

It’s important to understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a disease or insect problem.

Read on …

From October 17, 2012 …


Help! A lot of the needles on my pine tree are turning brown and falling off. What’s going on? Should I be worried? Is my tree dying?

White pines shed the previous year's needles each fall.

White pines shed the previous
year’s needles each fall.

We often get questions like this in the fall. The keyword here is “fall”. Everyone is used to the deciduous trees coloring up and dropping their leaves in the fall but many are not aware that pines and many other evergreens also go through a natural “leaf” drop at this time of the year.

But they’re evergreens! They’re not supposed to lose their needles.

The difference is that evergreens don’t drop all of their “leaves” at one time like deciduous trees and shrubs do so it normally goes unnoticed.
Every year all evergreens, including the broadleaf evergreens, shed at least some of their older foliage. When this leaf or needle drop occurs and how much is shed depends upon the species.

Since we aren’t accustomed to thinking of fall needle drop as being a normal occurrence for pines and other evergreens, many people automatically assume that they have an insect or disease problem when this happens. They’re quite relieved to find out that it’s normal.

1-year old growth drops it's needles while the current season's growth remains green.

1-year old growth drops it’s needles while
the current season’s growth remains green.

Pines as a group shed their oldest needles in the fall. Most pines keep their needles for 3 to 5 years spreading out the needle drop over that period. White pines, on the other hand, hold their needles for only one year. Because of this, in certain years, the needle drop on white pines can be rather dramatic. This seems to be one of those years. At least in our area of the Shenandoah Valley, the white pines seem to be full of yellowing needles and this can be a bit alarming to a homeowner.

Why do you notice this in white pines especially?

White pine needles turn yellow then brown before they drop

White pine needles turn yellow then
brown before they drop in the fall.

It’s because, since they only hold their needles for one year, variations in growth rate from one year to the next can have an effect on the percentage of needles that are shed in a given fall. When you look carefully at white pine branches in the fall, you should see that the needles at the ends of the branches (the current year’s growth) are healthy and green and that the one year old needles behind them towards the interior of the tree are the ones that are yellowing and turning brown. Eventually these will be shed.

When environmental conditions favor good, strong spring growth, the lush, new foliage will usually hide the shedding needles behind it. In these years, the natural needle drop in the fall is less obvious.

Browning needles on the one-year old white pine growth

Last year’s needles have turned brown.

However, if new growth in the spring is slowed due to drought for instance, this growth will be shorter and will produce fewer needles than the previous year’s growth (assuming a normal growing season in that year). This sometimes means that a higher percentage of the needles on the tree are one year old needles and when these needles begin to turn yellow and brown in the fall, it becomes much more noticeable (especially if there was a good growing season the year before).

This seems to be the situation for us this year. During the time when new growth was forming on the white pines, our temperatures were above normal but rainfall was well below normal. This resulted in reduced spring growth and consequently, it’s possible that more needles may be shed this fall than are retained on the tree. Interesting, huh?

So now you know and you can rest assured that your white pines are probably not sick or insect infested – they are just shedding … naturally!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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A bluebird fluffs up against the cold

Now that a chill is in the air, it’s time to dig out all your bird feeders and get them cleaned up and ready for your winter bird visitors.

We’ve actually been feeding the birds through most of the summer even though there is normally plenty of other food available. We enjoy watching them in the summer too, so we generally keep at least one feeder out all year long.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits our feeder

A female ruby-throated hummingbird
visits our feeder

We also set up several hummingbird feeders around the house. It’s a joy to sit on the front porch or on the deck and watch these fascinating birds zoom to and fro from flowers to feeder and then zip away as fast as they appeared. Our hummingbirds can be very aggressive and territorial! There always seems to be a feisty one around that chases the others away when they try to drink at a feeder. We have to hang multiple feeders out of sight of each other in order to give all the hummers a chance to feed!

A male ruby-throated hummingbird hovers over a feeder

A male ruby-throated hummingbird
hovers over a feeder

To keep your hummingbirds healthy and coming back to your feeders, it is important to refill hummingbird feeders with fresh “nectar” about every 5 days or more often if the solution becomes cloudy. Be sure to wash the feeders well before refilling.

Now that the days are getting shorter, the hummingbirds will soon be on their way to Mexico for the winter. But don’t take your feeders down just yet! These tiny birds need to fatten up before their long journey south so leave your feeders out as long as you still see them around. When a week or two have gone by with no activity at the feeders, it is time to take them in, clean them up, and store them until the following spring.

Now it’s time to get ready for the winter birds …

Before you fill your bird feeders and put them out, it is very important to clean and sanitize them. Dirty feeders can spread potentially harmful bacteria, mold, parasites, and diseases throughout wild bird populations.

Your bird feeders should also be cleaned on a regular basis when they are in use – at least once a month. This will keep them safe and attractive to your wild bird friends.

Here are a few tips for cleaning your feeders:

  • This feeder is in desperate need of cleaning!

    This feeder is in desperate
    need of cleaning!

    Always wear rubber gloves and eye protection when you wash your feeders.

  • Wash feeders in warm water with a mild solution of unscented dish detergent or a commercial bird feeder cleaning solution that you can find in a full service garden center or a specialty bird store. You can also wash them in a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts warm water).
  • Use a stiff brush to scrub off dirt and mold. A long-handled bottle brush works well on tube feeders. A toothbrush can be a handy tool for scrubbing the feeding ports and other small parts.
  • Rinse well with warm water after washing.
  • Allow the feeders to dry THOROUGHLY before filling them with seed.

In addition to keeping the bird feeders themselves clean, it is important to keep the areas under and around your feeders clean. Over time, debris builds up under feeders – seeds that the birds kick out or drop, seed hulls, and bird droppings. To reduce the spread of parasites and disease, periodically rake up this debris and remove it from the area.

Supply Fresh Water for the Birds

All kinds of birds visit the water bowl

All kinds of birds visit the water bowl

I know I say this in all my posts about birds but it is so important, especially in the winter, to provide the birds with an open source of fresh water. We keep our water trough full all year long. It is amazing the number of different species of birds that come throughout the year just for the water! In the summer, our big water bowl is constantly filled via the automatic watering system that Eric has set up to water our deck containers. In the winter, we refill it with the watering can as needed and use a birdbath deicer to keep the water ice-free.

Remember, it is just as important to keep your water bowls and birdbaths clean as it is to keep the bird feeders clean. They should be dumped, scrubbed clean, and refilled with fresh water a few times a month, especially in the summer.

Bluebirds flock to the water

Hardly room for any more at the watering hole!

It’s almost time for your feathered friends to come “Trick or Treating” at your house – be ready for them!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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