This time of year, Rolling Green Nursery often hears concerns from customers that their newly planted Chamaecyparis (false cypress) trees or shrubs are dying. The interior of the plants can turn orange or brown giving the appearance that the plant is in decline.
The good news is that there is no need to panic, this is a natural process of plant senesence that can occur in both the springtime and in the fall in certain conifers.
Chamaecyparis (Hinoki cypress) and some other evergreens like Thuja (arborvitae), some pine and spruce, often shed some of their needles to prepare for new growth when the weather warms again in the spring. There may be just a small amount of shedding, or there may be a lagrer amount as some evergreens can go through a major shedding process every three to five years. Most often the browning occurs in the interior, and not on the tips, since that is where the older foliage is located.
Shedding can be a good thing for the tree or shrub in the winter because there will be fewer needles to hold exta snow or ice that may make them more prone to damage.
It is often concerning to homeowners who understand the term ‘evergreen’ to mean that the plant will never go through a dormant stage like a deciduous tree or shrub, but in order to replace older leaves or needles with new ones, the old ones need to be eliminated by the tree or shrub. The actual amount of needle shed on the conifer will vary depending on the type of growing season, including temperature and rainfall, and can sometimes be shockingly sudden.
Some gardeners don’t like the browning look and consider trimming our the dead portions. Pruning is not necessarily advised because you may accidentally prune something that is not replaceable. A mistaken pruning that cuts off an old branch where it will not generate any new growth could leave you with a permanent hole in your tree. If your tree is small enough, once the needles have become totally brown and brittle, you can gently shake your tree to help elimiate much of the brown portion.
If whole sections of your conifer seem to be turning brown, you should look closely at the branches and needles to determine if there is damage, decay or an insect issue, which would possibly require some type of treatment or action. If you are uncertain about the cause of the problem, it is advised to have it checked out by a certified arborist or landscape professional, or feel free to bring a photo into Rolling Green Nursery.