** Archived Article - please check for current information. **
Sept. 26, 2011
Longleaf pine trees shedding needles is normal this time of year
Longleaf pine trees are shedding their needles across the sandhills and coastal plain, a normal occurrence this time of year, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Many folks become alarmed when they see brown needles on longleaf pines, since the trees are, after all, classified as evergreen. But the term evergreen can be a bit misleading. Although longleaf does retain needles year-round, in years with abundant rainfall, individual bundles of needles generally remain on the tree for two growing seasons, and are shed in the fall. In drought years, longleaf pines sometimes shed needles as early as July.
The 2-year-old needles on longleaf pine trees are closer to the base of the branches than the younger needles, and so one easy way to tell if browning needles are a cause for concern is to note where they are found on the branch. If needles are browning at the base of branches, then likely this is simply annual shedding—browned needles do not reverse to green. However, if the needles are browning at the extreme ends of the branches, then the tree may have a problem.
Johnny Stowe, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forester, wildlife biologist and heritage preserve manager, said pine trees are efficient at taking up, conserving and recycling nutrients. A high percentage of the nitrogen and phosphorus in pine needles moves back into the tree before the needles turn brown and fall off. Nutrients such as calcium and magnesium are lost when needles shed. Consequently, these nutrients are lost from the site in substantial quantities when straw is raked on a regular basis. In those situations, it is beneficial to fertilize occasionally to offset the loss of nutrients, especially on poor land where longleaf pine often grows.
Individual pines trees of the same species may drop needles a few weeks apart. Trees on dry sites tend to drop needles earlier than trees on wetter sites.
Other species of Southern pines, such as loblolly pine, tend to react similarly to drought, although longleaf tolerates dry weather best of all. Besides being more drought-resistant as compared to other Southern pines, longleaf is also less susceptible to damage from wind, fire, insects and diseases. For more information on longleaf pine, visit the Longleaf Alliance’s website.
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