October 20, 1999 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Autumn has arrived in the Commonwealth. It is easy to see the subtle changes in the color of the hardwood trees. Already, vibrant colors of orange, yellow and the red are taking over the landscapes. Pine trees don't take on the beautiful fall colors, but they don't go unnoticed this time of year.

Pines also lose a portion of their leaves (needles) in the fall, but do not go through the colorful ceremony the hardwoods do. A portion of their needles turn brown and fall to the ground around the same time as the hardwoods change color and lose leaves.

"Many calls are made to the Extension office confusing normal fall needle drop with some disease or insect attack," Doug McLaren, forestry specialist for the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, said. "The most noticeable of the pines individuals call about is the white pine, a pine easily identified by the five needles per needle bundle."

The limbs on the white pine grow in whirls, a complete set of limbs at one height on the stem. Usually, these groups of limbs are about three feet apart, so every three feet there will be a set of limbs growing around the stem. The arrangement is comparable to an artificial Christmas tree with "plug-in" limbs. The white pine has uniform, dark green foliage. With the coming of fall, the brown needles cause people to think the tree is dying or is under insect attack.

"It is a simple task to determine if the needles are being attacked by insect or disease or simply losing needles due to the time of year," McLaren said. "Normal needle fall of a white pine, as well as most other pines, will have the inner-most needles of the limbs, closest to the main stem of the tree, turning brown. It will be a uniform change in color of brown throughout the entire tree. Normally the needles will change to a brownish-yellow first, then abruptly brown."

In early winter, needles will fall to the ground, again leaving the tree uniformly green for the spring. Cause for alarm for any pine, or hardwood for that matter, would be foliage turning from green to brown on the exterior of any limb while still green on the interior. If this should develop, McLaren suggests calling or taking an appropriate sample for closer examination to someone with expertise in the subject.

Try calling your county Extension office first for the most, up-to-date information. They can either answer your question or put you in touch with someone who can.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 606-257-9764

Source: Doug McLaren 606-257-7775