An Arbor Vita in Distress

arbor vitae's

One of our Field Service Professionals, Trey Tefft from Huntersville, NC who recently attended one of my Professional Development seminars sent in the picture below of an arbor vita that he saw on one of his customer’s lawns. In the seminar we spent several hours discussing identifying indicator trees and the insects and diseases that affect those plants. Since our discussions covered arbor vitae he thought I could help him identify the possible cause of the decline of this particular tree.

Thank goodness for cell phones as they have become one of the greatest tools in helping me identify lawn and landscape problems. Many models have high definition cameras that can take phenomenal pictures at a very high resolution. They allow me to magnify the picture to easily see the possible causes. This is especially true when trying to determine if the problem is disease related.

arbor vitae

Trey also sent in a close up of one of the branches in hopes of giving me a better look at the issue. From What I could tell the only disease that could cause this specific sort of damage is called Tip Blight and the only insect that could would be a spider mite, which is not very common on an Arbor Vitae. Upon closer inspection, I did not see any indication of disease or insect activity.

I always ask for a picture that shows where the plant is growing to get a better idea of the environment where the plant is located. The majority of problems associated with trees and shrubs are related to poor cultural practices, such as:

  1. Watering
  2. Plant selection
  3. Plant location
  4. Poor planting practices

In the case of this plant, the problem appears to be more related to plant location and watering practices.
If you look at the base of the plant, it is surrounded by decorative stones, which are okay, but most plants will grow much better if mulch is used around the base of the plant. Mulch helps the plant to hold in moisture and as it breaks down, it is great food for the numerous microorganisms in the soil, which in turn, benefit the health of the plants. In my opinion, this tree is suffering from a lack of water.

Many of the branches on the arbor vitae are showing the internal needles and leaves browning, but the newest growth on the outside still looks good. Arbor vitae’s do go through a normal fall needle drop as they let go of the growth that is less efficient at photosynthesis. The browning in the picture above is much more severe than normal needle drop.

I spoke with Trey about this problem and he is going to discuss possible options with the customer. The good news is that they may be able to bring some of the growth back, but unfortunately once the needles on an evergreen turn completely brown, it does not turn green again.

Most coniferous plants do not have the same recuperative abilities of deciduous plants. The only option for this customer may be to replace the plant and maybe even change from decorative stone to mulch. By making this change the plants will surely thrive a lot more.

Do your arbor vitae’s look questionable? Contact your local Spring-Green before it’s to late.