Can I help my pine trees?

sdroneMay 11, 2009

I have 3 pine trees on my lot in a Chicago suburb. They've never really looked good in the 5 years that I've lived here. I've attached a URL for a pic of the worst one in front of the house. I imagine these trees are about the age of the house - 41 years old.

Each year I trim off some of the lower branches because the branches droop practically to the ground. I assume this is normal; from the looks of the trunk, that's been going on since long before I bought the house. I have a few questions...

1. Any idea exactly what type of pine tree this is?

2. Is this "drooping" look normal or unhealthy?

3. How long will pine trees live?

4. Is there anything I can do to help these trees?

I've never fertilized any of the trees around my house; I think I'll start this year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pine tree in front yard

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Dan Staley

Almost looks like Douglas-fir from here at that magnification and resolution, altho in CHI that might be a bit odd. There is nothing wrong with this tree that I can see. No fertilizer. I doubt it is as old as the house, but it is hard to count the whorls from here. Leave it alone, keep watering the lawn and know it needs little help from you to do its thing.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 11:40AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

conifers... do NOT need fertilizer ...

on this not that great pic.. i see nothing wrong with the conifer ...

a close up of the trunk.. and the needles.. and better yet.. a cone ... since its a conifer ... will get you an ID.. even better if you post it in the conifer forum ...

every plant has its own shape and form ... it SEEMS.. that you have some preconcieved notion of how a pine should look.. and somehow feel this one is not within your notion ...

get the ID .... then google the latin name.. then flip to images.. and i suspect.. you will see this is a normal growth pattern for whatever it is ... even if it isnt a pine at all ... might be a fir.. which answers why it isnt looking like a pine.. lol ...

good luck


    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 11:45AM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

I'll leave the ID to the conifer folks.

That said, the image resembles the Brewer spruce near my place on which such droop is normal (As said above, the conifer folks will b more reliable than I on ID.)

But what is it you're concerned about?

The open habit? If so, could be normal that kind.

Or browning and/or loss needles? If so, please tell us more. And please post close up images of what you consider to be the problem(s).

Oh yes. It would help us if we knew where in the US you live.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 11:46AM
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Looks like some kind of spruce (Picea), and, yes, at least as old as the house. Not exactly sure though, but the Conifers forum people could tell you. Don't know what they'd say about fertilizing. I've got ancient towering spruce on my property that have never been fertilized.

Drooping is normal - branches get heavy and thus get pulled down by their own weight. You may have cut off perfectly healthy limbs.

Many varieties of spruce are extremely longlived - upwards of hundreds of years if they like their conditions.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 11:48AM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Gosh -- a lot of us jumped on this all at once!

Sorry, I missed that you live in Chicago. (sigh)

Beyond that, I need to add this -- Don't fertilize what you consider to be a stressed tree. Ever.

To help you obtain an ID, take a 12 -18 inch piece to a nearby large independent garden center. Ask for the person who deals with the conifers. S/he will be the person most able to help you.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 11:51AM
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jean001: Chicago suburb, per my post

Sorry for the low quality pic. I snapped it with a 2mp cameraphone as I headed out the door this morning.

Ok, the conifer forum - thanks. I searched the forum list for "evergreen" and another word or 2, but didn't think of "conifer." I'll move the question there.

I do have kind of a preconceived notion, I guess. There are parts of the trees that are brown. The tree just doesn't seem to stand up well; every branch droops. The trees all look "worse" than they did 5 years ago.

Good to know they shouldn't need fertilizer.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 11:58AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

jean001: "Oh yes. It would help us if we knew where in the US you live."

OP: "I have 3 pine trees on my lot in a Chicago suburb."


The tree is not a pine.
The "drooping"/weeping is highly likely to be its natural form.
The tree will last many years if it's not overly loved.
It definitely needs to be mulched, but is unlikely to need fertilizer or anything else.
If that were my tree and I wanted to keep it, Id remove the turf around it and mulch.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 12:03PM
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Hmm, that's useful info. I was just about to put down a bunch of mulch in some flower beds. I don't like to mulch trees (I like my turf) but if it'll help I'll do it. Any advice on how big an area to mulch?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 12:08PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

At least out to the dripline, and farther if possible. There's nothing magical about the dripline, but it's a good reference point and I wouldn't go any smaller. A layer of mulch about 3" to 4" deep (depending on the type of mulch you use) should do well. Leave a small gap between the mulch and the trunk to eliminate potential damage from pest and disease that can occur when mulch is piled up against the trunk. Here's some of the benefits of mulch:

-improves soil fertility and texture as it breaks down,
-prevents germination of many weed seeds,
-reduces competition for food and water from grass and weeds,
-reduces erosion,
-helps to maintain soil moisture during dry periods,
-often aids drainage by preventing surface crusting and sealing,
-can keep roots cooler during hot summer weather,
-can help to moderate soil temperature fluctuations,
-reduces frost-heaving,
-reduces certain soil-borne diseases by preventing soil and fungi from splashing onto foliage,
-prevents damage from mowers and trimmers,
-and improves the look of the landscape.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 2:28PM
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Wow. heh. there goes 1/4 of my back yard. Interesting.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 2:39PM
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Odd to hear that a sick tree should not be fertilized. I have a pin oak that was struggling until I fed it. I started feeding lots of trees and they seemed to benefit.

Could someone explain why a tree should not be fertilized?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 3:50PM
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Dan Staley

Woody plants rarely respond to additions of P or K and applying fert without knowing whether there is a deficiency is a waste of time and money.

In the OP's case, there is nothing wrong. That is not to say that injury or deficiency does not warrant proper fert application and AFAICT no one above is stating never fertilize sick plants.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 4:17PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Often, the nutrients a tree needs are already present in the soil. Adding more nutrients than the tree requires will not benefit the tree and, in some cases, can be detrimental. More trees are likely harmed by fertilizing than are benefited. Soil tests should be performed before fertilizing so that, if there is something missing, you'll know what it is. Testing for nitrogen levels can be tricky and adding nitrogen to you soil is less likely to harm the tree than adding lots of something else, so adding some slow-release nitrogen fertilizer to otherwise healthy trees with low vigor may be beneficial.

Fertilizing trees with disease or pest problems can be especially harmful because many diseases and pests preferentially attack new growth. Also, flushes of new growth may rob the tree of energy needed to deal with a disease. There are cases where fertilizing a sick tree might help it, but the practice should not be done arbitrarily.

IMO, the best way to fertilize any tree is with an appropriate amount of composed mulch.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 4:21PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

It was asked "Could someone explain why a tree should not be fertilized?"

When one fertilizes a stressed tree at an inappropriate season, the tree puts out green growth -- an event which makes the owner very happy. "See, the tree is better now."

The tree used stored reserves to push that new growth. But the problem is that those reserves are needed to survive the stress, whatever they may be. Because the reserves are now at a lower level, the tree is even more stressed than previously.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 11:19PM
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Well, ok, I'm sure everybody means what they say, but I've been using Zamzow's Thrive on trees and it has absolutely helped pin oaks, maples, ponderosa pines, spruces and other trees on my property.

Here is a link that might be useful: Zamzow's thrive

    Bookmark   May 17, 2009 at 9:13PM
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Dan Staley

I'd say something about that product you consume with regard to, say, the amount of N in the product and how it makes the plant react, but there's no analysis for the product. For that reason alone I think they are hiding something from me (the same reason I don't purchase products from the Gardens Alive! catalogue).

Nonetheless, people have been studying fert and trees for years, finding the same thing, and folks have been disagreeing for years.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 9:32AM
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