Help with Serbian Spruce

(Question)

I have a mature Serbian spruce which seems “dead” . It was alright till Aug 2017 and in Sep I noticed the lower branches shedding needles and by fall, the entire tree.This spring, no growth and seems gone. I have attached the picture of the tree. Is there hope?

I did not see any bugs or problems on the tree, I tried flushing it with water and then tried neem oil (on the lower branches), but to no avail. There are bunch of butterfly bush and had lot of monarchs last year. I read some kind of moths’ affect the spruce trees, could that be a reason? I cleaned up the needles and added lot of compost. I also want to mention that in a kind of triangle, 2 trees on 2 of our neighbours (not spruce though) died too. They didn’t seem to know why. Could this be a bigger issue? My other trees and plants are doing great.

Please help. Thank you.

 

(Answer)

Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners. Unfortunately, from your photo it appears that there is no hope for your tree. It is difficult to know what could have caused all the needles on your tree to drop.

Was your tree well watered going into the winter? Was the tree situated in full sun? Serbian spruce does not grow well in shade. For best results, plant the tree in well-draining, rich soil in a full or partial sun location. It could be that your tree succumbed to a fungal disease.

Serbian spruce is susceptible to needle cast, a disease caused by the fungus Rhizosphaera kalkhoffii. Did you notice if the first year needles became yellow, then spotted?  The following year infected needles on the inside of a branch turn purplish-brown (from the tips downward) and drop prematurely. Infection generally begins in spring on the needles of the lower branches soon after the needles have elongated. Symptoms spread upward and around the tree. This disease can be frustrating because severe defoliation can occur quite rapidly and without indication that the disease is even present.

The spores of Rhizosphaera needle cast are released from spring until fall. For future reference, on all trees showing symptoms make sure to remove dead branches, fallen needles, and cones under the tree to prevent further infections.Make sure to keep the area around the tree weed-free.

Make sure to prune surrounding plants to promote better air circulation and keep plants well watered, especially in periods of drought, to alleviate stress. Water all evergreens before winter to avoid root desiccation and winter injury.

This article from Morton Arboretum gives a list of Spruce diseases. Unfortunately, this will not help your tree this year however with proper cultural practices and proper planting technique will result in healthy, robust tree.

You may also find our Gardening Guide on Planting a Tree  of use.