Browning on transplanted 9′ White Spruce

(Question)

We transplanted five 9-foot tall White Spruce trees from just Stouffville to Toronto, towards the end of August, 2014. All seemed well, but a week ago, three of the five trees started browning at the lower level (as seen in this picture). Any ideas?

(Answer)

Once spring arrives, it is not uncommon to notice winter injury in spruces.  Spruces are cold-tolerant when they are dormant (over the winter), but your transplanted trees may be more vulnerable than they were in their previous, established location.  Issues like freeze-thaw events or quick temperature changes could promote injury.  Experts note that it may be difficult to tell the difference between the brown colour caused by winter damage and that due to fungal diseases – Altough I’m most suspicious that our harsh winter is the culprit, I suggest checking for symptoms of fungal disease.

If the damage is indeed from winter injury, this is usually an aesthetic problem, and the discoloured needles should simply fall off during the spring, to be replaced by healthy new growth.   To prevent winter injury in the future, experts recommend not watering the trees in late summer, so that they can harden off for winter.  However, watering the trees until late autumn is also advised.

I have not addressed issues that may have contributed to these symptoms, e.g., whether the trees were transplanted appropriately (depth of planting, possible damage to the trees when they were moved, poor location/soil drainage, etc.).

You may be interested in the University of Illinois  Extension report “Spruce Problems”, which provides lots of detailed information.

You may also wish to search our Ask a Master Gardener website for earlier postings about possible issues with your spruce trees (use the word “spruce” and several items pop up).  For example, See Spruce Problem, which was posted in late October 2014.

Finally, consider consulting an arborist: ask your local gardening centre or go to Landscape Ontario, which provides a list of arborists in your area.

All the best with your trees!  Please write us back to update us.