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Extension > Garden > Diagnose a problem > What's wrong with my plant? > Evergreen Trees and Shrubs > Spruce > Discolored needles

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Spruce > Needles > Discolored needles

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  • Image: Rhizosphaera needle cast 1
  • Image: Rhizosphaera needle cast 2
  • Image: Rhizosphaera needle cast 3

Rhizosphaera needle cast
Rhizosphaera kalkhoffii

  • Infected needles turn brown or purplish brown late in winter or early spring
  • Needles at the branch tips remain green, while older needles closer to the trunk of the tree become discolored
  • Tiny black dots can be seen with a hand lens on infected needles
  • Discolored needles fall off mid summer; tree looks thin and bare
  • Damage typically starts on the lower branches and moves up the tree
  • Most common on young Colorado blue spruce, but infects all spruces
  • More information on Rhizosphaera needle cast
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  • Image: Winter injury 1
  • Image: Winter injury 2
  • Image: Winter injury 3

Winter injury

  • Needles turn brown or purplish brown in late winter early spring
  • Needles turn brown from the tip down, needle base often remains green
  • Needles at the tip of the branch are more severely discolored than those close to the trunk
  • Damage often only on one side of the tree
  • Common in trees exposed to wind and sun, or from light reflecting off buildings
  • Damage most severe at the top of the tree, branches covered by snow are unaffected
  • More information on Winter injury
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  • Image: Pine needle scale 1
  • Image: Pine needle scale 2
  • Image: Pine needle scale 3

Pine needle scale
Chionaspis pinifoliae

  • Infested needles are yellowish before turning brown
  • Look for small, 1/10th inch white spots on needles, these are adult scales
  • Severely infested trees can have sparse needles and branch dieback
  • Heavily infested trees can eventually be killed
  • More information on Pine needle scale
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  • Image: Spruce spider mite 1
  • Image: Spruce spider mite 2
  • Image: Spruce spider mite 3

Spruce spider mite
Oligonychus ununguis

  • Needles are mottled yellowish to reddish brown
  • Silk can be found between needles
  • Most common during spring and fall
  • Mites are dark green to brown, 1/50th inch long
  • More information on Spruce spider mite
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  • Image: Lirula needle blight 1
  • Image: Lirula needle blight 2
  • Image: Lirula needle blight 3

Lirula needle blight
Lirula macroscopa

  • In late summer second year needles become discolored, yellow to brown.
  • In the following year (third year needles) a raised black line forms along the midrib of infected needles, mostly on the lower surfaces
  • In some cases horizontal black bands form across infected needles.
  • Needles on lower branches are commonly infected first
  • Infected needles turn grayish brown after spores are released but remain attached to tree for several years
  • More information on Lirula needle blight
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  • Image: Spruce needle rust 1
  • Image: Spruce needle rust 2
  • Image: Spruce needle rust 3

Spruce needle rust
Chrysomyxa spp.

  • Needles at the tips of the branches (current year needles) turn yellow
  • Pale orange to white tube like projections appear on infected needles in July or Aug and release powdery orange spores
  • Severely infected trees may have a tan to pinkish cast
  • Infected needles fall off in September
  • Some species of rust can cause witches’ brooms, a clump of small weak branches arising from one point on a large branch
  • More information on Spruce needle rust
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  • Image: Spruce needleminer 1
  • Image: Spruce needleminer 2
  • Image: Spruce needleminer 3

Spruce needle miner
Endothenia albolineana

  • Small clusters of brown needles webbed together against branch to form ‘nest’
  • Needles hollow with small hole at base
  • Larva is brown, gray, reddish and as large as 1/4 inch long
  • More information on Spruce needle miner

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