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This was a really tough winter in Madison, Wi. We smashed our all time snowfall record of 67" with over 100" of snow. We also had multiple below zero days.

I planted a small forest of Dwarf Albertas last summer. With all the rain in the fall, they were well hydrated going into winter. But when the snow melted here is what I saw.



What do you suggest I do:
1. Leave them alone, they'll recover.
2. Trim off the brown stuff, leaving the green stuff.
3. Consider them toast and buy new trees while they are cheap at HD.
4. Other thoughts ...

Tom
 

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Out of curiosity where did you get your dwarf albertas? What ive seen on net is they are around $50 + shipping each! You have quite a group there if calculations are right around $1500+ or am I just looking in all the wrong places? Sorry cant help you about the brown tops, but maybe they will just come out of it if you give them time???? Let me know where you get them I would appreciate it very much. Thanks The Regal/DesktopModules/NTForums/themes/mls/emoticons/w00t.gif
 

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Regal,

I buy mine at Home Depot for $3 to $4 apiece. Genearally they are marked down at the beginning and end of the season. I've been buying there for 3-4 years. Up to this point, no problem.

Rod

They were in great shape until the snow flew. I doubt whether spider mites would have been active while these were buried by snow, especially with the sub-zero degree F weather we had this winter. The burn marks are mostly oriented in the same direction which leads me to believe the culprit is wind burn.

Tom
 

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Three years ago I bought 50 Alberta Spruce from Wal Mart that looked just like that or even worse. They were asking 3.50 each but they were not selling so I told the manager I would take 50 trees for 75 dollars.

I took them home, watered them, trimmed some of the branches off of them and EVERY ONE OF THEM SURVIVED. They now look like a miniature forest.

I would just leave them alone for a couple of months and see what happens. I may have just been lucky. I certainly am not a master gardener by any stretch of the imagination.

John
 

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Hi Tom,
Alberta spruce are susceptible to wind and sun burn through the winter especially when recently replanted. Even if hydrated well in the fall, the frost as it’s driven into the ground locks needed moisture in the form of ice. Additional watering if possible at times during the winter is essential. Spraying with a product such as “Wilt-Pruf”, which puts a protective barrier on the needles and or wrapping the trees with something like burlap or creating a wind break can help prevent this.
As far as the burned portion of the trees they probably won’t recover. The surrounding healthy growth on the tree may eventually fill in those areas but this could take years as these are very slow growing trees.

For more information on conifers try this.

http://www.conifersociety.org/cs/index.php

David
 

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Thanks David
I did water mine good couple times before frost. My newest trees have it more. I always leave trees in till they totally die . then I know for sure.
 

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As on any softwood tree...dead tops (uppermost tips) normally mean the tree will die sooner...rather than later...IF, it's THE uppermost tip. That's the key...the topmost tip on the trunk. If that happens, IMHO the tree is toast. If that tip dies, you should dig the tree up...and return it to Home Depot...and yes, you can return plants there...and get a new one to replace it. It's easier if you have the receipt, but even without one, it's possible to return them.

If, it's NOT the top tip, then you can prune the dead part off...and if the plant is healthy, it should regain some of it's shape. Pruning for shape over years will give you a decent looking "tree".

Your damage COULD be from mites...or from mites and freezing. Mites live INSIDE the tree wood so, freezing weather does NOT necessarily keep trees from getting mites...nor does it kill them. If you have mites in the tree, ice crystals can form inside their little mite tunnels...and hurt the tree even more...by expanding and breaking the cambium layer. The only way to ensure you don't have mites is to treat the trees yearly with a systemic pesticide. This is a pesticide you put in the soil around the plant and the plant absorbs. Many that treat mites don't kill the adult bug...but do kill their offspring.

Another treatment that is needed is feeding. Healthy plants resist mites FAR better than under fed plants. A tablespoon of 15-15-15 every four months will help your tree to be MUCH more healthy...BUT, it means you'll be pruning more often.

I've NOT heard of wind burn as a problem with alberta spruce as long as they are well irrigated. Wind burn is normally assoicated with severe dehydration of a plant parts. A regular watering cycle during the growing season is important. Non-deciduous trees flourish in wet areas....but, wet does NOT mean soaked. Damp is good. Puddled water is bad.

Good luck.
 

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Mike gives good advice on these small spruce trees.

I would add that winterburn is possible in cold climates under two conditions. First, spruces, unlike pines, dislike dry sandy soil - planting on sand is a starting condition for winter dessication. In a cold climate such as here in the Ottawa Valley, in years with minimal snow cover and cold temps that drive the frost line down to 42 inches, exposed conifers will suffer from the very dry wind. Air humidity falls with temp and conditions drier than the desert are common during cold spells. Any Alberta spruce starting the winter in dry sand is at risk of winter burn (dessication) through the January to March extreme cold.

There is no real cure for winterburn other then to reserve the sands for pines, do not plant in exposed locations and for the smallest trees, wrapping sometimes helps. The best over wintering conditions seem to be deep snowcover like this year.

Regards ... Doug
 

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mine are like that to:mad: i live south of chicago, yea this was a bad winter, hopefully mine will come back to, mine are exactly like yours, only one side, there is a retention pond behind me and i thought the same thing about wind damage because the wind always comes of the pond. I also get mine from Home Depot for around 2-5 dollars, always wait to the end of the year and they sell everything off real cheap, and yes i have had the same experience with negoitiating with them, offered them a price for more and they said o.k.

tom h
 

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Perhaps the term “wind burn” is misleading as its being used here. Dehydration is the common cause of “sun” or “wind burn”. Deep snow cover can protect these trees from dehydrating as well as any cover or protection from winters drying winds and sun. Evergreens are more susceptible to winter drying because they don’t shed their foliage during the winter months. Of course everyone here has their own idea of what drying winds are. Here in southwestern Wyoming not many trees grow except for the odd power or telephone pole. Getting enough snow to cover even my small Alberta spruce without blowing in to the next county is, well, next to impossible. The product I mentioned in my earlier reply has been the most effective in helping my trees from loosing valuable moisture during the winter. And I might add that about anything that blocks the wind WILL help to prevent “burn”.

David
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks for all the help.

There's plenty of good stuff here that will help me protect trees next year.
I Googled "Dwarf Alberta Spruce wind burn". Apparently wind burn is a really common problem with this species.

Mike, I'm curious as to why you feel that burn on the very top shoot is a sign of impending death. It is a very common practice in the Christmas tree industry to clip the vertical terminal shoot of Firs as well as the end of their longest lateral shoots in order to retard vertical growth and encourage them to fill out. If the problem is the cells in the needles drying out in the extremities due to wind, how would clipping the dead ends result in a significantly different result than clipping the ends on a healthy tree? Everything I'm hearing indicates that if my problem is wind burn, the problem is localized not systemic. On the other hand, if the problem is spider mites, then I could understand that the whole tree is likely to die because the problem is systemic. And death might start at the top of the tree. But then if the problem is spider mites, I would expect to see brown all over the tree. On these trees, the brown side is consistently pointing in the same direction. Also, the lower portions lf these trees were covered by snow most of the winter. It's the upper portions that are damaged - indicating the problem is most likely to be wind burn. Not only that, the trees on the outside of my woods are more affected than the trees on the inside. I'm not challenging you here, just asking for clarification.

Dwarf Albertas are currently available at my Home Depot for $4. I don't have my receipt from last year. I'm not going to dig up 40 trees and drag them down to hassle with the HD manager unless I need to. I'd rather try to encourage these to survive. And digging them up and planting new is likely to kill a whole bunch of additional trees if the problem is mites.

I'm inclined to clip the dead ends on the moderately affected trees and leave the more severely affected trees alone. The idea of feeding them is a good one. With all the snow melt and all the rain we've received in the last few weeks, they certainly don't lack for moisture.

Does this sound like a good plan?

Tom
 

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Tom,
I'm a landscaper by trade, and I've seen winter burn on many evergreens including dwarf albertas. Clip off the brown areas, they won't recover. As for the tree being a gonner, don't count it out. It had plenty of water, so it won't be dried out. Trimming off the brown is no different than trimming it to look more like a "natural" tree in the landscape vs a nusery bought perfect speciman.
Also, give the trees some fertilizer this spring. 14-14-14 is an ornamental slow release fertilizer designed for trees and shrubs. The extra nutrients will also help the trees. Something else (since they are evergreens) is something like Hollytone as a soil additive.

Good luck and let us know how they turn out.

Remember, with evergreens, sometimes they don't show the full extent of damage for up to a year. During drough years, they may still look nice, then the following year just die.
 

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Tom,
Something else, if you have spider mites, you will usually see very fine webbing. They can most certainly kill a tree if left un-treated. I use a two step process of a dormant oil spray, then a acephate spray durning the active season. All surfaces of the needles have to be soaked for a complete kill as they will move to an untreated portion of the tree.
 

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Posted By Tom Farin on 04/12/2008 9:47 AM
Thanks for all the help.
Mike, I'm curious as to why you feel that burn on the very top shoot is a sign of impending death. It is a very common practice in the Christmas tree industry to clip the vertical terminal shoot of Firs as well as the end of their longest lateral shoots in order to retard vertical growth and encourage them to fill out. If the problem is the cells in the needles drying out in the extremities due to wind, how would clipping the dead ends result in a significantly different result than clipping the ends on a healthy tree? Everything I'm hearing indicates that if my problem is wind burn, the problem is localized not systemic. On the other hand, if the problem is spider mites, then I could understand that the whole tree is likely to die because the problem is systemic. And death might start at the top of the tree. But then if the problem is spider mites, I would expect to see brown all over the tree. On these trees, the brown side is consistently pointing in the same direction. Also, the lower portions lf these trees were covered by snow most of the winter. It's the upper portions that are damaged - indicating the problem is most likely to be wind burn. Not only that, the trees on the outside of my woods are more affected than the trees on the inside. I'm not challenging you here, just asking for clarification.
Tom


Good points...and the simple answer is "I'm not sure". I'm not a botonist. I have not seen wind burned trees the way you describe...but I've seen many ones that had mites and or were under irrigated. Regarding mites, they don't take over the whole tree at once. They "eat" their way into the tree...often from the side or on lower branches. If not treated, they infect the whole tree and just suck it to death...and often cause other diseases to take hold...as the tree weakens.

Mite infected non-deciduous trees often show localized damage...that's where the infestation is most severe. Side to side, bottom to top...it moves as the bugs eat their way into the tree.

As for "tip death" (that's what it is called here), I don't KNOW the mechanism that makes this a death indicator...other than the fact that the "disease" has climbed all the way to the top. That may be why my experience is that pruning doesn't help...the disease has simply spread too far...and the plant is "terminal". As mites progress through a tree...they eat their way into the center...and up...looking for the moist, softer wood. So, by the time they get to the top, they've very much compromised the ability of the tree to distribute moisture to the wood and "leaf" cells. This is why my arborist explained to me to use a systemic insecticide...you need to kill the mites INSIDE the body of the tree...and I know it really works.

As for why Christmas trees can be trimmed....simple, they're heathly. As an example, surgical removal of a human's hand won't kill a human either...unless the surgical area gets infected...or is infected. Basic health is important.

It's the same for plants...the dead, dried out area is the sign of death or impending death of that localized part of the plant...but the infection (the mites) is elsewhere...still growing..and pruning won't treat that.

I would THINK (don't really know) that plant distress caused by under irrigation or wind is similar to the dehydration caused by mites. If water doesn't get to the plant cells, those cells die. And the parts that are obviously dead are NOT showing the whole region of distress. As with the mites...other more central parts of the tree are also affected (versus infected)...and are dying.

From what you've shown and explained, I'd agree with you that wind burn sounds more like your problem...unless the trees ALSO had mites...which would just make the wind burn symptoms worse. If it were me, I'd think about how I'd keep them from becoming dehydated in your area...and that might mean wrapping them in burlap if they're NOT protected by snow.

Lastly, remember these are spruces...NOT pines. Spruces live on the lower slopes of mountains...not on the upper slopes where pines flourish...and my GUESS is that's because there's a hydration difference between trees huddled together down low in a forest where other trees protect them from wind....and those that can stand more wind up high. Spruces seem to need more protection...while pines don't.
 

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One more thing....Steamnut is RIGHT...it's 14-14-14 fertilizer you want to use...NOT 15-15-15. I was wrong. Like he says, 14-14-14 is an encapsulated fertilizer which means it dissolves over time feeding your plants for months. The 15-15-15, while almost the same chemical mix, is not encapsulated and dissolves FAST. There's a big cost difference too...14-14-14 is a LOT more expensive than 15-15-15...but IMHO, it's worth the extra cost. Nothing beats good health...and regular fertilizing is critical to that. Just be judicious on how much you apply or you'll be pruning and pruning and pruning and pruning........
 

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Mike and Steamnutt,

With respect to all of you, I have to disagree on some of the points of fertilizing. I do not fertilize because I’m trying to minimize growth to keep my trees in scale. As long as the tree is healthy when planted, has good slightly acidic soil and is regularly watered with little or no fertilizer this creates a hardier tree IMHO. Pat Hayward the horticulturalist who recently left Garden Railways magazine also agrees and I quote from their website “Do not fertilize unless you want your trees to grow faster and larger.” “A Garden Railroaders Guide to the Dwarf Alberta Spruce” is the name of the article if you have access to Garden Railways site.

Tom,

That article also mentions winter “burning” and I quote “In some areas, winter or temporary drought-caused "burning" is a major issue. I've seen this happen year after year to the same trees, and the best advice I can offer is, "wait it out." Nine times out of ten, the trees will push plenty of new growth to cover up the dead-looking areas. Again, prevention is the key here. Mulching and monthly winter watering will help ease the stress. Be especially aware of potential burn if the tree has been subjected to unusual stress. “

Not trying to add fuel to the fire but simply a different approach to this varied and interesting hobby:)!

David
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Steamnut & Mike,

Thank you for the additional thoughts.

I sprnt a few minutes trimming some of my less affected trees. One thing that makes me feel good is those trees have nice looking buds at the end of the branches that have dead needles. It feels like the cold bitter wind (we some nights will chill factors in the -40 to -50 degree range) may have sucked the moisture out of needles but the branches may be ok.

So I stopped trimming as I was cutting off buds. I will feed them with 14-14-14. Then I think I'll watch them a bit and see what happens. Hopefully I'll see some nice green buds open out in some of the less damaged areas.

Again, I appreciate the help.

Tom
 

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Discussion Starter #20
BigDigger,

I agree with your comments about fertilizing in general. I have five year old Dwarf Alberts and they have never been fertilized and are very healthy. But we're talking about very young trees that are trying to survive an assault made by a tough winter.

Besides, this is the North Pacific Coast Garden RR. Much of that roadbed was populated with Redwoods. These little Alberta's have a long, long way to grow before they are ever going to get out if scale for my pike. Let's see, 200' divided by 20.3 -- that's pretty close to 10'. /DesktopModules/NTForums/themes/mls/emoticons/laugh.gif

Of course it's going to take one heck of a lot of pruining to make a Dwarf Alberta ever look like a redwood. ;)

Tom
 
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