ClickCease Arborvitae Care Guide: Preventing Browning & Reviving Brown Trees - Arborist Now

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Why Your Arborvitae is Turning Brown and How to Fix It

Arborvitae is a wonderful tree specimen to place on your property. This kind of tree is used to create a barrier or fence, or to simply add beauty to your yard. As this tree is in the evergreen family, its leaves are supposed to remain green forever. If you have noticed this tree is turning brown, it is time to find out why.  Whether the arborvitae can be saved depends on the extent of the browning and how long it has been occurring. Removal is not always needed.

Unraveling the Mystery: Why is Your Arborvitae Turning Brown?

Every plant lover's nightmare is witnessing their cherished greens wither away. If you find your arborvitae turning brown, understanding the causes can help you tackle the issue efficiently.

Common Reasons Behind Arborvitae Browning

1. Transplant Shock: The Immediate Aftermath of Relocation

Relocating an arborvitae isn't as simple as it seems. They are known to experience transplant shock, especially in the months right after planting. The shift can cause them to lose roots, which in turn, affects their ability to absorb nutrients and water. Proper planting depth is crucial; else, it can suffocate the roots. It's essential to be well-informed about transplantation procedures to prevent such shocks.

2. Drought Stress: The Water Woes

With rising temperatures, ensuring your arborvitae gets enough water becomes even more important. Dry spells can lead to severe drought stress for these trees, especially if they're in sandy or rocky soils. Remember, mulch can be a lifesaver, and don't forget the extra water right after transplantation.

3. Winter Injury: The Cold Curse

Not just summers, even harsh winters can be a bane. Freezing temperatures combined with icy winds can wreak havoc on the arborvitae, leading to leaf and branch damage. As the ground freezes, water uptake gets restricted, causing the upper tree parts to dry and eventually turn brown. 

4. Root Damage: The Invisible Threat

Be wary of any digging or trenching activities near the arborvitae. They can inadvertently harm the tree's roots, especially the surface ones, responsible for sending water and nutrients up the tree. Disturbing the soil around the tree can spell disaster in the long run.

5. Disease and Pests: The Unseen Enemie

Some fungi and boring insects have a particular liking for arborvitae trees. If your tree exhibits symptoms like cankers, wilting, holes in the bark, or even sawdust accumulations, it's time to get a professional involved. Only a certified arborist can provide a definite diagnosis and treatment recommendation. 


The Road to Recovery: Reviving Your Browning Arborvitae

If your arborvitae has begun turning brown, don’t lose hope! Take action as soon as possible with these tips to help revive and restore your tree:

1. Provide Extra Water

Provide supplemental watering during hot, dry periods to reduce drought stress. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to deliver water directly to the roots. Water deeply once or twice a week if rainfall is lacking. Avoid frequent, light watering which encourages shallow roots.

2. Protect from Winter Damage

In cold climates, protect arborvitae from desiccating winter winds by installing burlap screens around the trees. Spraying an anti-desiccant sealant before winter hits can help leaves retain moisture as well. Wrap small trees with insulation to prevent freeze damage to roots and branches.

3. Improve Soil Health

Next, focus on improving the health of the soil to ensure the roots can access air, water, and nutrients. Add 2-4 inches of mulch around the base to retain moisture and reduce weeds and grass competing for resources. Organic compost also boosts soil nutrients and beneficial microbes. Perform a soil test to check pH and fertility status.

good soil

4. Prune Affected Areas

Prune out any completely dead or dying branches into healthy green wood. Don’t overprune the tree since drastic pruning stresses it further. Remove no more than 1/3 of living branches/foliage per season as the tree recovers.

5. Fertilize Lightly

Apply a balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer in early spring to provide nutrients without pushing tender new growth. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers which damage weakened trees. Mycorrhizal fungi can also boost nutrient uptake.

6. Allow Time to Recover

Finally, be patient and allow your arborvitae time to recover from stress factors. Meeting the tree’s basic needs for water, nutrients, and care allows it to gradually regain health over time. It can take months or years to fully replace damaged foliage.

When to Remove a Browning Arborvitae

How much of the arborvitae is brown, and how long it’s been in decline determine whether it can bounce back or not. Here are signs it may be time to remove and replace a browning arborvitae:

  1. The tree has been declining for more than 2-3 years with no improvement
  2. The trunk is very brittle or rotten at the base indicating serious internal damage
  3. There are signs of non-reversible issues like root rot or severe insect infestation

In some cases, even predominantly brown arborvitae can recover with attentive care. Have an ISA-certified arborist assess the tree before making the final decision to remove it. With early intervention, you stand a good chance of restoring many declining arborvitae trees.

Prevent Arborvitae Browning in the First Place

Stop arborvitae decline before it starts! Here are proactive maintenance tips to keep your trees healthy and green:

  1. Select disease-resistant cultivars suitable for your climate zone
  2. Plant in well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter
  3. Stake and support newly planted trees to prevent wind damage
  4. Water deeply during dry periods, especially right after planting
  5. Apply mulch and prune properly to avoid winter injury
  6. Monitor regularly for signs of disease, pests, or other stress factors
  7. Fertilize lightly in spring with an organic, balanced fertilizer
  8. Avoid trenching, driving, or digging near the root zone

With proper site selection, planting, and care you can avoid many common issues leading to arborvitae browning. Your investment of time and effort will pay off in the form of vigorous, verdant trees that enhance your landscape’s beauty for years to come.

Care Tips to Prevent Browning


1. Wrap Your Tree in Burlap

An excellent way to protect your arborvitae trees in the winter is to wrap them in burlap. Burlap is thick and inexpensive fabric which will block the sun from hitting the tree during the time that it cannot receive water. Ideally, the right time to do this is before the ground starts to freeze. Keep the burlap in place with twine and this protective barrier will protect the tree when it cannot access water.

2. Water the Tree when the Ground is Thawed

If you do not wrap your tree in burlap but want to avoid browning, keep a watchful eye on the ground during the winter. Water only penetrates the roots when the soil is loose. If the ground is not thawed out, it may be impossible. During the winter, the weather may heat up and thaw the ground. Take advantage of the thawing and water your arborvitae.

How to Save a Browning Arborvitae


1. Prune Dead Branches

Brown arborvitae can be saved from conditions that cause it to brown, but it may not be as healthy as it was. But that does not mean it cannot be saved. A branch that has turned brown can grow out and parts of the branch closest to the trunk will grow to their natural green. This is a good sign. Have pruning services done in the spring or summer have the branch pruned all the way back to where the leaves start to be green again.

2. Remove Severely Damaged Trees

Unfortunately, if most of your tree has become brown, it may not recover, but give it time to see if any new growth is different. If enough time has passed and you still have not seen improvement, it might be best to have the tree removed.

Contact Arborist Now , the premier professional tree servicing company in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area for safe tree removal. By knowing what to look out for and what precautionary measures to take in the future, tree removal may not be necessary.

Signs Your Arborvitae is Too Far Gone

Even with the best care, some arborvitae trees decline too far to be saved. Here are some clear indicators it's time to remove and replace your arborvitae.

1. Years of Decline

Arborvitae that have been slowly declining for more than 2-3 years despite corrective care are often too damaged internally to recover. There comes a point where the roots, vascular system, and other structures can't be repaired.

2. Brittle, Dead Branches

If more than half the branches are brittle or snap easily, the tree's vascular system is too damaged to transport water and nutrients. Pruning out the dead material will only further stress the tree.

3. Rotten Trunk

A soft, punky trunk covered in fungal fruiting structures indicates fungal root rot. The pathogens that cause root rot progressively destroy the root system and base of the trunk, ultimately killing the arborvitae.

4. Severe Pest Damage

Signs like frass and extensive tunneling from boring insects or cankers oozing sap mean pests have overwhelmed the tree. Even if treated, the damage may be more than the arborvitae can withstand.

While saying goodbye to a beloved tree is difficult, removal and replacement is sometimes the only option. Focus efforts on keeping remaining arborvitae healthy or planting new specimens in optimal conditions.

Caring for arborvitae trees requires a blend of proactive measures and timely interventions. By understanding the common causes of browning and implementing the recommended solutions, you can ensure that these evergreen beauties remain a vibrant and integral part of your landscape. Remember, the health of your arborvitae is a testament to your dedication as a gardener. With the right knowledge and a bit of patience, you can navigate challenges and enjoy the lush green presence of these trees for years to come.

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