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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Abies, Trees--Diseases and pests

We planted a young Fraser fir last March. It has a lot of new growth, but has developed some dead-looking tips here and there that are a reddish rust color. I am wondering if we have a serious problem or should I just remove the affected tips and not worry about it? I have noticed a lot of trees this summer on my travels out through the Cumberland-Enumclaw area that look a similar cinnamon color and are totally dead!


The problem you describe could be the result of drought injury, or it could be one of several rust and fungal diseases which affect fir trees. Was the tree watered well after planting? Here is information on drought injury from Oregon State University's plant disease database. Excerpt:

Drought injury usually progresses from the top of the tree downward and from the outside to the inside of the crown. Top dieback and branch death may be common. Defoliation of the mid-crown or loss of needles at the base and tip of shoots can also occur in Douglas-fir. Older needles commonly turn yellow and are shed prematurely. Roots may be alive even though the entire above-ground parts are dead. Winter injury, gopher and root weevil problems can produce similar symptoms.

Your description also sounds like the symptoms of Phytophthora, a fungal disease which is common in our area. Excerpt:

Phytophthora root rot is usually a problem only in areas with poor drainage or where flooding occurs. The fungus attacks the roots, which rot and die. The infection moves up into the crown, where the cambium (soft inner bark) turns reddish-brown or caramel in color instead of the normal white to greenish color. Older trees may develop cankers on the trunk, which are a dark reddish-brown when cut. The cankers may be accompanied by split bark and oozing pitch. Lower branches wilt, turn dark red, and die back. Younger trees are often killed outright, while infected mature trees may show wilting, branch dieback, and/or gradual decline.

Missouri Botanical Garden's Integrated Pest Management site has information and includes an image of Fraser fir suffering from Phytophthora.

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has published a guide entitled "Recognizing and Managing Phytophthora Root Rot and Other Conifer Diseases" which may be of use to you. (Caution: this is a large file!)

I recommend taking a sample of one of the cinnamon-colored branches to a Master Gardener Clinic, and also taking photos of the whole tree, so that you can have the problem diagnosed. If you are near Enumclaw, the Pierce County Master Gardeners offer diagnostic clinics.

Date 2017-02-11
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Garden Tip

Keywords: Plant and garden societies, Chamaecyparis, Picea, Tsuga, Abies, Dwarf conifers and shrubs, Conifers

The Pacific Northwest is an excellent climate for growing evergreens because our winters are generally mild. We can grow far more species than just Douglas Firs and Red Cedars, and in city gardens dwarf conifers are much more suitable. Explore the wide world of conifers, plants that produce cones, by joining the American Conifer Society. Membership costs $25 per year which includes a nice quarterly journal with color photos. Their website has a database with descriptions and photos, as well as information on becoming a member. Call (410) 721-6611 to join.

Favorite four conifers as voted on by members of the American Conifer Society:

  1. Picea orientalis 'Skylands'
  2. Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'
  3. Tsuga canadensis
  4. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'

Date: 2007-04-03
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May 16 2018 11:15:37