What happened to my tree to make it turn orange in a week?


I have a pine tree that I planted 20 years ago. What would make it die and turn orange in a weeks time? Everyone says salt from the roads but why don’t the other trees in the area turn that quickly? Or at all? It was beautiful and lush on Mother’s Day. I had gotten solar lights to put on it for the summer. Would an ants nest do this?  Thank you for any help you might be able to give. On a side note, where can I get a 10 ft tree to replace!


Jonathan Foster, Home Horticulture Outreach Professional

I’m very sorry to hear about the demise of a beloved tree. This appears to be a balsam fir, or possible a spruce (I would need a closer look to be certain), not a pine. The Iowa State Univ Extension has a nice guide to distinguishing the trees here.

There are a couple of reasons why the sudden change may have occurred. Certainly, something environmental like an influx of road salt could account for such a sudden and dramatic die off. As to why it hasn’t happened to others in the area, salt tends to get distributed unevenly–your tree may have gotten a pile of snow pushed up in that area from a plow, or it could have been at the end of a drainage sink, or it could be that the soil chemistry is different in different spots (e.g., pH) that might exacerbate or mitigate an influx of salt. Or you might be correct that salt isn’t the culprit.

The Univ of MN Extension has excellent resources for identifying various conditions in fir and spruce, but I’m still initially leaning toward an environmental cause, unless you notice any of the symptoms mentioned in these links. A good close look at the trunk, needles, branches, etc., may help you find more clues to the cause. Balsam firs in particular have experienced numerous reports of sudden decline in the upper Midwest, tentatively attributed to dehydration from a combination of winter winds and warm springs, which would gel with a concern over environmental conditions here. For a firmer diagnosis of what might be going on, you should consider either submitting a sample (digital photos or a physical specimen) to the UMaine Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab or look into a site visit from a Maine-licensed arborist. These won’t be free of charge, but they are the surest way to get an accurate idea of what’s going on.

For replacement trees, I would talk to your local nursery or greenhouse to see what they have in stock. A ten foot replacement will be quite expensive (often prohibitively so for the home landscape scale), so I would recommend you purchase a younger sapling and take care to establish it well and give it a good start at replacing your tree. Please check out our UMaine Cooperative Extension Bulletin #2366, “Selecting, Planting, and Caring for Trees” for more information on best practices with young trees.

Happy gardening.