Plant Health Alert – Your Yard Is Not a Plant Nursery

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Your yard is not a plant nursery managed by professional growers. The tree you buy at the nursery will likely never look as good as it did the day you bought it unless you work at maximizing the plant’s growing conditions. We gardeners cannot be expected to be able to care for plants as well as nursery or garden center workers who have dedicated their careers to the cultivation of plants.

'Fat Albert' Spruce

Trees experience needles in the interior dying because the plant is adjusting to the conditions of the planting site; in less sun and probably because it is not being watered or fertilized enough.

Trees in the nursery are full of leaves and needles inside and out because they are getting maximized amounts of sun, water and nutrients. Nurseries where plants are grown are in full sun and the trees get watered daily and fertilized frequently. An analogy would be me going to fitness camp where I ate the optimal kinds and amounts of food, got the perfect amount of exercise and rest. If I spent months there I would return home in the best shape of my life. Unfortunately when I got home and went back to work and my regular routine, I would have a difficult time maintaining the nutrition and fitness regime. I would never look as healthy as I did when I got home from the fitness camp.

Gardeners buy plants from garden centers where the plants are cared for intensely as if they were in a fitness camp for plants. We gardeners buy plants then plant them in less than optimal conditions at our homes. Most landscapes get less than full sun and gardeners do not water or fertilize enough. Plants cannot maintain their good looks in these conditions.
When trees are grown in maximized conditions they will have the most leaves and needles that they can possibly maintain. When removed from optimal conditions to marginal conditions, trees must readjust. When the amounts of sun, water and nutrients are not the same as the nursery the tree begins to get rid of the least useful needles because it can’t support all of its leaves due to a lack of resources (light, water, nutrients). Trees experience needles in the interior dying because the plant is adjusting to the conditions of the planting site; in less sun and probably because it is not being watered or fertilized enough.
We are currently in a five week drought with no rain in site. I suggest watering any plants you care about thoroughly every three days until we start to get regular rainfall. Fertilize the plants next spring with a slow release fertilizer. Try to get rid of limbs from other trees to get as much sun as possible. The tree will not grow new needles in the interior but will grow new needles at the growing points at the end of branches. Remember, being shaped like a Christmas tree is a juvenility feature in conifers. Conifers will eventually lose their lower limbs and form bare trunks in the long term.
The good news is that these trees can be made healthy again by providing the light, water and nutrient the growing plant needs.