Brown tips on balsam tree #370046 - Ask Extension


Brown tips on balsam tree #370046

Asked October 14, 2016, 3:01 PM EDT

I have a 10 year old balsam tree. In the last three weeks some of the tips have been turning brown. Have not fertilized tree. Is there a problem with the tree? Is there anything we should be doing. thank you so very much. Linda Zarns

Mille Lacs County Minnesota

Expert Response

Do the needles stay yellow as shown or ultimately turn brown and drop? When did you notice this? Is the yellowing occuring throughout the tree or on one side / top / bottom?

Is this a certain cultivar of balsam fir? 

Have you done any construction projects near the tree recently?

Please send a picture of the full tree and surrounding landscape. Also, please provide any details regarding lawn treatment (herbicide treatments, fertilizers etc.). If you can include the product (s) applied to your lawn,  that  would help. This would include chemicals applied by neighbors, city, etc.

Julie Weisenhorn Replied October 17, 2016, 9:05 AM EDT
This started about 3 weeks ago. The brown spots occur all over the tree-not just one side or at the top or bottom.  When rubbing the needles with my fingers the brown/yellow needles are brittle and drop off the green needles do not.  The needles have not fallen off on their own.

I apologize I do NOT know the cultivar.

In July my spouse and I cut the turf around the tree and mulched it with cedar chips.

My spouse did apply fertilizer about 2 weeks ago-nitrogen only--it was a generic brand from our local store.  Our neighbor uses a lawn service  (On Deck) and stated they applied nitrogen only also and this was 2 months ago.

Again thank you so very  much for your assistance.

Linda Zarns   

The Question Asker Replied October 20, 2016, 4:18 PM EDT
Thanks for the info Linda. I admit this is a tough question! I have contacted a couple of my colleagues and we are not sure what is going on. Rarely is there one reason for a problem. It's a pretty uniform issue - lower part of the tree, tips only - so I keep thinking it's an abiotic issue - something that has occurred in the landscape is causing it (not an insect or disease).

Sometimes, depending on when applied and where, nitrogen applications can induce new growth. New growth late in the season is not yet hardened off and can be damaged by frost. So more follow up questions:
Have you had a hard frost yet in Mille Lacs county?
Did you apply fertilizer to the turf prior to the application 2 weeks ago?
Did you notice new growth later in the season on the tree?

The tree overall looks healthy. You did a nice job mulching it as well. Did you cut through any roots? Did you trim or shear the lower branches? Trimming can prompt new growth as well which could be killed by a frost.

I'm not quite convinced there is a disease or insect issue - unless you have observed something new? If you are concerned about the plant is diseased, you can certainly send a sample of the yellowing / browning needles to the U of M Plant Disease Clinic. The cost for diagnosis is about $45. Instructions are found here:

Sorry for all questions!

Julie Weisenhorn Replied October 21, 2016, 2:42 PM EDT
1.  We have not had a hard frost in Mille Lacs County.
2.  Our neighbor has applied nitrogen before we did-this tree is quite close to their property so it could have been fertilized twice.
3.  My spouse is not sure if he saw new growth-not sure I did either.
4.  We did cut some roots when we landscapes-tried not to but we did get some roots cut. We did not cut or trim any branches.
5.  I don't think it's a disease-but will definitely send a sample if we change out mind.

 Just an FYI we have a balsam very close to this one that has not shown any symptoms.  We currently have just been watering it and have not done anything else at this time.  Is there anything we should be doing?
Thank you again so VERY much for all your help.  
The Question Asker Replied October 25, 2016, 4:31 PM EDT
Nice mulched bed - I like the shape and that you mulched the two trees together.

Hmmm ... not sure what is going on. I am sorry about that. I think we've covered all the options for what might be causing those tips to dieback outside of insect damage. If possible - it might be too cold / late now - take a look at the tips. Look for any insect activity, bumps (needle scale), egg masses, webbing, etc. If you see it and can get a clear picture, please send.

Otherwise, just keep an eye on it next spring. At least the other tree is not exhibiting any issues. Keep watering all your evergreens in the absence of rain up until freeze. This will help minimize / reduce desiccation of needles in the winter.

Feel free to email me directly in the future at I'll keep researching ....!

Julie Weisenhorn Replied October 26, 2016, 11:18 AM EDT

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