Why is my evergreen looking miserable?

20 Apr 2015

Magnolia, Broadleaved evergreen trees such as Quercus ilex (Evergreen Oak) , Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Prunus laurocerasus types (Laurel), Ligustrum types (Privet) and Photinia Red Robin always look at their most raggedy in March / April before their old leaves are jettisoned by the new spring flush.

The term evergreen is misleading as no tree keeps its existing leaves for that long! Pines do something called third season needle drop where the leaf set three springs ago goes yellow and drops away from the inner part of the crown as the newer foliage on the outer tips of the tree takes over and shades out the older leaves. For the golfers amongst you, just look at the ‘pine straw’ at the Augusta Masters! This is old pine needles, dropped from the tree canopy above.

Leaves have one main function in life, to convert sunlight into energy, so if they are shaded out they are cast aside. For a tree that is preparing to shed its leaf in readiness for the new flush to follow, the emphasis is off protecting the old leaf but rather concentrating on the new. This is why some evergreen turn yellow and blotchy in the spring as the tree is not bothering to look out for them anymore.

Most of these symptoms are far more noticeable on young trees as their canopies are less advanced and the leaves less numerous. As the tree matures you don’t really notice as new replaces old.

Leaves have to cope with a lot over the year. Rain, hail, snow, frost, wind and insect munching being just some of the things a delicate living thing has to cope with for its 12 months of usefulness. Don’t worry if an evergreen tree looks tired in the spring, it’s only the natural order of things. In fact, it is the ideal time to give the tree a shapely haircut knowing that the new flush of leaves is just a few weeks away.

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