The Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory

What's Hot on November 11, 2005
at the P&PDL!

Evergreen Needles Don't Last Forever

Rosie Lerner, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture , Purdue University

Evergreens provide green color all year long, but that doesn't mean the individual needles live forever. Evergreens do shed their older needles to make room for new growth. But what makes them evergreen is that they retain some foliage all year long, instead of shedding all of the leaves at once.

Evergreen needles have varying life spans, depending on the species. Arborvitae and pine needles usually live for 2 years, while spruce needles usually live 3-10 years. Some species of evergreens have a more noticeable leaf drop than others. In autumn, arborvitae and white pine will drop their 2-year old needles all at once, which can be quite alarming, if you don't realize that it's perfectly normal. On other species, needle drop occurs gradually, with a small number of needles falling at one time. The older needles of yew shrubs will turn yellow and drop in late spring or early summer. Broad-leaved evergreens, such as rhododendrons, drop their 2-3 year-old leaves in late summer and early fall. Inner and lower needles that are hidden from light are usually the first to drop. Pruning excess growth and dead limbs can help open the plant to more light. But, for most plants, there's no need to worry; they are just doing what comes naturally.

Images courtesy of Rosie Lerner

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