Q. The top of my pine tree died. Bottom branches look as healthy as ever, green, supple new growth on all of them. It is about 20 years old. Its watering has been successful for my 14 years in this house, infrequent and deep - it has options to gather additional water from adjacent areas (lawn and garden) if it wants. Why did it die? Can I remove the dead top? And what will happen?
A. I looked at the picture and I tried to identify the tree. The needles are not very long so it did not look like one of our common pines such as Afghan or Mondel pines. It actually looked like a spruce from the branches and the needle length. The kind of tree is very important in determining what caused the problem.
Whenever we have a portion of the tree die and the rest of the tree appearing healthy, it usually pinpoints the problem at the trunk or limbs where the green foliage is closest to the brown or dead foliage.
If I were on site I would get a look at the trunk or limbs at the juncture between healthy and dead areas. I would look for mechanical damage in that area. I can’t tell you why there would be mechanical damage but that’s what I would look for. This is not something we would normally see with pine trees.
If this is a spruce and not a pine then it might be heat stress. Spruce trees cannot tolerate our climate and soils very well and have difficulty lifting water from the roots to the upper limbs. If this is a tree that is not tolerant of our hot dry climate or desert soils than this could be drought at the top of this tree causing it to die back.