Conifers, with their lush green foliage and towering presence, are a popular choice for many gardeners and landscapers. They offer year-round colour, structure, and privacy. However, it can be quite disheartening to see these evergreen beauties turning brown in the middle. If you've been asking yourself, "Why are my conifers brown in the middle?", you're not alone. This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on this common issue and provide you with actionable solutions to keep your conifers healthy and vibrant.

Understanding the Anatomy of Conifers

Before diving into the causes of browning, it's essential to understand the basic anatomy of conifers. Conifers are gymnosperms, meaning they have seeds that are not enclosed in an ovary. Their leaves are needle-like or scale-like, which helps them conserve water. The inner part of the conifer, often referred to as the "crown," is where the browning typically starts.

Key Components of a Conifer:

  • Needles/Leaves: These can be either needle-like or scale-like, depending on the species.
  • Branches: Support the needles and transport nutrients.
  • Trunk: The main stem that supports the tree.
  • Roots: Anchor the tree and absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

Common Causes of Browning in the Middle

1. Natural Needle Drop

One of the most common reasons for browning in the middle of conifers is natural needle drop. As conifers age, the older needles, which are usually located closer to the trunk, naturally die off and turn brown. This is a normal part of the tree's growth cycle and is generally not a cause for concern.

2. Lack of Sunlight

Conifers need ample sunlight to thrive. When the inner branches don't receive enough light, the needles can turn brown and die. This is often seen in densely planted conifer groves where lower branches are shaded by upper ones.

3. Water Stress

Both overwatering and underwatering can lead to browning. Conifers prefer well-drained soil and do not tolerate waterlogged conditions well. Conversely, prolonged periods of drought can also cause the needles to turn brown.

4. Nutrient Deficiency

A lack of essential nutrients, particularly nitrogen, can cause the inner needles to yellow and then turn brown. Soil testing can help determine if a nutrient deficiency is the culprit.

5. Pest Infestation

Pests such as spider mites, aphids, and bark beetles can cause significant damage to conifers. These pests usually target the inner branches, causing the needles to turn brown. Regular inspection and appropriate pest control measures are crucial.

6. Fungal Diseases

Fungal infections like needle cast and root rot can lead to browning of the needles. These diseases often start at the base of the tree and work their way up, affecting the inner parts first.

Diagnosing the Problem

Proper diagnosis is the first step towards addressing the issue of browning in conifers. Here's a step-by-step approach:

1. Inspect the Tree

  • Check for visible signs of pests or diseases.
  • Look at the soil around the roots to assess moisture levels.
  • Observe the pattern of browning; is it uniform or patchy?

2. Conduct Soil Testing

  • Test the soil for pH levels and essential nutrients.
  • Ensure the soil is well-drained and not compacted.

3. Monitor Watering Practices

  • Adjust your watering schedule based on the weather and soil conditions.
  • Ensure the tree is neither waterlogged nor drought-stressed.

Solutions and Preventative Measures

1. Pruning

Regular pruning helps improve air circulation and sunlight penetration to the inner branches. Remove any dead or diseased branches carefully to prevent the spread of disease.

2. Mulching

Mulching around the base of the tree helps retain soil moisture and regulate temperature. Use organic mulch like wood chips, but ensure it does not touch the trunk directly.

3. Fertilisation

Fertilise your conifers with a balanced, slow-release fertiliser to address any nutrient deficiencies. Follow the recommendations from your soil test for best results.

4. Pest Control

Implement an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy to control pests. This may include using insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, or introducing beneficial insects.

5. Fungicide Application

If fungal diseases are detected, applying a fungicide can help control the spread. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and consider consulting an arborist for severe infections.


While browning in the middle of conifers can be concerning, understanding the underlying causes and taking proactive measures can help you maintain the health and beauty of your trees. Regular monitoring, proper care, and timely intervention are key to ensuring your conifers remain a stunning feature in your landscape.

Have more questions or need professional advice? Feel free to reach out to our expert team for personalised guidance. Your conifers deserve the best care, and we're here to help you every step of the way.