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Why Are My Pine Trees Dying from the Top Down?

If a pine tree calls your property home, consider yourself lucky. This species of tree is truly magnificent, which is probably why Oregon crowned the Douglas fir, a species of pine, as its state tree. Capable of growing over 100 feet tall and living for hundreds of years, the pine tree could definitely be considered reliable. But even the strongest tree can be susceptible to devastation.

Is your pine tree dying from top down? When a pine tree starts showing signs of browning or decaying leaves near the top, it can cause concern. The bottom of the tree might look fine, so why would the top be dying? Pine trees dying from the top down is common, though definitely not a good sign. This condition is referred to as dieback. It may be caused by a number of things, including fungal disease, insect infestation, or harsh weather conditions. Because there are so many possibilities for what can be causing this, it’s best to consult a professional and have them examine the situation. In the meantime, here are a few common reasons why your pine tree may be dying from the top down.

Climate & Weather

Why Are My Pine Trees Dying from the Top Down

With Oregon’s long rainy season, a lack of water isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for our trees. But with an intensely hot or long summer, as some of the ones we’ve been having lately, drought conditions are exactly how dieback can occur for pine trees. High temperatures, air pollution from wildfires, and dry climate are affecting the trees, even if they aren’t showing signs of it right away.

If you’re noticing your tree is suffering from dieback but know you have been watering it correctly recently, it could be due to harsh conditions from the previous year. Frosting conditions in the early spring or late fall are known to have an effect on pine trees too. And sometimes trees don’t show symptoms of stress until well after it’s occurred.

Your tree needs to be watered properly, and appropriate watering changes from season to season. When the weather isn’t on your side, keep a close eye on your pine tree. Be mindful of the changes in the weather and make up for it as you see fit.

Parasitic Plants

Some plants can grow on or around your tree and be an asset. Others can become the cause of your tree’s demise. One such plant is the dwarf mistletoe. These slow killers specifically like to grow on pine trees, which don’t show physical signs of infection until a couple of years after they’ve started the process. When the mistletoe does show, it produces a sprouting called the “witch’s broom,” which is usually yellow or olive green in color.

This parasite can harm the top of the tree by slowly stealing water and nutrients from its roots and the base. As the base and roots of the tree become stressed, they require more water and nutrients, which leaves little left over to reach the top branches. Though capable of causing fatal damage, if caught early enough, your pine tree can be saved from parasitic plants like the dwarf mistletoe. Having professionals perform pruning services on branches that are infected could significantly extend the tree’s life by cutting out the source of the problem.


There’s a reason people want to get to the “root of the problem.” A problem in the roots can affect the entire tree, which is why they need to be well nourished, hydrated, and surrounded by good soil. Having soil that’s too tightly compacted, lacking in nutrients, or dried out could be a reason why your pine tree is dying from the top down. Your soil should be well ventilated and not too tightly packed so that water and nutrients can flow through it. There should also be a healthy amount of soil life, such as bacteria, earthworms, or slugs. These things are what convert minerals and organic matter into the vitamins that your tree lives off of and are essential to your pine tree.

If you’re not sure if your soil is at healthy levels, try doing a soil test. A soil test will determine if the soil is acidic, neutral, or alkaline by testing the pH. If the pH level is off, it could be what’s causing the demise of your tree.


According to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, insects pose a big threat to the forests in Oregon. If a tree is already suffering from other issues like root rot or not being watered properly, insects will see it as an invitation to what could be their new home. Bark beetles, Douglas fir pole beetles, and engraver beetles specifically are something to look out for when the top of your tree is suffering. When these beetles invade, they live underneath the bark, traveling up and down it, creating tunnels and infiltrating the original structure. Once the bugs are inside the tree, they begin to lay eggs. The larvae then chew their way even deeper into the tree and cut off the tissues that bring nutrients to the tree.

How do you know that this insect has been introduced to your tree? The needles at the top of the tree will start to turn a brown or orangish color. As it works its way down, the green color in the rest of the tree will fade into brown. Also, holes may begin to form in the tree, most likely caused by birds like woodpeckers. As the insects being to claim the tree as their home, woodpeckers notice and create holes in the tree trying to find beetles and larvae to eat. Unfortunately, once these bugs infiltrate the tree, they are almost immune to insecticides, and the tree cannot be saved.

It can be discouraging to see a pine tree that was once thriving begin to die from the top down. Knowing the possible causes can help you feel prepared if this starts to happen to your pines, but to be sure, have an expert take a look. Avoid feeling helpless by having a professional, like our staff at Mr. Tree, inspect your specific pine tree and provide options to avoid or treat an unhealthy tree.