Green’s gone

Many conifers in area turning brown

Many coniferous trees in the city have been turning brown, which may be due to temperature fluctuations. These trees are located at the Marquette Skate Plaza. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — In the plant world, what’s brown typically will not turn green again. Many Marquette residents have noticed many arborvitae — a type of conifer tree that’s commonly used as an ornamental — have turned brown.

Why is this happening?

“That’s a question I’ve heard a lot lately,” said Paul Albert, city of Marquette arborist, in an email.

He said that while browning is most prevalent on white cedars, it’s also evident on other evergreen shrubs, rhododendrons and numerous deciduous plants.

“Winter injuries are typically found on the southwest side of a plant, either evergreen foliage or thin-barked deciduous tree stems, where they are warmed by the winter sun and its reflection off the snow, only to freeze quickly when the sun becomes covered by clouds,” Albert said.

The damage seen this year, he noted, is found across many different species — on new and well-established plants, on whole plants and small branch sections, on plants growing on exposed and well-protected sites, and on all sides of the plant.

“This leads me to believe it is still a winter injury, but one related to extremely cold temperatures following a period of relatively warm early spring temperatures, as opposed to the more typical winter ‘sun-scald’ injury,” Albert said.

Unfortunately, he stressed that the brown will not turn green again, although if only a branch or two is brown, it might be possible to prune away that portion and still have a functional and attractive plant remaining.

“Because the damage is so variable, each plant would have to be individually assessed to determine whether or not pruning is a viable option or if the plant needs to be replaced,” Albert said.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, arborvitae’s narrow, pyramid shape makes it a good choice for windbreaks and requires almost no care when used as a screen or hedge. Pairs of these trees also are used for accents for doors or garden gates, with single trees often planted at corners of houses.