Picea Pungens Blue Spruce dropping needles

Maybe someone can help with this blue spruce. In the spring, this tree had tons of new growth, and it did fine all spring. Then, in July I went away for a week and it seems my plant sitter never watered this one. When I returned the soil was very dry and pulled in away from the edges of the pot. I’ve been watering steady daily since then, but it’s now been dropping tons of needles and lots of branches have died completely. This tree was purchased from a nursery only this past December, and it’s still in the nursery soil, but I added a layer of organic compost about a month or so ago. It had fetilizer on it in spring, but it was removed for summer.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Should it be sheltered from the intense heat and sun for the remaining summer? Is this a combination of sunburn and lack of water? Should I do an emergency repot into bonsai soil, in case maybe now it’s receiving too much water? Is it likely to recover? Not quite sure how to triage this at the moment. Some days it looks like it’s settled, but then a few days later more dead needles.

Thanks for any suggestions.

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Hi @mm1313
Quite often, if soil becomes completely dry, it can become hydrophobic and fine root hairs die off. The recommended course of action is to thoroughly soak the pot, then keep it sheltered for a few weeks until the tree can re-establish it’s roots. If you continue watering before this, the tree can’t move the water, so is liable to drown or rot.
I would consider a re-pot.

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@AndyK thanks for the response. I figured the same kind of things. I wondered if maybe the tree has been experiencing root rot from watering after the initial reintroduction of water to the soil, as you say. I’m thinking I should repot and see if it recovers. Would you recommend treating this as freshly collected yamadori, where I would use 100% pumice in a custom made box to size? Or do you think it’s appropriate for some reason to use a bonsai mix? I was thinking pumice makes more sense, with as little root disturbance as possible during repotting. Cutting off dead roots and such. I know it’s a bad idea to be repotting mid-summer, but it seems logical in this case.


Same exact tree, same exact situation, same exact problem. The only difference is, it was my fault. I recently acquired my tree from a local nursery during a half off sale and decided to go ahead a set the major structure shortly after purchasing. I set the recently worked tree on one of my benches, and since I set up an automated watering system, I don’t check on my trees everyday due to work/life schedule. I failed to tie it in to the water supply and days later I saw it and thought to my self “daaaang it” I knew what I had done. Atlanta summers typically reach 1,000 degrees give or take a few and that did a number on my new acquisition. I’ve moved it to the shade and mine may not be burned quite as bad as @mm1313, Im going to monitor it for a little longer before I take action. I was really hoping to repot into a smaller container for next spring but I’m unsure now. I guess the next few weeks will tell.

Hard to say until you see what is going on in the root. I would probably go for sifted small partial of acadama in a small pot and after initial watering, just keep moist until the tree turns the corner. Not saying pumice won’t work.
How many trees die every summer by neighbors?

@AndyK thanks for your suggestions. I will likely do a gentle repot today or tomorrow, and hope for the best. I really like the trunk movement of this tree, so I hope it hangs on. But, surely we are all doomed to experience failures in this endeavor. As for neighbors killing trees, this is potentially the first one. But, I guess that’s what I get for wanting to grow bonsai while also having to travel for work all the time. Risks we take. @atom, I hope yours pulls through.

Good luck @mm1313
Spruce are fairly tough. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.