Why does black pine needles smelling funny?

Hi all,

I have this Japanese black pine (in Australia) which I’ve noticed has an odd and very noticeable pickle-like smell emanating from the needles and am confident the smell is not from the pot.

This tree was repotted last year and not decandle to gain its strength. It did okay throughout last year and it’s needles grew long but I see a few changes which tell me this tree is also getting weak:

  1. its needles are not as deep a green as they used to be
  2. it keeps having problems with woolly aphids
  3. and now smelling funny

I’m now thinking maybe the soil composition is not right and might need repotting before the next growing season however to deal with some of these issues:

  1. I’ve fertilized heavily with nitrogen rich fertilizer but the yellowing is not going away
  2. I keep shooting the aphids off with direct water jet but they keep repopulating

So I am wondering

1. what is the reason for the strange smell?
2. what could be the reason for the loss of color?
3. should I treat the aphids with chemicals?

I probably won’t decandle this year either and leave things until fall before deciding what the next steps are. Here is a picture of what the tree looked like last year after it was repotted. As you can see its foliage looked convincingly greener:

and these are its most recent photos

Honestly, your pine looks pretty healthy to me. Looks kike it grew vigorously this year, it was sparse in your initial photo and now quite full. Also the terminal buds are elongating and look pretty strong!

If it’s still cold it may just be showing a winter color, I have a JBP that has a golden hue during the winter, turns a lime green color during growing season and finally dark green late summer after hardening off. I believe it could be due to over watering, normal response to cooler weather, or perhaps lack of nutrients such as iron or magnesium which could indicate a water and/or soil ph issue. Have you tested the water or soil? All I can think of at this moment.

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Our water here in Tasmania is consistently neutral. We have very good water. My soil might have been on the more organic side hence the big push of growth. So it’s very confusing. I could try adding trace elements to see if that will improve the situation.

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If your soil is heavy on organic it might be too wet in the core of the soil mass, maybe try extending the time between watering. Organic not only hold on to nutrients well, but they tend to hold a lot of water as well and this limits oxygen availability in the soil. Pine enjoy well oxygenated soils, I keep mine in colanders, and in an inorganic mix of haydite/pumice/lava/zeolite. It’s quite dry and I am watering them roughly every 3rd day at this time. It’s just beginning of fall (for most it’s start of winter) in my area of central Texas and night temps are getting into 40s and day temps are 70-80s. During the winter I may water them every 7 days or so. Late spring is when I begin to water more frequently, summer is daily watering. Maybe this will help.

Just for the conversation… odd circumstances… your just starting summer there… looks OK.
How heavy was the aphids infestations? I could see the aphid excrement ( heavy in sugars ) being colonized by acetobacter bacteria (produces viniger) … make the needles smell like viniger… if you have a pH paper, wet with distilled water and rub on needle base… might be lightly acidic .
An insecticide “soap” spray, wait half hour, spray water wash… would remove / kill both. Repeat after new eggs hatch… not going to hurt the tree at all.
NOT going to be detrimental either way…
New buds JUST elongating, look good. Older needles are slightly yellow, normal for spring…
Bonsai On!

Good point @KurtP, not sure why I didn’t consider that as well. Like you, I think the plant looks healthy and robust.

@KurtP great insights. Thank you.

@ndavila80 I water all of my trees regularly everyday because Tasmanian sun is intense but maybe very comparable to Texas in temperature :thinking: certainly all of my deciduous trees suffer if I don’t water them daily.

The reason for using an organic mix for my pines is because they need a lot of development to accelerate things (as can be seen in the photo from last year).

I will try holding back on watering as I know pines like it dry.