I am sure that some of you have noticed many pine trees in your town turning brown. My first reaction, since we are in Oceanside, was that they had been flooded by the Hurricane Sandy storm surge. But I was driving up the Meadowbrook Pkwy by Nassau Coliseum about a month ago and the pines on that road are brown as well.
White pines are very popular on Long Island. They like our naturally acidic soil. White pines are evergreens, so they will keep their needles over the winter, however those needles do not last forever. An evergreen will usually shed 1/3 of its needles every year, starting in the fall then push out new needles the following spring. If you have ever looked close to the needles you can see they have a wax coating on them. This helps prevent water loss in extreme cold as well as extreme heat.
White pines have their share of potential pests but after consulting with some experts, we have concluded that the problems we are seeing are a result of Hurricane Sandy. White pines do not like salt spray or high winds. During Sandy, the winds were strong and there was a lot of salt carried by the air. The fact that there was little rain during the storm did not help dilute some of that salt and wash some of it off. They have soft thin needles compared to other types of evergreens, and the penetration of the salt into the needles has helped dehydrate them and turn them brown.
The question is what should I do if I have these brown pines in my landscape? The best advice we can give you is to wait until spring and see if they push out new growth. There is a strong possibility they will. If you did get salt water flooding, then you should add the gypsum to your soil and correct that first. (See my article here: http://www.oceansidenygardencenter.com/news/12/43/). We also suggest adding Bumper Crop compost to your soil as well as Espoma Bio-Tone, which is an all-natural plant food with beneficial microbes and mycorrihizae. This will help develop a much larger root system for your pines, so they can extract more water and nutrients from the soil. When your pines do start to grow again, you should prepare yourself to see those brown needles for the upcoming season. Eventually they will drop and it will look like nothing ever happened.
Good luck and don’t worry. They will make it back in no time.