Now is a really good time to check for Dothistroma Needle Blight on Austrian, Ponderosa and Mugo pine trees. Several pine samples from northeast Kansas have the K-State Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab with classic symptoms. This disease tends to show up in crowded, mature pine plantings. The key is crowded plantings that lead to poor air circulation. Wet weather and poor air circulation lead to increased disease severity.
If you are trying to sort out winter damage from Dothistroma needle blight, the first thing to do is to look into the bottom of the tree. Dothistroma causes needle shedding and tends to be more severe in the bottom of the tree. Essentially when you look into the bottom of the tree, the interior needles are gone and all of the lower limbs tend to be bare. Needle loss tends to be particularly severe in crowded windbreaks where air circulation is poor.
Next take a look at the foliage. The needles will have scattered spotting and a half needle scorch. The outer needle tip will be brown and the inner portion of the needle will be green. Each needle will be affected in a different location.
You can contrast this with winter burn which can also produce a half needle scorch but will always burn all of the needles back in exactly the same location. Plus the damage tends to be in the outermost foliage.
The last thing to look for is raised black fruiting bodies (acervuli) on the affected needles. This is diagnostic sign for the disease. You may need a magnifying glass or 10X hand lens to see them, although when they are fully mature they are visible with the naked eye. The fungal fruiting bodies don’t start developing until late December or January, but now is a good time to look for them. If you don’t initially see them you can put the suspect needles in a Ziploc bag with a wet paper towel for couple of days. The high humidity will help the fruiting bodies pop out.
Dothistroma needle blight and winter damage can look very similar. If you are going to spend money to treat for the Dothistroma needle blight disease then it is a good idea to confirm that the disease is present. Samples can also be sent to the K-State Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab at the address listed at the bottom of this post. Dothistroma needle blight can be managed with fungicides.
For more information on managing this problem see the pine disease factsheet at the following web link (O’Mara):
K-State Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab
4032 Throckmorton, PCS
1712 Claflin Rd
Manhattan, KS 66503
Send Questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Testing for Needle Blight: $10 Extension/$13.50 Non-Extension