Homes Back Yard borders a rural road, say 1 car per minute. There was a line of some kind of arborvitae planted there ~10 years prior. Tree health various from OK to long dead on the tree line, the two hollys seem ok. See photos below. Roughly 30 trees along the 160ft property line.

Tree height is great on many of these trees, 20+ feet. Most of the death is at the bottom of the trees. I would hate to rip everything out and replant 6-8 ft trees. (Location NY, no one has any mature trees, remaining fall out from Hurricane Sandy.)

Is there any hope for these trees, or any idea what has/is killing them? If the tree has growth at the top but is dead cooked at the bottom is the tree alive?

A pool is going in the backyard within the coming year, so I am actually thinking of building a 6-8ft privacy fence in front of the tree line and leaving the trees. I Would then slowly cut out the dead trees and plant new trees (different species I suspect). Any thoughts on this? In that regard the backyard viewer would only see the fence and then the tree tops (still alive) as the fully dead trees are slowly removed and new trees are replanted.


What would you do?

  • Ultimate Goal: Total visibility blockage of road from backyard and 2nd floor of house. So 20+ft of blockage.
  • Patience: limited.

Thank you!

enter image description here

enter image description here

5 Answers 5


The bottom branches dying is perfectly normal, as they get shaded out (they also have more deer pressure, assuming a typical presence of rats-with-hooves in your neighborhood.) That is not a sign of a dying tree at all.

Maintaining greenery to the ground requires actively trimming and shaping to keep the tops from shading out the bottoms - I don't think there's much hope for walking that back when they have gone this far, it has to be done every year (at least) from when they are small, and normally requires limiting the overall height so it can be done without absurdly expensive equipment.


Not an easy answer to give you as there are a number of unknown factors. Perhaps you can say more about them by editing your question or even post additional information under your question in a comment.

I downloaded your two images and brightened the backyard photo so I could see it better as it was too dark. I took a closer look at the other brighter photo too. The photos were taken on an overcast day, I guess, as I wanted an idea what direction sunlight would fall on the trees.

Let's say if you build the fence and the sun shines on the fence and the trees are behind (on the north side), any trees you plant will be in the shade and won't thrive. They may soon end up dying too. The newly planted trees won't have to contend only with the fence but also the larger trees shading them. Now if the sun shines from the other side, and enough sunlight falls there, they have a much better chance of growing. But remember, the sides facing the fence though still won't get as much light as the side the sun hits, so they'll be bushier on the sun side and thinner on the fence side. As long as the fence isn't right next to the trees, that won't be a big concern. The tree line and your property border likely don't run nicely west and east. So go outside on a sunny day and take note of how many hours of sun they'd get. Check in the morning, early afternoon and early evening to know for sure.

I foubt anyone will be able to diagnose the cause of the bare growth on the bottom of some trees while green and healthy looking above. It's a bit like emailing a somewhat blurry photo of a rash to a doctor who doesn't know you and asking for a diagnosis. Some trees lose bottom leaves/needles naturally as they grow, with others there may be an insect infestation taking hold, or unusual weather conditions for a couple of years or any number of other causes. I live in a part of Canada where winters are pretty mild and roads are little salted in winter so I don't know what salt damage looks like. Do your roads get salted much? I wonder if there's salty melt water running off in the area where the affected trees are. Hopefully, someone here should be familiar with salt damage and chime in.

Pretty sure stormy (active member here) should have some suggestions for you on suitable trees and what can be done. I'm not into commercial landscaping as he (she?) is so my advice is limited.


It looks like you have a dead cypress in the back. This could be disease. Shouldn't happen to the firs to the left.

It would have been possible to keep the silver firs thick at the base by cutting the top earlier. Now it is too late.

If the place gets 2-3 ours of sun during summer, then you may consider building a quick and easy to trim (but trim it narrow each year) tree wall by planting 1 meter high hornbeams. It might be a little budget and work, but it will grow quick with good fertilized soil.


The trees look like blue spruce . Very typical for spruce to be attacked by mites ,starting at the bottom. The mites are very small but you can see them with magnification . I believe I controlled them with dormant oil spray ( I moved about a year later.) . It may need a couple applications, at any time of the year. Follow the instructions on the oil , as I remember about an ounce per gallon of water. You will need at least a 3 gallon sprayer hand or a power unit. Dormant oil is basically mineral oil or baby oil with a few percent detergent. I stood right next to the trunk so I could spray up on the inside where the mites are. I can't see any arborvitae , I guess silviculture is not a hobby. Without mites, spruce should keep needles all the way to the ground. Those lower branches will not come back ; I would plant some small blue spruce around the bottom for a dense barrier.

  • I found the spider mites are not active in hot weather, so spraying should wait until September .Don't spray from the "outside" . Most oil will not get into the mites and you could damage the healthy outer needles with excessive oil. Insecticide will not affect mites . They are only 0.020 inches in size. Wear safety glasses . the needles are are very sharp. One thing in your favor, mites wok slowly; those trees have had them for years. It is worth saving Blue Spruce, an aritocrat of landscaping. I think the only tree close is White Fir ( abies concolor) , grey-green with longer , soft needles. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:05
  • Could be correct @blacksmith37! But we have to see the insect for positive ID. Most large conifers and trees do not like to have members of their own species too close. They actually put out toxins to prevent this. Understory shrubs will work best.
    – stormy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 19:23
  • Trust me, I have seen this blue spruce damage several places in IL. I only ever saw black walnuts do the toxins. I have planted over a hundred conifers pretty close with no problem ; except getting a mower between spruces can be irritating. Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 16:05
  • Well I think you've convinced me! I remember a few trees though that worked like walnut. I'll have to check. Memory gets a little fuzzy and I need to check out those fuzzy spots!!
    – stormy
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 16:30

That dead tree looks like Cedrus atlantica. To replant the same species is like getting more goats after the cougars have already found a source of their fav diet...goat meat.

I will suggest one of my favorite plants; Salix purpurea 'nana'. This shrub has mass fine branches with mass fine, 1" by 1/4" blue green leaves. The branches are flexible and they are a copper bronze color. This deciduous shrub is amazing all year round for a screen and sound barrier. Easy to prune in fact I had hedges of this plant that I transplanted 3 or 4 times and kept them at 3' high. They are wanting to be 30' high and 30' wide. Far more foliage and branching to absorb sound. FAST growth! Lightly heading will cause a denser plant. This shrub is one of the hardiest you can find. Gorgeous new growth, light green, and then the leaves get this blue green to die for. Super duper 'skeleton plant' for a landscape. Another quality is movement in the wind, similar to grasses.

I'd get another offset hedge going of this Blue Arctic Willow. Not just a straight line but two lines where plants are in equilateral triangles. If one dies it won't be noticed. Planted 3' apart. Will also stop dust.

This shrub is disease/insect problem free and so very adaptable to environmental conditions. Your healthy conifers will only add to your barrier. This will 'fill' in and when mature can replace any of your conifers that die. This shrub will also not be subject to whatever disease that might be compromising your conifers. Remember these shrubs grow to 30'by30'. Best if you head them while young to make more branching, to be thicker. Make room for them with a plant bed at least 15' wide and at least 10 feet from your conifers! In a few years you will never be able to see much less hear the traffic on that road.

Add a balanced fertilizer to the plant beds you make out of that lawn. I'd rent a sod cutter to make those beds as well as clean up the edges of your entire lawn. Use that sod turned upside down to beef up a plant bed adding my 25 year old 3X transplanted Salix purpurea soft hedgeat least 2 or 4" topsoil.

That grey is Senecio greyii in the foreground. Behind this wonderful shrub that well, isn't that professional but I love it and it is healthy is the blue arctic willow soft hedge. See how it is not in a straight line? I'll try to find pictures that show a hedge planted offset. This hedge is bluer later in the year. As you can see the hosta are just coming up because this is early spring in zone 5. Salix purpurea is good down to 1B! So much fun to hedge! Like cutting hair, take a big wad up and chop off. Well, not exactly that coarse but the fine branches are so easy to prune, and did I say they moved in the wind? Another dimension most don't think about.

If you look at your picture, a 5' shrub will completely block that view. This will do that for you both summer and winter and not be subject to whatever disease is going on for your conifers. Well, it is high resistance to the diseases you might have. We'll discuss that later. Need you to do some detective work with a scalpel

Close up of blue arctic willow shrub

Great screen to use instead of a hard surface fence

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.