Spring Tree & Pest Manual

Updated 3/21/22

Good day, sunshine! After a long, cold, lonely winter, (♫) it’s finally time to open our windows, take a deep breath of fresh air, relax on the hammock, and bask in the sunshine. And, when we’re feeling inspired, it’s also a great time to prune, treat, and fertilize our trees and shrubs, right?

You’re ready to get your trees and shrubs into shape after the long winter, and we’re ready to help! Let this manual be your guide.

This manual covers:

  • Spring Tree and Shrub Pruning
  • Spring Tree and Shrub Fertilization
  • Spring Tree and Shrub Pests and Diseases
spring tree pests in north carolina

Spring Tree and Shrub Pruning

As stated by the Tree Care Industry Association, “The best time for tree health to prune would be in early spring following a carefully written pruning prescription.” The same goes for most shrubs as well.

In other words, it’s springtime – let’s prune!

Pruning is essential for young to medium-aged trees. Without the guidance that pruning provides, your tree could grow laterally as it tries to capture as much sunlight as possible. That lateral growth could lead to codominant trunks and branches, which makes the tree weaker and more prone to failure.

Your young to medium-aged trees should be pruned every 3-5 years to make sure they grow to maturity with a strong structure and good form.

Want to learn more about pruning in any season? Read more here!

spring tree and shrub pruning in north carolina

Spring Tree and Shrub Fertilization

Depending on the species, trees and shrubs require 16-19 essential elements to grow and thrive. An element is considered essential if the plant can’t complete its life cycle without it and if the element is directly involved in the plant’s metabolism.

Deficiencies are common in the highly altered soils of urban landscapes.

For the majority of trees and shrubs, we provide general fertilization services via soil injection. This application method delivers missing nutrients directly to roots, which avoids the turf competition, surface runoff, and unintended product loss associated with surface broadcast methods.

Some of you may be asking, “Isn’t fertilization a DIY project?” It can be! Many property owners perform surface broadcast fertilization with a rotary or drop spreader. The moderate risks of this do-it-yourself approach can be either under fertilizing (i.e., not effective) or over fertilizing (i.e., using too much or the wrong product). This method also results in more turf competition, surface runoff, and unintended product loss to the environment.

Read more about fertilization here: Should You be Fertilizing Your Trees?

spring tree and shrub fertilization

Spring Tree and Shrub Pests and Diseases

Spring treatments, as you might expect, run from March through May. For some diseases, the right time to treat is when new leaves and needles are beginning to form and it looks like your plants are starting to come alive again.

While there are many diseases and pests in the Charlotte and Concord, NC areas, here are some of the main culprits that you need to be on the lookout for.

Leaf Spot

Leaf spot diseases weaken trees and shrubs by reducing their ability to perform photosynthesis – the process by which a plant makes its food.

Most leaf spot diseases don’t cause much harm to trees or shrubs because they only affect a small percentage of the plant’s overall leaf area. But if leaf spot is leading to moderate to complete leaf loss year after year, it’s considered a more serious problem.

A foliar spray during new leaf expansion may be just what you need to keep leaf spot in check.

Trees to keep a special eye on:

  • Magnolia trees
  • Dogwood trees
  • Cherry trees
  • Maple trees

Needle Blight

Needle blight (or needle cast) is a fungal infection that affects new needle growth. The infection will lead to needle loss, starting with needles on the inner and lower branches.

This infection can eventually lead to progressive branch death. Left untreated, your tree will continue to decline and may even die.

Foliar sprays during the new needle growth period are used to control needle blight. It’s also important to remove dead and/or dying plant material promptly to prevent re-infection.

Trees to keep a special eye on:

  • Spruce trees
  • Leyland cypress trees
  • Cryptomeria trees


Aphids are tiny insects that find the leaves of your trees irresistibly delicious. Not only do aphids feed on tree sap, but they also secrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which can lead to a black fungus called sooty mold.

Basal bark spray, foliar spray, and soil injection treatments are available to control aphids.

Want to read about woolly aphids? Check out our most read blog post ever: Uninvited Visitors: Woolly Aphids.

Trees to keep a special eye on:

  • Hackberry trees
  • Crape myrtle trees


Scale insects are tiny pests that often go unnoticed. They feed by sucking sap through a set of highly modified mouthparts called stylets.

Scales can grow exponentially. During large infestations, excessive sap loss from this feeding robs the plant of the critical nutrients – sometimes with fatal consequences.

Like aphids, some scales excrete a sugary substance called honeydew, that can get all over bark, leaves, and objects beneath the plant, leaving a sticky mess.

Basal bark spray, foliar spray, and soil injection treatments are available to control scales.

Trees to keep a special eye on:

  • Crape myrtle trees
  • Maple trees
  • Oak trees
  • Cherry laurel trees


Borers do a lot of damage to urban trees and shrubs. They tunnel underneath bark to feed, grow, and lay eggs, destroying sap- and water-conducting tissues in the process.

A borer infestation may lead to girdling, branch dieback, and structural weakness, as well as the eventual decline and possible death of your trees.

You may notice tiny exit holes on the bark or sawdust-like frass on the bark or at the base of your tree if borers have moved in.

We typically recommend trunk injection treatments for borers in the spring.

An increasingly common borer in the Carolinas is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), which we cover extensively in our pages on Ash trees and on EAB sightings.

Trees to keep a special eye on:

  • Ash trees
  • Pine trees


Mites (tiny arachnids) are similar to the bugs mentioned above in that they like to feed on foliage sap. Their feeding habits leave pale green, yellowish, and/or reddish spots behind – a type of damage called stippling.

In the spring, you’ll have to worry about cool season mites. They tend to feed on conifers and broadleaf evergreens, and they’ll return to plants that they’ve fed on before.

Heavily infested foliage can also become covered with an almost invisible webbing.

Mites often reproduce quickly. Large infestations can lead to excessive sap loss that compromises the plant’s defenses and robs it of the nutrients it needs to grow – sometime with fatal consequences.

Foliar sprays and soil injections are typically used to control mites.

Trees and shrubs to keep a special eye on:

  • Azaleas
  • Spruce trees
  • Arborvitae trees
  • Hemlock trees
  • Juniper trees
  • Yew trees
  • Pine trees
  • Japanese holly trees
  • Broad leaf evergreen plants

TL;DR: Keep an eye on your trees and shrubs this spring. If you notice things like leaf discoloration, foliage loss, or honeydew or sooty mold, bring in our experts to diagnose the issue and suggest the best solution.

To read more about our many plant health care (PHC) treatment options, from bark and foliar sprays to soil and trunk injections, check out this page: What PHC Treatment Options Are Out There.

Spring tree and shrub pests and diseases

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Want to get a head start on summer tree and shrub care?

Click here to read our Summer Tree and Pest Manual.