How do you know if your tree is dying

Dying Tree? Watch for These 7 Signs So You Can Save It

Know the signs of a dying tree.


Trees are valuable assets to a landscape. Not only do they provide aesthetics, but these towering plants also offer shade and shelter for wildlife and other plants. Sometimes a dying tree is obvious, with its leaves turning brown in the summer or branches riddled with holes from wood-boring pests. But it’s not always clear when trees are in poor health, which can make it difficult to address especially when a dead or dying tree located near a building or home. Broken limbs from a dying tree can cause injuries to people and pets and have the potential to lead to costly repairs if it lands on your home or car. Keep an eye out for these seven signs that you may have a dying tree so you can take care of it before it does damage to your property.

RELATED: 10 Trees That Spell Trouble for Your Yard


The tree has brown and brittle bark or cracks.


As the tree is dying, the bark becomes loose and starts to fall off of a dying tree. The tree may also have vertical cracks or missing bark. “Check for deep splits in the bark that extend into the wood of the tree or internal or external cavities,” advises Matt Schaefer, Certified Arborist of The Davey Tree Expert Company, the largest residential tree care company in North America and the first tree care company in the United States. Cracks often create weakness that can cause damage in storms or other weather events.

2. There are few healthy leaves left.


For deciduous trees, look for branches that lack lush green leaves and show only brown and brittle leaves during the growing season. They will also have dead leaves still clinging well into the winter instead of dropping to the ground. Coniferous evergreens will start to show red, brown or yellow needles or leaves when it’s stressed or dying.


3. The tree has an abundance of dead wood.


A couple of dead branches or dead wood doesn’t necessarily mean you have a dying tree. (Keeping a regular pruning schedule during the dormant season will keep your trees healthy and strong.) However, an increased prevalence of dead wood can indicate that it is a sick or dying tree. “Dead trees and branches can fall at any time,” Schaefer warns. This can potentially be a hazard to you and your home.

4. It’s a host to critters and fungus.


Pests such as bark beetles and carpenter ants live in trees that are under stress or are in the process of dying. These pests prefer to live in dead, weakened, or dying hosts. As for fungal or bacterial infections, look for cankers (discolored areas or depressed places on the bark) or mushrooms growing on the ground at the base of a tree or on the tree itself. These are indications of rot in the roots or trunk. “In time, decay will extend further within the tree leading to structural problems,” Schaefer says.

5. The tree shows signs of root damage.


Since roots run deep underground, determining damage isn’t always easily visible. If you’ve had recent excavation or construction projects near the tree, look out for any changes in the tree’s health since that time that might suggest the roots were damaged in the process. Likewise, if your tree has a shallow and/or partially exposed root system, pay attention to subtle changes that might suggest exposure to extreme elements and poor soil compaction have affected the vitality of the roots. Some signs of root damage include thinning foliage, poor yearly growth, yellow undersized leaves, dead branches, and wilted brown leaves during the growing season.

RELATED: The Dos and Don'ts for Landscaping Around Trees



It develops a sudden (or gradual) lean.


“Odd growth patterns may indicate general weakness or structural imbalance,” Schaefer explains. In general, trees that lean at more than 15 degrees from vertical are in indication of wind or root damage. Large trees that have tipped in intense winds seldom recover and will eventually die.

7. The tree fails the scratch test.


Right beneath the dry, outer layer of bark is the cambium layer. If the tree still has life, it will be green; in a dead or dying tree, it is brown and dry. You can use a fingernail or a pocket knife to remove a small strip of exterior bark to check the cambium layer. You may need to repeat the test over several areas of the tree to determine if the whole tree is dead or just a few branches.

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Can you save a dying tree?


If your tree is sick or only part of it is dying, you may still be able to save it with the help of an arborist. First, identify the problem: A sick tree will display similar signs as a dying or dead tree but not as widespread. “Although defective trees are dangerous, not all of them need to be removed immediately, and some defects can be treated to prolong the life of the tree,” Schaefer says. Contacting an arborist as soon as you notice any signs of a dying tree will give you a better chance of saving it. An arborist has the training and knowledge required to diagnose and successfully treat tree problems.

Tip: Conducting regular tree care and maintenance such as proper pruning, treating for disease and pests, and fixing structural damage will also help improve your tree’s health.


Still, sometimes, it’s too late to save a dying tree.


Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to save your tree. Even strong, healthy trees can fall victim to severe weather, disease, or infestation. If the tree is beyond saving, it’s best to remove it if it poses a danger of falling onto people or structures. “Tree risks aren’t always visible or obvious,” Schaefer explains, adding, “advanced analysis, sometimes through the use of specialized arborist tools or techniques, may be necessary.” Consult a certified arborist to determine if your dead tree poses a dangerous situation on your property.

Sick Tree Symptoms


Learn the signs of a dying tree, and know what to do.

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9 Signs Your Tree Is Dying

Spotty leaves, cracked trunks, mushroom invasions ... Two certified arborists explain how to best take care of your trees.

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BartCo/Getty Images

Why You Need an Arborist

If you’re having trouble with your trees or woody shrubs, the first call you should make is to an arborist.

A certified arborist has specialty education in trees and the latest information on how to plant, care for, diagnose, treat and remove trees. They also have access to critical safety gear and powerful tools, plus the license to apply certain chemicals, such as fungicides, to help save a tree.

Trees can be stoic. Many times when signs of distress show up, a problem has been brewing for a while. So while you can follow best practices for planting and maintaining the health of your trees, often major work — or at least specialized knowledge — is needed to prolong a tree’s life or stop the spread of a tree disease. Here are the signs to look for.

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Matthew J Thomas/Getty Images


When an arborist consults about your tree, they do a top-to-bottom assessment, so you might as well, too.

Start with the top of the tree, known as the crown. Are leafless branches sticking out of the leaf canopy? That’s called dieback, says Lou Meyer, arborist with The Davey Tree Expert Company. “(It’s) almost a sure sign that there’s a root issue underground,” he says.

Those issues vary. Experienced arborists can tell you if it’s root compaction, a fungus or poor soil conditions. If so, there are few methods to try to save the tree. This is common with silver maples, he says, but can affect many species.

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Oozing Sap or Sawdust

If you see sap oozing down the trunk from specific holes that resemble knife wounds, there’s a good chance you have a borer insect problem. (Note: Some trees, such as elms, ooze sap normally; it’s not a sign of danger.)

You may be most familiar with the emerald ash borer, which lays its eggs in the tree, lives in the cambium (plant tissue), creates tunnels inside it and then essentially starves the tree. Almost all untreated ash trees with emerald ash borer infestations will die.

Because emerald ash borers can compromise the physical structure of the tree, a professional should handle the tree’s treatment or removal. And although emerald ash borers may be the most notorious, other insects can infest a tree that will leave oozing sap, sawdust or sawdust tubes in their wake.

“Any sawdust is a bad thing,” Meyer says. That’s a reason to call your arborist.

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Andreas M./Getty Images

Mushrooms or Fungus

If you see fungus on a tree trunk, there’s a good chance you have a decay issue. Fungus is most often muted tan in color, but can also be orange or red. “Saprophytes (a plant, fungus, or microorganism that lives on dead or decaying organic matter) feed on decay and if you see them you’ll know there is inner decay on that branch,” Meyer says.

Sometimes arborists can expertly remove limbs with the hope the decay hasn’t spread, and/or use fungicides to slow the spread. There are some species that almost always have shelf fungi on the trunk, Meyer adds, such as locust trees. So don’t immediately panic, but do call your tree specialist.

Other fungi might not look like a traditional mushroom, and vary by species. Randy Nelson, a certified arborist with Monster Tree Service, says a fungus commonly appears on Colorado Blue Spruces planted outside their U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone. It shows up as black spots on the needles, or even as dieback.

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Sloughing Bark

Bark sloughing off the trunk is often a sign of decay, often from a fungus, Meyer says. Some species do naturally shed their bark, such a sycamore, crepe myrtle or river birch.

If you can see silvery or white plating under the bark — a sort of scale that looks like a dead lesion — that’s a sign of a canker disease called hypoxylon.

With hypoxylon, you may also see some sap oozing down the trunk. It’s nothing you can treat yourself, and often can’t be cured. But with assessment and treatment, you may keep the tree’s healthy parts going and extend the tree’s life.

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Black Lesions

If a spring season is especially wet, black spots or lesions may appear on a tree’s leaves. “This is more of a fungus related to high moisture,” says Nelson.

Depending on the tree species and time of year, some systematic pruning to thin out the canopy and create more air movement may help. Also, sometimes chemicals can be helpful. “This is usually more of a cosmetic issue,” says Nelson, “but it can stress the tree out if it happens repeatedly.”

Your tree might not be doomed to certain death in this case, but care should be taken to keep it healthy and prolong its natural life.

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Isabella Antonelli/Getty Images

Scorching, Browning or Drooping

People think lawn sprinkler systems are good enough for watering trees. Often, it’s not, Nelson says, especially in drought conditions. That water doesn’t reach tree roots, and if you have turf grass it competes for that water.

He suggests using black soaker hoses. If you don’t have one, put your garden hose on a small trickle and let it soak slowly for a full day. Place it a couple of feet out from the trunk but within the dripline of the tree (from the trunk to the outer edges of the trees branches), rotating evenly around the tree.

“Trees on average, need an inch of water per week,” Nelson says. “Sometimes trees don’t show scorching, browning or drooping leaves or branches immediately, but they show up next year or the year after that, especially on bigger trees.”

Smaller or younger trees may show stress signs within the same season. Trees and leaves can also droop when they’re overwatered, so keep a careful watch on which one may be causing the problem.

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Rossana Couoh Chacon/Getty Images

Flagpole Trunk

If your tree trunk doesn’t flare where it meets the ground, so it looks like a telephone pole or a flagpole, your tree may have been improperly planted. That can cause issues like girdling roots that grow in a circular or spiral pattern around the trunk or at or below the soil line, gradually strangling the trunk. That considerably shorten the life of your tree.

“You want the root flare at the bottom just above grade so you can see that swelling at the base,” Nelson says. “If you catch it, arborists can excavate soil away and provide root pruning.”

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Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images

Trunk Wounds or Cracks

Trees often take a beating. Think about that boulevard tree someone backed into trying to park, or the UPS truck repeatedly striking a branch as it makes deliveries down the street. “That’s an issue and an opportune entry place for disease,” says Meyer.

This is a particularly hot topic with deliveries during the pandemic: Limbs struck once a week now may get hit four to five times a day. That can cause structural damage, impair the tree and eventually imperil people and property if it comes loose.

Likewise, storms can deliver blows to an otherwise healthy tree. Big cracks in the trunk or bark are signs of structural damage that need to be addressed.

Lastly, horizontal cracks are a red flag as well. These indicate the wood fibers are breaking and cracking, and the tree might fall.

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haoliang/Getty Images

Heaving Roots

Exposed roots can be a problem. While some species’ root systems hang out near the ground’s surface, Meyer says most aren’t that visible. Heaving roots can be a sign that the tree doesn’t have enough space to grow.

Signs of heaving soil, which Nelson says often happens after a heavy rain or dangerous weather, are also a reason to call an arborist. Sometimes smaller trees can be uprighted or staked, but an arborist can assess whether the tree is stable or needs to come down.

Originally Published: August 20, 2021

Katie Dohman

Katie Dohman is an award-winning freelance writer who has written about home, design, and lifestyle topics for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured in Artful Living, Midwest Home, Star Tribune, and Teen Vogue, among many others. She is currently living her own how-to story as she and her husband work through a complete gut remodel on their 1921 home—while parenting three tiny tots and dodging their dog and cat, who always seem to be underfoot.

9 Signs of a dying tree not to be ignored

by Alexey | Tips Decor Workshop Garden and vegetable garden | Thursday, 25 November 2021

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Are you aware of the signs of a dying tree? If trees surround your home, you should be aware of their health - at least for safety reasons.

Tree damage is a common reason homeowners have to reroof a house or pergola, and people are often affected as well.

See also: How to remove stump with Epsom salt

Knowing how to spot a dead or diseased tree can help you avoid disaster on your property. Here's a summary of what you need to know.

How to know if a tree is dying

You can tell by several signs whether a tree is sick or dying. They are pretty obvious if you know how to recognize them.

1. Branches visible all over the ground

When a tree drops its branches all the time, this is a sure sign that it is unhealthy. A tree in good shape will have flexible branches and limbs that do not tend to snap. If you see broken branches or twigs on the ground around the tree, you should call in a specialist for an inspection.

See also: 10 Trees and shrubs that do well in pots

2. Bark falls off

If the bark of your tree peels off and falls off, it means that it is not getting enough nutrients . Like the human body, the tree has skin - the bark. Problems with a person's skin can indicate underlying diseases, just as the condition of a tree's bark can indicate tree disease.

You can save a tree by pouring water on the bare spot and securing the tree's bark with tape until it sticks back. However, if the bark loss is due to an infectious disease, you will need to cut down the tree before the infection spreads to other trees in the area.

3. You can see rot or fungus

Signs of rot or tree fungus are always bad news. If you see any of these, you need to act immediately to save the tree. Unfortunately, if the damage is significant, it will be impossible to save the tree.

See also: 9 time-tested tricks to get rid of insects in the garden

There are some treatments for rot and fungus, but they may not be worth trying if the disease has gone too far. If there is any danger of fungus spreading, the tree will have to be cut down.

4. Tree leans

If it didn't grow at an angle, the tree couldn't have a slope. If the tree suddenly begins to roll, the roots may have died or been damaged. You may be able to keep the tree from falling all the way down, but don't expect this to save the tree. In most cases, by the time the tree leans, it is already mortally wounded.

Read also: 8 Important things the garden is trying to tell you

5. Open wounds

Open wounds may cause death of trees. Unlike neat cuts when pruning trees, plucked branches, large cuts or cracks in a tree are difficult to repair . Lightning strikes and wind can split trees from top to bottom and tear off branches. When large branches fall off, the tree has a high chance of dying.

6. No leaves

Lack of foliage is a sure sign that the tree is dying or has died. If you see bare branches on one side of the tree, this may indicate damage to the roots . It can also mean that diseases or pests have invaded.

See also: 40 most unpretentious plants for the garden

Dead leaves are a sure sign that something is blocking the flow of nutrients within the tree. In many cases, the damage is permanent and irreversible.

7. Termites or other pests

Trees fall prey to many kinds of pests. Beetles, ants and termites are just a few types that can take down a healthy tree . If you find them early, you may be able to stop them before they succeed.

See also: 25 Small Summer Kitchen Ideas That Will Make You Mouthwatering

But if the tree's stability has been compromised by too much damage, it's probably best to chop it down. This way it won't fall and crush anything else on your property.

8. Damage to roots

If a tree survives a root injury, it may die. Sometimes construction or landscaping projects damage tree roots. Roots and branches can interfere with buildings, sidewalks, and driveways, leading to their removal.

However, if too many roots are cut, it will be difficult for the tree to feed itself. If you have had construction or landscaping near your property and notice a tree showing signs of root damage, call a professional immediately.

9. No green under the bark

If you scratch the tree and don't see green under the bark, be careful. Dead trees have no nutrient flow, as indicated by the green layer. Lack of green under the bark is usually accompanied by dead and brittle branches, so if you see one sign, look for others.

What to do if you see signs of a dead or dying tree

If you suspect that there is a dead tree in your area, pay attention to it, otherwise it will split in half and fall. If this happens, your property or the property of your neighbors may be damaged, and even worse, a person will suffer.

You should call the tree removal company as soon as you can. Most services will be able to explain the signs of a dying tree. They will let you know if you can save the tree or if it needs to be cut down.

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How to tell if a tree is dead or dying


A dying tree in a forest is nature that just goes on its way and eventually returns its ecosystem. However, a dying tree in a well-maintained yard can create problems for other trees and everything else around.

If you have trees near your home, it's a good idea to monitor their health and take action if you think the tree is dying or dead.

But first, it's important to make sure your tree is really sick. It may seem like common sense, but some trees will show signs of disease as part of their normal seasonal cycles. Kevin Zobrist, professor of forestry at the University of Washington, explains that some trees, such as western red cedar, will temporarily appear sick "due to normal seasonal die-off." So the first step to determining if a tree is dying is to identify the tree to make sure it's not behaving as it should.

It is also important to remember that not all tree diseases are caused by insects. Diseases can be the result of improper planting, disease, and weather events such as severe storms, winds, and drought.

5 signs your tree may be dying

Strong winds can cause trees to deviate from their original shape. (Photo: kenkistler / Shutterstock)

1. Too much leaning or odd shape. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), trees tilted 15 degrees from their original vertical position do not do well. Trees that were originally straight and leaned that way are likely victims of high winds or root damage. InterNACI says that large trees that bend over because of the wind "rarely recover."

2. Cracks in wood. These are deep splits in the bark of the tree that are difficult to identify. Some trees must have cracks. But deep cracks and cuts can lead to serious problems and "indicate that the tree is currently failing," according to InterNACHI.

Trees aren't big fans of cankers either. (Photo: Ngukiaw / Shutterstock)

3. Trees can also get cankers. Cankers are very nasty things for both people and trees. In the case of our woodland friends, cankers are areas of dead bark resulting from a bacterial or fungal infection, according to the Tree Care Association (TCIA), a trade group for wood professionals. These infections enter the tree through an open wound, and the stress of the infection causes the bark to sink or fall off the tree. The tree is more likely to fall apart near the canker.

4. The tree shows signs of decay. According to TCIA, decay is often difficult to detect because it often starts inside the tree. However, there are still signs of decay that you can see. Fungus-like spores on visible roots, stems, or branches are clear signs of decay, and cavities that lack wood also indicate that the tree is not healthy.

5. The tree has dead wood. That's exactly what it looks like: it's a tree that's dead. When a tree starts shedding branches or branches, it is a sign that it is trying to conserve resources by making itself smaller. In addition to the fact that dry wood breaks easily, it can be identified by the color of the wood. If it is bright green, the tree is still healthy. If it's dull green, it's dying, and if it's brown, it's deadwood.

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