Tree Care

It’s essential for every tree lover to recognize the signs of a dying tree – knowing when to intervene and potentially save it or when it’s time to let go and remove it for safety reasons. In this article, I’ll discuss key indicators to help you determine if your tree is dying.

Identifying the Signs of a Dying Tree

1. Bark and Trunk Changes

Observe the tree’s bark and trunk for signs of a dying tree. Peeling bark, large vertical cracks, and splits may indicate a sick tree. Additionally, holes or cavities may signify an infestation of bark beetles or carpenter ants. If the cambium layer (the growth tissue beneath the bark) is damaged, it hampers the tree’s nutrient transport, leading to decline.

2. Branches and Leaves Conditions

Examine the branches and leaves. Dead branches, lack of foliage, and falling leaves, particularly in a deciduous tree, can be indicators of a dying or dead tree. A healthy tree should have flexible branches with new growth each season. If the majority of the tree’s branches and leaves appear weak or dry, this could signal a dying tree.

3. Root Damage and Fungal Infections

Inspect the area around the tree’s base for any signs of root damage or fungal infections. Mushrooms or other fruiting bodies of fungal infections can appear near the base, indicating root rot or other serious issues. To mitigate this, you might apply fungicides, but in severe cases, there might be no way to save the tree.

4. Disease, Pests and Infestations

Be vigilant about tree diseases and pest infestations. A tree can become diseased from fungus, bacteria, or viruses, leading to its decline. Insects such as wood-boring beetles or aphids can also infest and weaken the tree. In some cases, proper treatment and care can help a sick tree recover, but severe infestations may lead to its death.

5. Unusual Growth Patterns and Structural Changes

Examine the overall structure of the tree. Any sudden leaning, unusual growth patterns, or structural damage can indicate a dying tree. A tree might start to lean abruptly due to root damage, decay, or excessive weight on one side. In such cases, consider calling an arborist to assess the tree’s health and decide if it can be saved or needs removal.

6. Quick Tests

Perform quick tests to check if the tree is alive or dead. A popular method is the scratch test: gently scratch a small section of bark and check for a green cambium layer underneath. If it’s brown or dry, this may signal a dying or dead tree. Additionally, bend a twig or small branch; if it snaps easily, it could be dead wood.

By routinely checking your trees for these signs and symptoms, you can promote tree health and ensure a safe environment in your landscape. And if in doubt, don’t hesitate to call a professional arborist for expert advice or assistance.

Professional Assessment and Care

Engaging a Certified Arborist

When you notice your tree showing signs of disease or decay, it is essential to consult a certified arborist. These professionals have specialized education in tree care and are up-to-date on the latest information concerning planting, maintenance, diagnosis, treatment, and removal. They can identify symptoms such as discoloration, unusual growth patterns, and structural integrity issues that may be impacting your tree’s health.

Tree Removal Considerations

In some cases, it may be necessary to consider tree removal. Factors that might lead to this decision include severe insect infestations like termites or borers, extensive decay, or risks to safety and property. A certified arborist can help you assess if removing the tree is the best course of action. It’s always important to prioritize safety and maintain the overall health of your lawn and surrounding ecosystem.

Tree Care and Maintenance

Proper tree care and maintenance are essential in preventing diseases and ensuring your tree’s healthy growth. Some key practices include:

  • Pruning: Regularly prune dead or diseased branches to promote proper structural growth and minimize the risk of insect infestations or pathogens.
  • Fertilizing: Fertilize your tree as needed to provide the necessary nutrients for growth.
  • Insecticide: Apply insecticides judiciously, as appropriate, to protect your tree from harmful insects.

Keep in mind that wounds created by pruning or other activities can become a pathway for diseases. Therefore, timely treatment and care of these wounds are crucial.

Role of Weather and Environment

Drought and severe weather events could adversely affect your trees. In times of drought, provide supplemental watering to help your tree cope with the stress. Similarly, after a severe weather event, inspect your tree for damages, and consult a certified arborist for any necessary remedial actions. Remember that your tree’s health is closely linked to the health of its surrounding environment, including the forest and ecosystem it is a part of.

By staying vigilant and actively caring for your trees, you can ensure they thrive in their environment while minimizing the risk of diseases and decay.


In determining whether a tree is dying or is already dead, various signs must be observed. One of the most common indicators of a dying tree is the state of its bark. If the bark is easy to peel or appears rotted, it may be an indication of the tree’s poor health. In addition, the presence of large vertical cracks or splits can point out the tree’s weakening state, especially when observed alongside other symptoms.

Inspecting the cambium layer just beneath the dry, outer layer of the bark can also help. You can perform a tree scratch test by peeling away a small part of this layer. If it’s green in color, it suggests the tree is alive. However, if it’s brown and dry, the tree is dead or dying.

Another sign to look out for is excess leaning or an odd shape. Trees leaning 15 degrees away from their original vertical position may potentially be unhealthy. Dead wood can be seen both on branches and sections of the trunk. It may be an indication of tree death, or it could signal that the tree is dying. If you spot these signs, it’s important to address the issue in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Taking the time to regularly inspect your trees, look for the signs mentioned, and address any potential issues will help maintain the health of your trees and the surrounding environment. Being knowledgeable about tree health will ensure that your garden remains healthy, and you’ll be better equipped to detect and handle issues in the future.