12 Signs That Tell If A Tree Is Dead Or Dying

If you own a tree or there is one around you that looks dangerous, you may like to get a perfect answer to this question: Is the tree dead or dying?

Because ignoring such a tree puts other trees around it at risk of getting infected and can even cause damage to properties and lives. But, to detect a dead or dying tree could be pretty tricky, except one has a trained eye.

There are, however, some steps to take to get a quick answer to the status of a tree, either dead or dying.

FACT: Recommended Trees To Use As Firewood

How to Know When A Tree is Dying

Before we take you through the steps, note that it’s not all trees that look unhealthy that are genuinely sick.

Sometimes, some of these trees are only displaying unhealthy signs as their regular seasonal cycles. For instance, the western red cedar portrays temporary signs of sickness during the regular annual cycle.

Here are the steps to tell if a tree is dead or dying

Is the tree getting lean or portraying an odd shape?

The international association of certified home inspectors (InterNACHI), says that when a tree reduces in shape by 15 degrees from its standard vertical shape, it is not in a good state. This means that a tree is dying when it no longer maintains good straight shape, but rather it starts leaning.

According to InterNACHI, such a tree may be dying due to an unfavorable condition like root damage or strong wind.

Besides, trees can start leaning as a result of destroyed roots. Such trees should be cut down to avoid disaster.

Is the tree cracking?

Also, when there is a noticeable crack in the tree or deep splits in the tree bark, it means such a tree may be dying.

Normally, trees have splits or cracks on their bark. But, when they start having deeper cracks, there is a serious problem, and it should be attended to ASAP.

Is the bark of the tree peeling?

A tree with peeling back doesn’t look attractive in any way. This is one of the numerous signs of a dying tree.

Flakes may start falling out, or the skin appears thicker and begin to peel. These signs could be due to a lack of adequate nutrients and may lead to shedding away of bark, which subsequently leads to the tree’s death.

Does the tree have cankers?

Cankers have always been disastrous to both humans and trees; they are very unpleasant.

To trees, cankers attack the dead bark, which results in fungal infection or bacterial. The tree care industry association (TCIA), which is a trade group for tree professionals, says, “infections find their way into the tree via an open wound.

This makes the bark fall away from the tree or get sunken, which leads to death.

Is there wood decay?

Sometimes it could be very difficult to know if a tree is decaying because the process takes place from within.

Therefore, before it starts showing visible signs, the tree might almost be dead. TCIA revealed that in rare cases, one could easily detect if a tree is showing signs of decay before the tree dies totally.

When there are signs like; the appearance of mushroom-like spores on the stems, visible branches, or some part of the roots, know that the tree is decaying and it is very sick.

Does the tree have deadwood?

Once a tree starts shedding limbs or branches, then it may be conserving resources by reducing in shape.

Additionally, deadwood can be known when the tree part is breaking easily and dry as well. Likewise, deadwood can be recognized by its color when the tree is green in color, it’s healthy. But when it’s supposed green color looks dull, it’s dying, but when it is brown, then it’s finally deadwood.

In other words, when you start noticing dead woods on the tree, know that the tree is dead or dying already. Ensure you test branches of various trees around the tree to get an accurate answer. This will help you to be sure if the tree is completely dead or dying.

Are there fungi, ants, and insects around the tree?

When you detect an insect infection around the lowest part of the tree, then the tree may be dead or dying. For instance, when ants fed on rotten tree sap, they leave it with an empty stem, which eventually makes the tree very weak.

Insects and ants indicate the decay and death of a tree because ants eat up the decayed and dead tissues in the tree, creating holes. After which the tree may fall due to its weakness.

When there are fungi on the bark of the tree, it means that the tree is getting rotten inside or already dead. An example of fungi that gives a clear sign of an unhealthy tree is Bracket fungus.

Bracket fungus invades a tree that is in poor condition. They can be found at the base of the tree and also on the branches. Bracket fungus, also known as conchs, is a bonus to a dying or dead tree. Bracket fungus kills the rotten or dying tree completely and makes it weak to storms.

This is dangerous to your house and the life of everyone around you.

What is the condition of the leaves?

The leaves in the tree are also vital in indicating if it is dead or dying. When the leaves on a tree are seriously falling off, it could mean the tree is dying. Even though this may not be a straight answer to a dead tree, yet it’s a direct way of indicating a dying tree.

Many trees, however, lose leaves in their seasonal cycle. They are simply referred to as deciduous trees. Mostly, leaves fall off from trees just to conserve water by transpiration. How leaves shed is determined by the season, so it’s abnormal for leaves to fall off the tree in the season. It should look radiant.

Also, if you notice scanty leaves on the tree branches in the season, it should be full of leaves, know that it’s getting rotten inside.  Leaves that are not firmly attached, too, means the tree is not in a good state.

Are the branches falling off?

A tree can die as a result of improper or inadequate water mix and nutrients. In this case, the branches become weak and then fall off abnormally. But first, the tree dries, and later the branches break off too even without any cause such as a storm.

When branches begin to fall off, it means the tree is dead. Such a tree needs urgent attention as it may cause disaster to people and property.

Is there an environmental interference?

Trees can be affected by continuous construction around it.

In other words, we can say the tree is experiencing interference if its leaves and roots are not developing or growing in a normal way. The destruction of the roots can lead to the tree’s death.

In other words, trees get damaged and die because of constructions happening around them consistently. This is because persistent construction affects the roots, soil, and all healthy nutrients in the soil that should nourish the tree.

Can you scratch the tree bark?

One of the reliable ways to tell if a try is dying or dead is to carry out a quick check-up on its bark.

The first way to do this is to carefully look at the bark. If it is difficult for you to detect the condition of the tree by doing this, try the next step.

The second step is to scratch the tree on its bark if the cambium layer of the bark that lies after the dry layer is brown, this is to tell you that the tree is dead already, but if it is green, then it’s alive.

When you scratch the bark of the tree to know if it’s dead or alive, remove a little part of the outside layer to check the layer underneath. When you do this quick scratch test, and the color is green, this indicates it is alive.

Notably, in drought times, trees usually sacrifice their branches to keep them living. So if you want the correct answer by using this scratch test, it’s safer to use different parts of the tree.

Is the tree stalk damaged?

When a stalk is damaged, then the stem is also damaged. Therefore, there will be cracks on the trunk, which means the inner tissues of the tree are greatly destroyed. So, look out for damaged stalks to get an answer to your question.

Do you want to call an arborist?

If you are not sure of the result, you get from any or all the steps listed, then call an expert.

READ: Cutting Guide For Dead And Rotten Trees

An arborist will use a trained mind and eyes to carry out a professional check-up on a tree that could be threatening. The expert will suggest a possible solution to the tree after its heath condition is recognized.

Conclusion: Signs of  a Dying Tree

The government has stated some laws regarding an unhealthy tree that is close to the property. Therefore, do not overlook any tree in unhealthy conditions to avoid catastrophe.

2 thoughts on “12 Signs That Tell If A Tree Is Dead Or Dying”

  1. I have a large brand oak behind my house, supposedly a 100 year old grand oak. It has a leaves at the top but heavy mods coverage and bark peeling or missing on most of the trunk. It does not look healthy. I believe it may be dangerous since I love in Florida and we experience severe storms and wind especially during hurricanes or tropical storms. Do I have cause to be concerned?

  2. Dealing with a tree that has deadwood could be difficult indeed. Any wrong move could cause the entire tree to fall over, making it difficult for us to try and remove it since it could also cause damage on the way down. I’ll look for a tree removal expert immediately so we can leave the removal job to them.


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