Do you think one of your trees might be dying but aren’t sure?
Dying trees can be unsightly, and removing them can be a huge hassle. A dying tree can also reduce your home’s curb appeal and detract potential buyers.
Image by Ryan McGuire
How do you spot a dying tree? And, if your tree is dying, what should you do about it?
Check out this guide to discover the top signs of a dying tree.
- Brittle Bark
If the tree bark is brown and brittle, that could indicate that the tree is dying. The tree may also have missing bark or vertical cracks. You can also scratch a small section of the bark to see if it’s alive. If you see green, the tree is probably alive.
If there are deep splits in the bark that extend into the wood of the tree, then that’s a telltale sign that the tree is on its last leg.
- Dead Branches
While a couple of broken branches here and there is nothing to worry about, a strong presence of deadwood may indicate that you have a dying tree. All large trees will have dead branches from time to time, as it’s apart of their life cycle.
You can do a test with a small twig to figure out if a branch is dead. Bend a twig between your two fingers. If the twig easily bends, the tree is probably still alive. However, if the twig is brittle and breaks, then the tree is likely dead.
- Very Few Healthy Leaves
If your tree has very few healthy leaves, it may be dying. While some trees take a while to regrow their lives in the spring, if your tree doesn’t have a single leaf by late summer, you have a problem.
To determine the health of your tree in the winter when leaves aren’t present, look at the tree buds. They look like small, dark dots at the end of branches. If you don’t notice any dots along the branches, the tree could be dead.
Because evergreen trees don’t have leaves, you need to pay attention to other signs. An evergreen tree will start to show red, yellow, or brown needles when it’s starting to die.
- Peeling Trunk
The trunk can tell a lot about the tree’s overall health. If there are large sections of bark peeling off the tree, then it might be dying. However, keep in mind that some trees, such as maple, river birch, and shagbark, exhibit naturally peeling bark.
Not only that, but peeling bark on these types of trees sometimes indicates good health. If you’re working with a different type of tree, then there might be a problem.
Another thing to look for when checking out the trunk of the tree is rot. If the rot wraps all the way around the trunk, it might need to be removed. Contrary to popular belief, a hollow tree trunk doesn’t indicate that a tree is dead. Many trees thrive with a sturdy hollow center.
- Dying Roots
Finally, it’s time to move down to the base of the tree. If there’s a large patch of mushrooms near the tree’s base, there may be root rot.
You also want to check the base of the tree to see if the roots are lifting out of the ground. If the roots are separating from the ground, it could indicate that the tree is destabilized and needs to be removed.
- There’s a Pest Problem
While it’s common for birds and other creatures to make their home in trees, an abundance of pests can indicate that the tree is dying. Carpenter ants, bark beetles, and other critters prefer to live in trees that are in the process of dying.
In addition to pests, there’s also a chance that the tree developed a bacterial infection. Typically, this will show up as a depressed or discolored area on the bark.
- It’s Leaning to One Side
If your tree leans to one side, it typically means there’s a structural imbalance or general weakness in its foundation. Generally speaking, if the tree leans at more than a 15-degree angle, there’s significant damage that’s causing it to do so.
In some cases, strong winds can tip a tree to one side. While smaller trees can sometimes recover from strong winds, larger trees seldom recover and eventually die.
How to Save a Dying Tree
Once you’ve identified the signs of a dying tree, it’s time to figure out what to do next. Here are the steps to take:
Identify The Problem
First, you need to determine the cause of why the tree is dying.
To diagnose a tree properly, it’s best to hire a trained professional, such as an arborist. Here are some of the most common illnesses that trees face:
- Dutch Elm’s Disease
This disease has caused wilt and death in many species of elm across North America. The disease is caused by an invasive fungal pathogen and is spread by elm beetles.
A telltale sign that your tree is suffering from this disease is a pale yellowing of branches and a wilting of leaves. This typically begins from the crown of the tree to its base.
Eventually, the tree’s branches will turn brown and dry up. The best solution to this problem is to cut out the infected area from the crown downward.
There are also therapeutic fungal injections you can administer to the tree. If you catch this disease early, it’s likely that your tree will recover.
- Fire Blight
Fire blight occurs when a contagious pathogen comes in contact with your tree. Trees most likely to suffer from this disease include apple trees, pear trees, and crabapple trees.
It can also affect some berry bushes. A tree that is affected by fire blight will appear shriveled and blackened- in other words, it’ll look like it’s been burned by wildfire.
The best thing to do is to cut off the affected area as soon as you start to notice symptoms. You can also spray an antibiotic over the tree and the surrounding area.
- American Chestnut Blight
Like fire blight, American chestnut blight is also caused by a pathogen.
Orange-colored spots on branches are a strong indication that your tree is suffering from this disease. If the humidity levels are high, the spots may reproduce and release spores into the air.
Sometimes, a canker that appears to sink into the tree can also form. This can cause the trunk to girdle, which can lead to even bigger problems.
An arborist typically uses a soil compress method to treat this issue.
- Sudden Oak Death
Sudden oak death is caused by a pathogen named Phytophthora ramorum. If the bark on your tree is splitting and oozing a dark brown sap, there’s a good chance that it’s suffering from this disease.
You can use a special spray on the trunk to help it recover. Recovery typically takes around five weeks.
- Powdery Mildew
Powdery mildew disease can be brought on by a variety of fungi. For the powdery mildew to flourish, it needs to be in areas of extreme humidity.
The fungi typically appear as a white, powdery layer covering your branches and leaves. The disease starts at the base of the tree and spread until it covers everything.
The best solution is to treat the tree with a fungicide.
Fix Watering Issues
It also might be the case that water issues are causing the tree to die. Moisture issues are more likely to affect younger trees than older trees, but older trees can still suffer.
Make sure the spot where the tree is planted has sufficient drainage. If there’s waterlogging, provide better drainage and make sure soil is getting to the roots.
If the weather is dry where you live, you may need to water your tree from time to time.
Use Mulch Carefully
Mulch helps to nourish the soil surrounding the tree. But if you don’t mulch the surrounding soil properly, it can cause damage to your trees.
When laying down mulch, dig deep enough so the mulch has direct contact with your roots. You should dig at least five inches deep. Then, you can use a rake to spread the mulch.
While fertilizer can help your grass grow, it can also harm your trees if you’re not careful.
When laying fertilizer on your yard, avoid spraying or sprinkling it too close to your trees. If you prefer making your own fertilizer, make sure you’re not accidentally using any diseased plant materials as an ingredient.
Proper pruning techniques can also help you save a dying tree. If you notice a diseased area on your tree, removing the section could help save the tree’s life and prevent the problem from spreading.
Before you prune your tree, make sure to sterilize your cutting tools, such as knives, shears, and saws. Also, keep in mind that different varieties of trees require different pruning methods.
Pruning a tree too much or too little can be detrimental to its health. Also, here are some tips to keep in mind for proper tree pruning:
- Don’t remove any more than a quarter of the tree’s foliage during the growing season
- Keep lateral branches as evenly spaced apart as possible, especially if the tree is young
- Prune off branches that cross other branches
- Don’t leave any branch stubs or cut off the branch collar
Keep in mind that poor pruning can cause damage to the tree, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, you may want to hire a specialist from Americantree.net.
What to Do If a Tree Dies
You may find that a disease has taken hold of your tree and it’s beyond repair. While trees live for a very long time, they all die eventually, and it may just be that your tree has run its course.
If this is the case, you need to take steps to remove it quickly. Dead trees aren’t as structurally sound as healthy trees, meaning they’re more prone to toppling over.
If a dead tree falls on your home, it could cause extensive damage that you have to pay for.
The best way to remove a tree is to hire a professional tree removal service.
Ideally, the tree removal service you hire will have an arborist on staff who is ISA certified. Not only are arborists tree experts, but they also undergo training in the field. An arborist can be particularly helpful when it comes to diagnosing what’s wrong with your tree.
You also want to make sure that the company is licensed and insured. They should have both worker’s compensation and liability insurance. Trees can weigh thousands and thousands of pounds, and while tree removal injuries are rare, they do happen.
If a worker gets injured in your yard, you don’t want to be held responsible for footing the medical bills.
You also want to make sure to ask for referrals before hiring a tree removal service. And, it’s also a good idea to get an estimate before you make things official. Tree removal costs can vary depending on where you live, the size of your tree, and other factors.
Signs of a Dying Tree: Time to Say Goodbye
Now that you know the signs of a dying tree, it’s time to act. If you think your tree is dying and you can’t do anything to remedy it, calling a tree removal service is your best course of action.
Of course, caring for your trees is only one component of yard care. For more tips on how to care for your yard, check back in with our blog.