Expert Tips
February 18, 2021

How to Tell If a Tree Is Dying: The Signs Explained

How to Tell If a Tree Is Dying: The Signs Explained

Here at Canopy Tree and Land Co., we love trees—and we assume you do too since you're here on our website. But even the trees we love the most need to be removed sometimes.

If you're wondering how to tell if a tree is dying, you've come to the right place. Dead and dying trees present a hazard to their surroundings, and being a responsible caretaker of your trees means knowing when their time is up. You'll need to contact an arborist to get a clear answer, but in the meantime, you can look for these signs to tell you whether or not you should be worried.

The good news is that you're here learning about what to do. Many people don't check on their trees until it's too late—they've fallen, or maybe they could have been saved at an earlier point but are too far gone now. Knowing the health status of your trees will help you keep your whole lawn or garden thriving for years and years to come.

The Scratch Test

The scratch test is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Just scratch your tree and see if you can see living tissue underneath the surface. You'll be able to tell by its greenish hue.

The best place to scratch is on the trunk, not too close to the ground. You can use a knife if you have one, but otherwise, a thumbnail should work just fine.

If the material underneath the exterior bark is gray or dark instead of greenish, you may have a dead tree on your hands.

How Are the Twigs?

For a variation on the scratch test, you can locate a small twig on the tree and do a "break test." Just bend it a bit between your fingers and see if it snaps or bends.

If the twig breaks easily, it's most likely dead. If it has some flexibility to it, though, chances are good that the twig is alive. What you want is a supple, bendy twig that won't snap from this test.

Still, whether a twig is alive or dead doesn't tell us about the tree as a whole. You might have chosen one of the last living twigs on a tree that needs to be cut. Or maybe it's a dead twig on an otherwise healthy tree.

For this reason, you should test multiple twigs around the tree. Try to get twigs from different branches to get a good range.

A Fungus Among Us

Trees and mushrooms can have beautiful relationships, but a large growth of fungi on your tree might be a sign that the tree is dead. This isn't a guaranteed sign, so you might need to call on the services of a certified arborist to check for sure.

Here at Canopy Tree and Land Co., our first step for tree removal services is a thorough inspection of the tree and surrounding area. This way, we can tell you whether a mushroom growth is or a sign of something serious or not. And that brings us to the next section...

How to Tell if a Tree is Dying or Just Sick

If you're stuck wondering whether your tree is really dead or not, you're not alone. Plenty of people come to arborists for exactly this reason. They might want to save a tree that fails some tests but passes others, assuming the tree can be nursed back to health.

But dying trees can present a danger to the people and animals around them (as well as any property they can fall on, like houses and cars). Often, the best answer will be to remove them before they have the chance to do harm.

Either way, contacting an arborist will help you make the right decision. A layperson's indicators for a dead or dying tree are guesses at best. An arborist can use their experience and expert knowledge to give you a better idea of whether or not your tree really can be saved.

Structural Integrity

Is your tree starting to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

If so, this might be one of the signs of a dying tree. Even if the trunk of your tree seems to be solid and intact, a lean could be telling you that the root system of the tree is suffering. This could be due to harsh conditions like wind or storm, so take a moment to consider what the weather is like in your area and what this tree might have gone up against.

When the Leaves Leave

One of the most visible signs of a dying tree is an absence of leaves. This might be on only one part of the tree, in which case an arborist can tell you whether the rest of the tree can still be saved or not.

If you're using this as the main sign for your trees' health, make sure to check at the right time of year. Summer and fall are great times to assess leaf growth since you can compare your trees to each other. If you have evergreens or are checking during the winter, though, you might have to use one of the other methods.

New Growth

Speaking of seasonal changes, springtime is a great season to check for signs of hope. In the spring, you can check along the branches of your tree to see if any buds are forming. If so, this could be a sign that your tree's still in it for the long haul.

Be a Responsible Tree Owner!

Now that you know a little bit about how to tell if a tree is dying, you'll be able to better handle the road ahead. So go ahead and scratch some bark or bend some twigs to get a sense for yourself.

But for a definitive answer, we're here to share our expertise with you. You can request a free estimate right on our website, and we'll get back to you right away. We're here for all your tree and land needs.

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