Is My Tree Dying – Common Telltale Signs to Look Out For

Like humans, trees, too, can get sick and sometimes die. While it is possible to save a sick tree, a dead tree cannot be brought back to life. Leaving it in your yard increases the risk of injury or damage to property when the dead tree finally falls. Also, leaving a dead tree in your yard risks the spread of infection onto healthy plants.

The best way to handle a dead or dying tree is by having it completely removed. While tempting, removing a dead tree is a job best suited for an experienced tree service company.

Here is how to tell if a tree is dying or dead.


Dieback is when leafless branches of a tree stick out of the leafy canopy. This is usually a good indication of tree rot issues. These issues can vary and may be hard to diagnose unless you are a tree expert. If you notice dieback on your tree, it is best to consult with an arborist. They will be able to assess the tree and advise on the best possible action to take.

Sawdust or oozing sap

If you notice sap oozing from the trunk from different holes that look like knife wounds, the tree may have a borer insect infestation problem. It is important to remember that some trees, such as the elms, naturally ooze sap, which is not a sign of danger for them. It helps to know the type of tree you have to be able to tell if indeed an infestation is causing the oozing.

The emerald ash borer is the most common type that infests trees. It lays eggs in the tree and created tunnels inside the tree, eventually starving the tree to death. Almost all trees with a borer infestation that is left untreated die.

Noticing the signs of infestation early may give you a good chance of salvaging the tree and ridding it of the infection.

Fungus and mushrooms

If you notice the growth of fungus on the tree trunk, there is a huge chance that the tree is decaying. Common fungi that grow in decaying trees have a muted tan color, even though red and orange are also common, and go by the scientific term saprophytes (microorganism that lives on dead or decaying organic matter). They grow on the tree to feed on the decaying tree matter. Some tree fungi look like mushrooms and can vary by species.

A sloughing bark

A slighting bark from the trunk of a tree is a common sign of tree decay. According to experts, this type of decaying is often caused by a fungus. While some species like the river birch, sycamore, or crepe myrtle, it is uncommon for most other tree species to shed their bark.

If you notice white or silvery plating under the tree bark or a scale-like formation resembling a dead lesion, the tree may suffer from hypoxylon, a type of canker disease. Oozing sap is also a common symptom of this infection. This is an incurable tree infection, especially when caught late.

Black lesions on leaves

Black sports or lesions on tree leaves are a common fungus infection in the wet spring season. Depending on the tree species in your home in Tallahassee, Florida, tree trimming is often recommended to thin out the canopy while creating increased air movement. Sometimes, a chemical remedy may be helpful. Even though it is a common cosmetic issue, sometimes it can stress out the tree if it occurs repeatedly.

While the tree is not doomed to death from this infection, proper care should be taken to mitigate the infection.

Tree drooping, browning, or scorching

While lawn sprinklers are sufficient for watering trees and plants in relatively wet regions, they are not enough for drought-prone areas. Sprinkler water may fail to reach tree roots, especially if you have tuff grass competing for water. Eventually, insufficient water causes drooping, browning, or scorching of tree leaves, which is often an indication of dehydration. Underwatering a tree can eventually cause them to die.

Flagpole trunks

Flagpole trunks are often caused by improperly planted trees and are characterized by non-flaring of the trunk where it meets the ground. Improper planting causes tree issues such as girdling roots growing in spiral or circular patterns around the tree trunk or below the soil line. This gradually strangles the trunk of the tree, which shorten its life.

Trunk cracks or wounds

Trees are resilient plants with the ability to withstand a beating. However, continuous trauma on the trunk of a tree leaves the bark bare, which creates the perfect breeding ground for pathogenic insects. Big cracks in the bark or trunk often indicate that the tree structure has been compromised. You need to look out for horizontal cracks, which are often a sign of wood fiber cracking and breakage. When left unaddressed, the tree eventually weakens and falls.

Read More: What To Do If A Tree Falls

Heaving tree roots

Even though some tree species have root systems that hang out, this is not a common occurrence for all trees. Heaving roots signify that the tree has outgrown the space and has no more room to grow. You need to contact your arborist for professional tree removal and relocation if you notice heaving roots.

Failed scratch test

Beneath the dry, outer tree bark lies the cambium layer. If a tree has life, the inner layer is often green in color, signifying a healthy tree. However, if the underlayer is dry or brown, it indicates a dying or already dead tree. The scratch test can be done using a pocket knife or fingernail to strip off a small part of the bark to check the layer below it. It is advisable to repeat the test on different tree trunk parts. Sometimes, some areas can be healthy while others are dead or decaying.

Is it possible to save a dying tree?

If you have a sick tree or one that is partly dying, it may be possible to save the healthy parts with the help of a certified arborist. They will first run tests on the tree to determine the cause of decay and determine whether the tree can be saved or not. If a tree cannot be saved, an arborist will recommend tree removal followed by tree stump grinding to ensure you rid the yard of the infectious tree and the infection.

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