What Does A Dying Tree Look Like: Signs That A Tree Is Dying

What Does A Dying Tree Look Like: Signs That A Tree Is Dying

By: Heather Rhoades

Because trees are so important to our everyday life (from buildings to paper), it is not surprising that we have a stronger connection to trees than almost every other plant. While the death of a flower may go unnoticed, a dying tree is something we find to be alarming and sad. The sad fact is that if you look at a tree and are forced to ask yourself, “What does a dying tree look like?”, chances are that tree is dying.

Signs That a Tree is Dying

The signs that a tree is dying are many and they differ greatly. One sure sign is a lack of leaves or a reduction in the number of leaves produced on all or part of the tree. Other signs of a sick tree include the bark becoming brittle and falling off the tree, the limbs dying and falling off, or the trunk becoming spongy or brittle.

What Causes a Dying Tree?

While most trees are hardy for decades or even centuries, they can be affected by tree diseases, insects, fungus and even old age.

Tree diseases vary from species to species, as do the types of insects and fungus that can hurt various types of trees.

Much like animals, the mature size of the tree generally determines how long the lifespan of a tree is. Smaller ornamental trees will typically only live for 15 to 20 years, while maples can live 75 to 100 years. Oaks and pine trees can live up to two or three centuries. Some trees, like Douglas Firs and Giant Sequoias, can live a millennia or two. A dying tree that is dying from old age cannot be helped.

What to Do for a Sick Tree

If your tree has you asking “What does a dying tree look like?”, and “Is my tree dying?”, the best thing you can do is call an arborist or a tree doctor. These are people who specialize in diagnosing tree diseases and can help a sick tree get better.

A tree doctor will be able to tell you if what you are seeing on a tree is signs that a tree is dying. If the problem is treatable, they will also be able to help your dying tree get well again. It may cost a little money, but considering how long it can take to replace a mature tree, this is only a small price to pay.

This article was last updated on

Read more about General Tree Care

Block Reason: Access from your area has been temporarily limited for security reasons.
Time: Wed, 31 Mar 2021 5:30:43 GMT

About Wordfence

Wordfence is a security plugin installed on over 3 million WordPress sites. The owner of this site is using Wordfence to manage access to their site.

You can also read the documentation to learn about Wordfence's blocking tools, or visit to learn more about Wordfence.

Generated by Wordfence at Wed, 31 Mar 2021 5:30:43 GMT.
Your computer's time: .

Checking the tree's bark is a foolproof way to determine its status. Using a sharp knife, make a shallow cut in the bark of a young twig on mesquite tree. The underbark of a living tree will be green and feel slightly damp. If the tree is dead, the twig will be brown all the way through and snap in two easily.

Because boring insects don't infest healthy trees, the presence of borers is an indication that a mesquite tree is under stress. Signs of borers include peeling bark, small holes and amber globules of resin on the trunk and branches of the tree.

How to Spot a Dead or Dying Tree

While it might seem obvious, it is actually difficult for the untrained eye to spot a dead or dying tree. At Leaf & Limb, removal is always a last resort, so we want to be completely sure that there is no other way to save the tree before we make the first cut. Here are a few ways you can check if your tree is dead of dying:


The clearest evidence of whether or not your tree is dead or dying can be found by looking at the leaves. Some trees will take a while to leaf out, but if your tree does not have a single leaf in August, then there is a significant problem.

To determine a tree’s health in the winter when there are no leaves, look for tree buds. These can be tough to spot, but they look like small dots along the ends of the branches (think of a connect-the-dots puzzle). If you don’t see those dots along the ends of the branches, the tree could be dead.

Evergreen trees are a bit different. They typically stay green all year round and cycle their leaves out. It’s common for the interior of the canopy to “shade out,” which means that the first needles to fall are the ones from the inside of the plant closet to the trunk. If you’re seeing the opposite happen – needles or other evergreen foliage turning brown at the ends of the branches first – then that tree might be dying.

Generally speaking, if any tree or shrub has brown leaves or needles in the summer, something is likely wrong. Be sure that it is not late enough in the season that you are just seeing the foliage changing color for the fall.


We’ve looked at the leaves of trees, but what do branches tell us about a tree’s health? One of the tell-tale signs that a tree is in decline is when we see multiple branches dying from the tips. If these multiple branches make up a large section or the entire canopy, the tree is undergoing stress and declining in health.

An important note about branches: a single dead branch or twig does not mean the entire tree is dead. All large trees will have some dead branches it’s part of their life cycle. However, if a tree has multiple large, dead branches, then something could be wrong with your tree.

One way we tell if a branch is alive is to test a small twig by bending it between two fingers. If it bends easily, then it is alive. If it is brittle and breaks, it is likely dead. We recommend testing this in a few areas so that you are not just testing a single dead branch. You can also scratch a small section of the bark. If you see green, the tree is alive. Both of these strategies work better for smaller trees and shrubs. Like we said above, it is common for larger trees to have dead branches. If you find a few brittle twigs on a 100-year old oak tree, that does not mean it is dead.


Moving down the trunk of the tree, there are a few signs that indicate a tree is dying. First, large sections of bark peeling off the trunk of the tree (if it’s not a trait of that species) might be the sign of a problem. Second, if there is a large amount of rot, especially if the rot goes all the way around the trunk, the tree might need to be removed.

Surprisingly, a hollow tree trunk does NOT mean that the tree is dead. A tree can still thrive and be sturdy with a hollow center. Think of it like a steel pipe: hollow in the center, but still very strong.


Finally, let’s look at the base of the tree. There are several issues there that might mean the tree is dying. First, a large number of mushrooms growing at the base of your tree might indicate significant root rot. Another thing to look for at the base of the tree is if the roots are lifting out of the ground. We are not talking about roots growing on the surface, but rather roots that are seperating from the ground. This can indicate that the tree is destabilized. In both cases, tree removal should be considered.

Other Considerations

If you’re not sure why your tree is dying, one common cause is construction damage. Everything from driving over roots with heavy machinery to digging a trench for high-speed Internet can damage a tree’s root system, causing the tree to die or become destabilized. If there has been significant construction and you’ve noticed that your tree’s appearance has changed, then the digging or compaction might have caused irreparable damage.

It’s also important to mention that not all dead trees need to be removed. If it is not a potential hazard, meaning it will not cause harm to people or property when it falls, then we typically recommend you leave it. Dead trees are habitats to bats, birds, and other animals, and they play an essential role in the ecosystem.

Should trees close to houses or building be removed?

Healthy trees close to houses or other buildings do not usually need to be removed. We often get calls to remove healthy trees just because they are close to a home or building. These trees, especially if they are mature, are usually very stable. If they are well taken care of, properly pruned, and don’t show signs of decay, they can stay where they are without posing a threat to your property.

Unfortunately, there are no set of guidelines that will say with 100% certainty when a tree should be removed, but hopefully you’ll now be able to spot signs of decay earlier. If you think a tree might be dead, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion before removing it.

As always, contact us if you have questions about how to spot a dead or dying tree in your yard or community.

How to Revive a Dying Tree

It is always advisable to consult a certified arborist to revive your sick tree. If this is not possible, you can still salvage a dying tree with a little guidance and understanding. I have listed below some common plant diseases with their recommended cures.

Dutch Elm Disease

This disease has severely affected the Elm trees all over America. The disease spreads like a wildfire from one tree to another on account of ascomycete microfungi carried by the American or European bark beetle. The disease can also spread to other Elm trees in the vicinity through the roots of an affected tree. You may notice wilting and gradual yellowing of branches from the crown towards the base. Branches start turning brown and dry up.

Would you like to write for us? Well, we're looking for good writers who want to spread the word. Get in touch with us and we'll talk.

Since this disease is more likely to start from the crown, it is recommended that the infected parts be cut down. Similarly, you may administer some therapeutic fungicidal injections to the plant. Treatments are likely to be successful, provided infection is noticed in early stages.

American Chestnut Blight

This disease is caused due to a pathogen called cryphonectria parasitica. You may notice unusual orange-colored spots on the branches and tree trunk. A sunken type of canker is formed on the tree which may eventually girdle the tree’s surface. You may also notice yellow colored spores exuding from the tree’s affected area under humid conditions.

You may either opt for a soil compress method or hypovirulence transfer. These procedures can be done only by a professional.

Fire Blight

This disease mostly affects fruit trees like apple, raspberry, crabapple, pear, etc. It is contagious in nature and happens due to infection from a pathogen called erwinia amylovora. An affected tree looks blackened and shrunken, as if it were scorched by a fire.

Experts suggest that the affected area be cut off, as soon as the first symptoms are noticed. Antibiotics sprays made from terramycin or streptomycin may be sprayed all over the tree. These methods tend to yield positive results.

Powdery Mildew

This disease is caused due to a wide variety of fungi falling under the order Erysiphales. It can affect a wide variety of plants in your backyard under extremely humid weather conditions. The disease starts from the lower leaves of the trees and heads up to the crown. One of the first symptom of this infection is the appearance of a white powdery layer on foliage and fruits of a tree. In advanced stages, the white patches start turning gray or black in color.

Fungicides such as propiconazole and triademefon are known as the most effective solutions for this plant disease.

Sudden Oak Death

This disease is caused due to a pathogen called phytophthora ramorum. Prominent symptoms include splitting of bark and exuding of a dark brown sap. The tree foliage starts turning pale and will eventually wilt away. New shoots rising from the tree also tend to wilt.

Experts recommend spraying of phosphonate mixed with a surfactant on the oak tree trunk. Effectiveness of this treatment can be seen in about five weeks time.


The points listed above are signals that your tree is sick and dying. Your urgency to detect these signs can save your tree before unbearable damages are done.

Your ability to determine the primary cause of the problems can be extremely difficult even with the symptoms above. If you genuinely you desire the life of your tree, the first step you should take is to consult an arborist. Our experts here at Ireland and Dublin city have the qualified training and knowledge required to adequately identify the symptoms of a sick, unhealthy or dying tree. Your immediate contact with us will save your tree a lot.

Below are the services you can get with us:

(a) Identifying trees that are at risk.

(b) Notify you about the disease that can spread.

© Proper treatment of disease by effectively spraying your tree.

(d) Bracing leaning trees with support.

(e) Giving your tree trimming and pruning tips or services.

(f) Immediate removal of dying or unhealthy tree that cannot survive.

(g) Climbing your tree to the very top for trimming.

(h) Using technical equipment that is too complex and dangerous for a homeowner.

Contact us today to evaluate your trees so that you can be sure there’s no cause for alarm. A trial will definitely make you call us again.