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7 Signs Your Tree is Dying and How to Save It

A sick tree can still be rescued, but a dead tree can put your home and family at risk. Save your time and money by using our expert-advised 7 signs to assess the health of your tree.

Trees are a priceless contribution to our natural landscape. These lofty woody plants not only add aesthetic beauty but also provide shade and shelter for animals and other plants. A dying tree can easily be spotted by its browning leaves or infected branches (with holes) caused by wood-boring bugs.

However, it’s not always apparent if your trees are unwell, which can make it difficult to maintain, particularly when a dead or dying tree is near the property. Broken branches from a dying tree can become a source of danger to humans and pets, and if they fall on your property or car, they can cause significant damages. Keep an eye out for these 7 signs that indicate your tree is in the dying stage, so you can deal with it before it causes harm to your home.

1. Barks will turn brown, become brittle and might have cracks

The bark of a dying tree usually becomes loose and starts to fall off since now the tree has started to age. It can also cause vertical cracks or have barks missing. Check for deep cracks that extend into the tree’s wood, or internal and exterior cavities. Cracks make your trees weaker and the problem may be aggravated by storms or other weather phenomena.

2. Only a few healthy leaves left

During the growing season, branches of deciduous trees will lack lush green leaves and have only brown and brittle leaves. The dead leaves will also continue clinging to the tree throughout the winter season, rather than falling to the ground. When a coniferous evergreen is stressed or dying, its needles or leaves become red, brown, or yellow.

3. Abundance of deadwood

A few dead branches or pieces of dead wood do not always indicate a dying tree. (Pruning your trees or stump removal – if needed – might help maintain your yard’s health and robustness). An increase in the quantity of deadwood on the other hand, can mean that the tree is unwell or dying. Dead trees and branches can fall at any moment which might pose a threat to you and your home.

4. Becoming a host to animals, insects or fungi

Pests such as bark beetles and carpenter ants thrive on stressed or dying trees. These notorious pests prefer to live in hosts that are dead, feeble, or dying. Look for cankers (discoloured spots or depressed areas on the bark) or mushrooms developing at the foot of a tree or on the tree itself, if you discover a fungal or bacterial infection. These symptoms indicate rot in the roots or trunk. Decay will spread farther into the tree over time, causing problems in the tree’s structure.

When gone out of control, pest infestation will start damaging your yard, much before you’ll realise it. Plausible solutions will be chopping down trees, tree stump removal, etc. Contact ProArb Canterbury, your local arborist in Christchurch, to find out more about this issue. 

5. Signs of root damage

Roots grow underground. Therefore, any alterations or damage in the roots may remain hidden under the soil. If you see any shift in the tree’s health unexpectedly, it might indicate the roots were affected in the process, especially if there have been any recent digging or construction projects near the tree. In the same way, if your tree’s root system is shallow and/or partly exposed, look for minor changes that might indicate exposure to harsh elements in the soil, negatively affecting the root’s health.

During the growing season, if your trees have thin leaves, poor annual growth, undersized and yellow leaves, dead branches, and wilted brown leaves, then these are indicators to root damage, too.

6. Sudden (or gradual) leaning of your trees

Unusual growth patterns can be a sign of a general lack of strength or a structural imbalance. In general, if your trees lean at more than 15 degrees from vertical then it might indicate wind or root damage. Large trees that have been blown over by strong winds rarely recover and can end up dying.

7. Whether the tree passes the scratch test

Immediately under the dry, exterior layer of a bark lies the ‘cambium layer. If it’s green it means your tree is still alive. Otherwise, it’ll be brown and dry which shows that your tree is either dead or dying. To test the cambium layer, remove a thin piece of outer bark using your fingernail or a pocket knife. To confirm if the whole tree is dead or it’s just a few branches, you might have to repeat the test across multiple areas of the tree.

Can you save a dying tree?

A professional arborist in Christchurch can help you recover your tree when it’s either sick or just a part of it is dying. To begin with, try and understand the problem: A sick tree might show symptoms that it’s dead or dying, but not always to the same extent.

Although damaged trees can be harmful, not all of them need to be uprooted right away. You can address some of the defects and add more years to the tree’s life. You’ll have a better chance of saving a dying tree if you contact an arborist in Christchurch as soon as you can identify any symptoms of it dying. An arborist has sufficient knowledge and experience, necessary to accurately assess and treat your tree’s problems – even resurrect it back to life if possible.

Tip: Regular tree care and maintenance, such as tree trimming, tree stump removal, disease and insect treatment, and structural damage repair, can help improve the condition of your yard.

If it’s too late to save a dying tree

There can be times when there’s not much you can do to save a tree. Even healthy-looking, tough and sturdy trees can become a victim to extreme weather, disease infestation, etc. If the tree can’t be saved and poses a risk of falling on people or properties, we recommend that you chop it down. 

Further assessment, often with the help of specialist arborist equipment or procedures, is needed. Do not try to do it yourself if you don’t know how—to avoid risking damage to life and property. Consult a trained arborist in Christchurch to see if your dead tree is becoming a safety issue.