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Dying Tree

How To Tell If A Tree Is Dead

Knowing whether or not a tree is dead is not always as simple as you may think. A dormant tree, especially in the winter, may appear to be dead, yet the following spring it will sprout full leaves and be in good health.

Because trees do not die suddenly – an oak tree is said to take 300 years to die – you have plenty of time to consult a reliable tree surgeon if you have worries about any particular tree. By pruning or removing dead wood, an expert tree surgeon can relieve strain on a sick tree and, in some cases, help it regain its full strength.

Failure To Thrive

One of the first indications that something is wrong with a tree can be its failure to thrive, with few or no leaves and few or no buds. A warning indicator could be a lot of broken twigs and branches under the tree. Determining the health of deciduous trees can be more challenging because they do not lose all of their leaves or needles at once. However, in the spring, they should appear more vibrant and green. A bad sign is when the needles start to brown.


The roots of the tree are not strong enough or buried deep enough in the ground to support the tree if they have been harmed by erosion, nearby excavation activity, or compacted soil that has been loosened by heavy rain. Epicormic shoots may develop at the base of the trunk if the roots are weak, which would indicate that the tree is under a lot of stress.

Is Fungi A Concern?

Growing mushrooms, toadstools, and other fungi on the tree can also indicate a problem. Fungus grows on decaying organic matter and can colonise the roots, trunk, and branches of trees. However, some bracket fungi, such as chicken in the woods, colonise both dead and living trees and are not a major concern.

Peeling/Split Bark

Disease-causing organisms can enter a tree through any openings, such as split or peeling bark or fissures in the trunk. In recent years, the ash dieback fungus has been a major factor in the decline of ash trees across Europe. Having an ash tree in your yard practically guarantees that you’ll need to hire a tree surgery crew to remove it at some point in the future.

How To Assess Tree Health

The health of a tree can be assessed in several ways, including by looking at its leaves and branches for signs of disease or fungus. There are other, more reliable methods available to determine if your tree is dying. A dead branch may be apparent if you break off a twig or a small branch when you try to snap them, but that doesn’t mean the tree is dead as a whole. The twig is healthy and well-hydrated if it can be bent to a 90-degree angle and snapped back into place with relative ease.

Taking off a small section of bark to reveal the cambium layer beneath it is a reliable method of determining the tree’s overall health. The layer is doing its job if it is green and moist, which is to transport water and nutrients from the roots to the crown. There is a high likelihood that the tree is dead or dying if the cambium is dry and brown and the bark peels off readily. A competent tree surgeon will know how to make these cuts with minimal negative effects on the tree.

Should All Dead Trees Be Felled?

Dead trees are ugly, can pose a danger to neighbouring structures and people if they fall, and can spread disease to other trees in the area. For ash trees that have been devastated by the emerald ash borer, this is especially true. Wood becomes extremely brittle, and limbs or even trees can break off without warning, necessitating constant attention from trained professionals. Where these threats are absent, however, a dead tree can serve as a valuable natural resource by providing a safe haven for wildlife such as birds and beneficial insects.



The Tree Surgeon Org are independently owned specialist arborist contractors operating across the North West Of England. Covering all aspects of arboriculture and ecology, our tree surgeons aim to achieve and maintain the highest standards of tree services.

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