How to determine if a tree is dead?

Joshua Wilke | January 24, 2019

Many times, accidents and property damage occur when a dead or diseased tree reaches a breaking point. Tree service companies are often called out to situations like this when damage has already been done.

What if you knew what to look for so that you could recognize a struggling tree and service it before damage occurs? Now, as we’re sure you’ve realized, if your tree still has ample leaves sprouting from its branches, it is still alive. Now is as good a time as any to give your tree a quick check-up.

Step 1: Give it a look-see!

The Branches: If your tree is looking a little down-in-the-dumps, it might be trying to tell you something. When your deciduous trees have no leaves in non-winter months, they need further attention. Missing and discolored leaves are one prime sign of an unhealthy tree. For Evergreen trees, it’s normal for dead needles to fall off. However, Evergreens that only have brown needles need further investigation.

The Trunk: Inspect for cracks or soft sponginess in the bark. If the bark just falls off or is brittle, there is reason to think your tree is unhealthy, or possibly already dead. Other trunk damages that need to be monitored for are cankers (sections of dead or wounded tissue) and decay. Any signs of fungus could be a symptom of internal rotting and should be surveyed.

The Roots: Epicormic shoots (previously dormant buds that are now growing branches; some trees efforts to regenerate) are a sure indicator that the roots of a tree are under abnormal stress. Flooding and strong winds can weaken the root system and with a weak root system, a tree can’t survive.

Other Indicators: Watch for excessive pitch (sap) discharge or the presence of sawdust from ants or termites. Production of pitch is an indicator of intense internal damage. Additionally, woodpeckers are key signs of tree health as they instinctively know where the bugs are, and if you are seeing woodpeckers and bugs, that might mean there is rot within the tree.

Changes in the location can cause trees distress. Soil disturbances from construction can affect the health of root systems. Additionally, if buildings have been erected and/or other trees removed, changes in sun and wind exposure could affect how the tree rebounds. Trees are less likely to recover from drastic changes.

Step 2: Test it!

If you are trying to diagnose whether your tree is dead or alive, the easiest way is to lightly bend one of its branches. If the branch breaks off easy-peasy, then you’ve got a dead tree on your hands. If the branch fights back by bending without snapping, then it’s still alive.

Snapping off a branch of a living tree might seem counter-productive as it is an abrasive effort. A good way to truly know if your tree is still thriving is to take a peek inside. You can peel off a bit of its bark from the trunk or snap off a small twig from one of its branches. If the inside is dry and brown, your tree is no longer alive. If the inside is moist and green, your tree is still kickin’!

Experienced tree service professionals can also conduct core sampling and judge the health of a tree based on the color of sawdust exposed with the use of a drill. The goal here is to diagnose the tree without disturbing it. Disturbances to a dead tree are of no concern but if your tree is alive, it could suffer if you are careless with your efforts

Step 3: Call us!

If you’ve discovered that you have a dead tree on your property, a sick tree that needs removal, or a healthy tree that just needs some TLC, complete our free quote form. If you have any other further questions/concerns, give us a call at 253-797-3621.

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