How to know if your Trees are Dead

By Maria Bargellini

Is your tree dead or not? That depends. When most trees are stressed, especially after drought conditions, they go dormant and shed some or even all of their leaves. Typically when the leaves all stay on and turn brown – it’s a bad sign. You want to see the tree shed and go dormant as this is a sign that the tree is trying to reserve energy and stop growth by going dormant.

Most tree companies will give you a free estimate to have an arborist come out and take a look at your trees. That’s truly the only definitive way for knowing whether or not your tree is dead. You should not trim a tree you think is distressed as it will have to use energy to repair the wound and take away from its efforts to heal itself. In addition, you should not let dead or dying trees remain in place as they become a hazard not only to you but for anyone trying to remove it. Here are some general things to look for when a tree is dead.

Deadwood: This is harder to do in the winter on tall trees. For smaller ones you can feel if branches are dry by how light they are. It will snap off fairly easily without arching. It will also be brown and dry on the inside when performing a scratch test. If you have a high percentage of dry, brittle, trunks or branches with a brown core, there’s a very good chance that your tree has met its end.

Decay or Rot: Sometimes this can be very apparent. It may be an open wound, crumbling wood, soft spots etc. Other times it’s a lot harder and may require an expert. By looking at a tree it is hard to tell if it is structurally sound. Rot usually occurs from the inside out and makes it difficult to tell. The telltale signs of holes from insect are a good indicator that wood boring insects are present.

Cracks: Large cracks at the branch collar or center of the trunks are usually an indicator that a tree is structurally compromised. Mix in our heavy winds and dry contracting soils and you have a very dangerous mix.

You should never attempt to diagnosis and take down a tree on your own. Not all trees need to be removed. A dormant or diseased tree is not a dead tree. Call a certified arborist to get recommendations on how to proceed.  In addition it can be extremely dangerous to take down a structurally compromised tree as you have to climb the tree in order to cut the top.



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