Tree Care Tips: How To Tell If Your Tree Is Dying Or Dead

Jan 26, 2018

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Trees

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Paying attention is part of tree care; Your trees are giving off signals

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Trees can be remarkably resilient in the face of harsh conditions, but California’s droughts have stretched that resilience to the limit. So even after a record-setting 2017 rainy season, and the return of some wet weather now in 2018, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to the trees on our property. The best tree care involves preventing or addressing a problem before it becomes serious.

This means that even if you’re not an expert arborist, there are still some things you can do for your trees. One of the most important ones is simply to pay attention. Taking the time to inspect your own trees can help you learn what to watch for.

One of those things to watch for is signs that your trees are dead, or dying. Sacramento in particular has many many trees sharing space throughout residential areas. A dead or dying trees can tip over under the right conditions, causing serious damage to property. Residents can also suffer injuries from falling trees or branches.

Careful observation can determine if your trees are in trouble… and if you need to bring in the tree care pros.

Because trees can feel like a permanent part of our landscape, it can be disturbing to realize that one is on the brink of failure. This is especially true when the tree is next to our home. It can happen to trees even if we’ve been providing regular care and maintenance.

It is true that the best way to properly get your tree diagnosed would be to call in a qualified arborist. Fallen Leaf employs these certified professionals to determine the exact nature of a problem, and how best to address it. However, it can’t hurt to learn some of the warning signs your trees are providing.

If the tree begins to lean suddenly, your problems may be below the surface!

One of the most difficult to problems to diagnose are those affecting a tree’s root structure. This could be an issue with soil quality after a long drought period… or it could be disease or rot setting into the roots. You’ll want to call in an arborist to get a better idea of what’s going wrong, the sooner the better.

Tree care

This is an extensive fungal growth along the side of a tree. It could be a sign of more serious structural issues going on within the tree’s trunk. In the worst-case scenario, there’s nothing that can be done to help the tree recover, particularly if rot has set in throughout the trunk.

Exposed roots can lead to fatal pest infestations, or fungal infections.

Most trees keep their roots below the surface. Soil erosion, abnormal or natural growth, and high winds forcing the tree to lean can eventually force roots to appear. Watch for signs of pests or fungus on any exposed roots. An arborist will be able to suggest a variety of options to help protect the tree.

A fungal infection anywhere on the tree trunk or its branches is a red flag that cannot be ignored!

Large fungal growths breaking through the tree’s bark are potential signs of internal rot. This is a serious structural risk for a tree, and depending on the nature of the fungal growth, the may not be salvageable. If you see any signs of this, you’ll want a professional assessment right away: property and passersby are at risk.

Is your tree slow to grow leaves, or grows fewer than expected?

Disease or pests can prevent a tree from fully restoring its canopy after a dormant season. However, it could just as well be old age taking its toll. Most ornamental trees can last several decades at best, while other trees can reliably survive for centuries in the right conditions. If you’ve noticed your tree’s canopy growth is thinner than usual, or taking longer to start growing, there could be a problem.

What if branches are falling from the tree trunk?

By itself, this isn’t always sign of a serious issue. Sometimes trees under stress will lose branches, “sacrificing” them to survive harsh droughts. And sometimes high wind gusts can cause branches to break, or weaken to the point that they will eventually break under their own weight.

One of the best times of the year to check on branch condition is during the dormant months. With trees that shed their canopy during the fall, you can get a great look at the branches. If you’re seeing a lot of obviously dead growth, or if you’re seeing an excessive amount of falling branches, your tree may be dying.

Not every test of a tree’s health requires an arborist certification!

If you’re interested in the health of your trees, you don’t necessarily need to be an expert in tree care. There are a couple of simple tests that anyone willing to get their hands a little dirty can do. None of them require heavy equipment or a crane, so just about anyone can get these done!

Scratching the bark of a tree can reveal much about a tree’s condition.

If you want to get a closer look for yourself, scratching the bark of a tree can give you a hint on its condition. Beneath the dry, outer layer of bark on a tree is the cambium layer of bark. This layer should appear green. For unhealthy trees, this layer may lack the green color, or could be dry or rotted. You can use a small blade from a pocket knife, or even your finger nails to perform the scratch test. Some trees may be tougher to do this to.

When performing a scratch test, limit the size of the scratch you make. If your tree has a thick outer bark layer, be careful to only remove as much as you need to perform the scratch test. Too large a wound in the tree could introduce unwanted disease or pests. The scratch test can also be done on branches of a tree. However, as trees can give up branches in order to sustain themselves, this is not always a conclusive test.

Bending branches or twisting twigs can tell you how healthy your tree is growing

If you strip off a small twig on a branch and twist it, you can immediately tell the health growth. If the twig is brittle and breaks or shatters, it’s dead. If it bends and shows some elasticity, it’s a healthy growth. One twig alone is hardly enough to determine if a tree is in danger, but it could reveal problems with a given branch. If all the new growth from a branch is dying out, that could be a bad sign.

Another way to check on a tree is to try bending a branch. Similar to the twig testing, if the branch breaks easily, that was likely an unhealthy branch. A bending branch is a sign of living growth. Of course you don’t want to try this by hanging from a tree. You’ll be able to determine how healthy a branch is that way… but if that branch breaks while you hang from it, you might also determine how much your back hurts!

Part of tree care is identifying a problem before it becomes serious. By simply taking the time to inspect a tree, you have a good chance of catching issues before your trees fail.

 

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