Is My Tree Dead? Know The Signs of a Dying Tree

By: David Bailey - May 1, 2019

When you see a  tree, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

For us, we think of life. Without trees, there would be no life. Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, making them essential for all life on Earth.

Unfortunately, trees die. While this may sound harsh, it's all a part of a natural ecosystem. When a tree dies, it goes back into the ground and enriches the soil for new life to grow.

This is all fine and dandy if a tree dies in a forest, but if a tree dies in a commercial or residential area, it can actually cause more harm than good.

So if you’ve ever walked by a tree and wondered, “Is my tree dead?” It might be worth a second look.

Imagine you're taking a stroll through Sherwood Park one day and you noticed several of the trees have died. Not only has this become an eyesore, but it has likely impacted City tourism and the health of any neighboring plants.

Preventing dead and fallen trees are essential for the cleanliness and health of residential areas.

Do you suspect that one of your local trees is dying? Read on to learn how you can know for sure.

Is My Tree Dead? The Signs

If you're already questioning the livelihood of your tree, there is a good chance your tree is either sick or already dead. Here are a few signs so you can know for sure:

Trunk Damage

Take notice of the tree's trunk. Does it look damaged? Is there a layer of healthy bark? Do you see large cracks running up the trunk?

Many things can damage a tree, one of the most common being large storms. Since trees are so tall, they are a favorite target for lightning strikes.

If lightning has struck your tree, you will most definitely see the trunk damage. The trunk may look burned or have large gashes in the wood.

In damaged or older trees, you will also notice that the bark has fallen off. Lightning can strip a tree of more than half of its bark with just one strike.

Fallen Leaves

If you're noticing a lot of leaves in your yard and it is not autumn yet, you may have a dying tree on your hands.

Trees pull their water and nutrients from the root system and deliver it through the branches into the leaves. If there is damage anywhere between the root system and the leaves, it can impair the ability of water and nutrients to travel throughout the tree.

This will cause the leaves on your tree to start dying and fall to the ground.

Unusual Leaning

Have you noticed that your tree has begun to lean a certain way?

If you notice your tree has a strange shape or lean to it, this may be a sign of root damage.

The roots of a tree work as an interconnected system to keep the tree standing upright and tall.  Since you can't see the root system, roof damage may not seem like an immediate concern. But don't be fooled. Without healthy roots, a tree loses its stability and ability to take in water or nutrients.

A poor root system can actually be dangerous in a residential area, as the tree is likely to fall at any time. If you suspect a tree has roof damage, you should reach out to true local tree expertsimmediately.


Fungi often grows on rotting trees, as they feed off of the decaying plant.

We're not just talking about mushrooms, the fungus could be all shapes, sizes, and colors. If you notice fungus is beginning to grow on your tree, you may still have time to save it. It is at this time that you might want to perform a scratch test.

Still Not a Dead Giveaway? Here’s How to Know for Sure

Scratch test? What is that?

If you're still not quite sure if your tree is dying, there are two DIY tests you can perform:  the scratch test and the twig test.

Scratch Test

The scratch test is simple.

Find a small pocket knife and knock away a piece of bark from the trunk of the tree. Once you have removed the bark, the cambium layer will be exposed. Take your pocket knife and carefully scratch this layer.

Be careful not to make deep cuts, as this can damage your tree more.

If the cambium layer is bright green, then the tree is lively and healthy. But, if the cambium layer is brown or turning brown, your tree is either sick or dying.

Twig Test

The twig test is very similar to the scratch test.

A twig test is a good option if you don't have a pocket knife on hand.

Look for a very thin branch and break it off of the tree. If the inside of the twig is green, the branch is healthy. And again, if it is brown the tree is either dead or dying.

Testing a branch can be helpful when determining if your tree is sick, but not dead just yet. If the branches are just beginning to die, it means that there is a problem somewhere between the roots and the branch. You may still have time to correct the damage.

Wanted: Dead or Alive

So, “is my tree dead?”

Does your tree have trunk damage? What about bare branches or growing fungus?

Have you tried both scratch and twig tests?

If it becomes clear that your tree is dead or dying, it's probably time to take action. If you're not licensed to chop down trees, we recommend seeking out the professionals. Having a professional handle your damaged tree troubles is essential for the safety of any neighboring plants or people.

Call us today for a free estimate.

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