How to Spot a Diseased or Dying Tree

diseased or dying tree

As the years pass, it’s easy to forget that trees become more susceptible to disease and other maladies. Identifying potential problems with the trees in your yard allows you to act before a diseased or dying tree damages property or hurts someone.

A tree has three central components: the roots, the trunk and the canopy. Potential problems can reveal themselves in any part. Here are the trouble spots to look for in each part.

The roots

Inspecting the base of a tree can help you spot disease. Look for fungal growth at the ground level or any open cavities. The existence of either will be your first clue that a tree is sick or dying.

From there, look for roots that are above or near the ground surface that may have not been there before. This could be a sign the tree is preparing to uproot or that there’s a problem with your soil. If your soil is frequently waterlogged, investing in drainage alternatives can help your tree’s roots remain underground and intact. If the tree's roots still return to the surface, then you probably have a diseased or dying tree.

Another common concern is root failure caused by severed, damaged or decayed roots. Look for these roots near the base of the tree—each one you find significantly reduces the stability of the tree.

The trunk

If the tree in your yard is reaching its end, the trunk will tell you. Look for areas without bark or that have lots of insect activity. Insects like ants and beetles often make homes in trees—while they may not kill the tree outright, their constant burrowing can weaken the foundation.

Multiple trunks are another common cause of tree failure. Weak trunk unions—which are typically any trunk unions that don’t form a perfect U—are more likely to fail. You can monitor the health of a tree by looking for cracks or decay at the base of the trunks.

The canopy

Falling branches are another threat that trees pose. Dead branches will have brown leaves and may still be connected to the tree. They may have also been dislodged from the tree and remain trapped in live branches. Identifying these branches allows you (or a professional) to remove them before they become a hazard.

You can spot potential problems by looking for weak branch attachments. This often includes areas where older limbs may have broken off and new growth has appeared in its place. Signs of weak branch attachment include 90-degree turns, branches the size of the stem and branches that grow from any topping cuts. Weak branch attachment is also more common in certain species of trees, such as hackberry.

Next, learn how to go about trimming your trees and removing any unsightly tree stumps.


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