How to Tell If Your Tree is Dead or Diseased | Top 8 Signs


As a homeowner, paying close attention to the garden, lawn, and small plants is common. But what about the trees that are growing in or around your home? We often don’t pay attention to them, thinking they would grow independently without needing external help, not even realizing that issues are pretty prevalent with trees, too.

Monitoring your trees season after season is necessary to ensure optimal growth without damaging them in the long run. Like humans, even trees have a “normal” behavior and will start “acting out” when they are either diseased or dead.

This article will walk you through all the signs that tell if your tree is dead or diseased and what you can do to overcome that issue.

What are the Signs that the Tree is Diseased or Dying?

Certain parameters depict whether or not your tree is dead. But before we delve into that, let us walk you through all the signs that potentially depict whether or not the tree is diseased and needs extra tending.

Following are some of the signs that you need to look out for to determine whether the tree is dying or not:

1. Bark abnormalities

Much like how our skin is the biggest organ in our bodies and protects us against external factors and triggers, the bark of a tree is its skin. So, if you notice abnormalities on the trees’ bark, that’s one of the biggest telltale signs that something is wrong.

There could be two types of abnormalities that you need to look into:

Missing bark – When the tree is dying or is diseased, the bark will become very loose and eventually fall off the tree. The best way to check that is by looking at the smooth areas of the tree where the bark has fallen off. If you don’t notice the bark reforming on the smooth area, it is a sign that the tree is diseased.

Vertical cracks on the trunk – When discussing vertical splits, we highlight the significant and noticeable gashes on the tree. These are the cracks that are not just visible but very potent as well. Deep holes randomly running through the expanse of the tree is a sign that the tree is dying.

2. Lack of foliage

It goes without saying that if the tree has lost all the leaves or is in the process of losing all of them, that’s one of the most alarming signs that the tree is dying.

A sudden lack of foliage indicates the tree is stressed and needs extra care and attention. One of the most common reasons is drought stress.

Ideally, we’d recommend that you pay attention to the leaves. If new leaves aren’t regrowing on the tree, that’s a sign that the tree is diseased.

3. Fungus growth

Next up on the list is fungus growth on the tree’s bark and along the branches. The most common type is shelf fungus, which grows abundantly on the tree’s trunk. 

In most cases, fungal damage is common on the trees, especially in areas where the weather is humid and there are heightened risks of fungal growth. If you notice fungal growth spreading at a speedy rate and covering most of the tree, that’s where the concerns start.

The main reason behind fungal growth on the trees is a sign that the bark and the tree’s trunk are rotting from the inside out.

4. Sudden leaning

If the tree is dying, you will start noticing a sudden mushroom growth around the base of the tree, which will directly affect the roots of the tree. Excessive mushroom growth contributes to the tree’s root damage, making the tree’s base softer.

Once the base starts getting softer, you will notice that the tree will start inclining towards one side. This is also a sign of risk because if the tree is inclining towards one side, there are heightened risks of it toppling over and falling to the ground.

However, a simple lean isn’t typically a sign of damage or disease in the tree. You need to pay close attention to other signs and factors, too. If you notice other signs of damage, that’s a potential sign that your tree is most likely diseased.

5. Abundant dead wood

You might notice a few dead branches and wood on the tree, and while that’s completely normal, noticing an abundance of dead wood isn’t.

We’d recommend checking things during the dormant season first and then checking them during the normal season. If the dead wood and the damage progress unnecessarily, that’s a sign that the tree is most likely diseased or dead for good. This is one of the most common signs of whether your tree is dead or diseased.

6. Has a host or critters in it

Besides fungus growth on the tree, another sign that the tree is most likely diseased is if you notice critters crawling out of the tree.

Two of the most common critters that are a sign that your tree is stressed or diseased are the presence of bark beetles and carpenter ants. Also, discoloration on the tree’s bark indicates that the tree is infected with a bacterial or fungal infection.

Also, visible signs of rotting in the tree’s roots and trunks indicate that things aren’t going as they should.

7. Brittle branches

If your tree’s branches are breaking with a simple snap, that’s another sign that the tree is diseased. The most common reason the tree’s branches break off easily is that the tree is dead.

The brittle branches signify that the entire tree is likely dead from the inside. Brittle branches are a sign that the tree is becoming weaker. If you notice things worsening, you must immediately act before the tree breaks down the middle and topples over.

8. Abnormal leaf behavior

We discussed the lack of foliage as a sign of damage and disease to the tree, but abnormal leaf behavior is also a sign that the tree is diseased and needs immediate rescue.

Some of the early signs of a diseased tree are abnormal leaf behavior. Signs like early leaf drop, dead leaves clinging through the winter, and leaf discoloration. In most cases, this abnormal leaf behavior is a sign of stress.

Also, the signs that the tree is stressed or diseased are when the leaves change colors instead of staying green. 

Also read: How to Fill Chipmunk Holes

What are the Signs that the Tree is Dead?

The above-mentioned signs are factors that show that your tree is diseased or is in the process of dying. But what are some signs that the tree is already dead and it’s time to take it down?

Following are a few tests to confirm whether the tree is dead:

  • Start by checking the physical damage to the tree
  • Check the bark for shelf or ground fungus
  • Scratch the branch and see if the bark is green underneath the branches

If you don’t see signs of green underneath the branches and see prevalent signs of fungus and critters in the tree, that’s a telltale sign that the tree is dead.

Is it Possible to Save a Drying Tree?

Catching the signs of disease in the tree early on is the first step to fixing the problem. You can call the arborist and get the issue checked out.

Sometimes, the easiest way to try and fix the issue is by fixing the diseased portions of the tree and eliminating them from the tree. Also, working with a professional can help you figure out what’s wrong with the tree early, and with their help, it’s much easier to fix the problem for good.

The best way to prevent the risks of diseases in the tree is by ensuring proper care and maintenance via pruning and treating the tree for diseases and pests. 

But there are times when the tree is so beyond repair that you can do nothing to fix the problem. In such cases, your best bet would be to cut and remove the tree before it threatens the people around you.

If you were confused about whether your tree is dead or diseased, we hope this article gives you all the insights you seek. 

Ideally, you must pay close attention to the signs of potential disease or damage in the tree. This is because catching the disease at an earlier stage is an effective way to navigate and fix the issue before things take a turn for the worse.

Also read: How to Get Rid of Ant Hills

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does fungus on a tree mean it’s dead?

Fungus on the tree and even the presence of mushrooms at the base is a telltale sign of potential damage to the tree and a sign that it’s decaying from the inside. Also, you might notice specific types of mushrooms growing on the tree, indicating signs of damage.

What happens when a tree dies?

If left alone, the dead tree’s wood takes up to 100 years to decompose. This also depends on the type of tree and the area in the forest where the tree is growing. Depending on the weather, it can also foster an ecosystem where decaying elements grow.

Can a tree recover from fungus?

While it’s impossible to cure the fungus for good, putting the fungal growth into remission is possible. You’d have to pay close attention to the damage and implement relevant fixes to reverse the damage.

Can you remove fungus from a tree?

If you pick up fungus growth from an early stage, the easiest way to treat it is by using a bleach and water solution and spraying that on the infected areas.

Why do dead trees need to be removed?

Dead trees serve as a breeding ground for pests and critters, which can harm the other trees or the community around them. Hence, it needs to be removed immediately.

How do you save an infected tree?

Start by pruning or removing the dead branches off the trees to promote air circulation. Also, for better help, contact a professional to get things sorted.

What is a good fungicide for trees?

Almost every fungicide used can be effective in eliminating the issue. One of the best ones in the lot is Liquid Copper fungicide spray.

What kills white fungus on trees?

If caught early, using vinegar is a great way to eliminate the outgrowth of fungus on the tree by spraying it in large quantities.

Is tree fungus poisonous?

Tree fungus typically doesn’t transit to humans and pets. However, new mutations of plant fungi are finding their way into infecting humans, so we have to be careful either way.

Can only part of a tree be dead?

Yes, one part of the tree can be dead. Also, a single branch that’s dead in the tree doesn’t mean the entire tree is dead, so keep that in mind.

By James Edwards

James Edwards is a writer & editor with almost 15 years of experience from Murphys, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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