How To Tell If a Tree Is Dead Or Dying?

Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Grow with Bovees

Trees can become damaged, diseased, or die for many reasons. One of the most common reasons that trees die is from a pest infestation.

Carpenter ants, termites, and pine beetles are just a few of the many pests that bore deep within trees and cause them to die. But, you need to know how to tell if a tree is dead or dying. Right?

Dead, diseased, and damaged trees can all pose a significant threat to the safety of you, your family, and your home if the tree is close to your house, and they will need to be removed.

Tell-Tale Signs To Decide If It Is A Dead Or Dying Tree

Before you call a certified arborist and request to remove your trees, ask yourself if any of the following signs represent the condition of the trees you are considering removing.

Brown Leaves

If you look out your back window and see one of your trees covered in brown leaves, or brown needles, that stands among full, green trees, then you likely have a dead or dying tree on your hands.

Dead or dying trees will have no greenery on the branches, and much of the bark may be missing from the tree as well. This is indicative that the tree is dead or in the process of dying, and it must be taken down. At the point when no greenery is showing and bark is falling off, there is no salvaging the tree. It will have to be removed.

Storm Damage

Wind, lightning, and hail can all play a significant role in the overall health of trees.

Wind and hail can significantly weaken the branches and cause damage to the crown of the tree. Damage can decrease the health and strength in the tree, allowing pests to invade or pressure to build on the heavier side of the tree.

Any of these weaknesses will greatly increase the chance that the tree will fall with no predictability.

Lightning will also damage the tree by sending electricity through the branches and the trunk of the tree. This electricity burns the tree and strips it from any nutrients it once had. This will severely damage the tree and eventually cause it to die.

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If you can see fungus, or what may look a bit like mushrooms growing from the tree, then this could be a serious problem, and may indicate that you are looking at a dead or dying tree.

Large Dead Branches Around The Tree

If there are a number of dead branches on the ground near the tree, this could also indicate that the tree is dying.

The Tree is Invading Powerlines

When a tree becomes invasive, it can present a multitude of problems with the only solution being to remove the tree.

Trees that are invading powerlines are often trimmed back without the entire tree needing to be removed. Unfortunately, there are times when full removal is the only safe and necessary option to keep the tree from needing trimmed year after year.

Trees that are leaning towards buildings, fences, or neighbor’s property will be a problem to homeowners as they may unpredictably fall at any time. This would require removing the tree altogether so that it does not fall on the home or a neighbor’s property.

Reasons NOT Always Obvious to Remove a Tree

Problems that lie beneath the surface are the hardest ones to plan for. You think you have been vigilant in keeping your property safe from dead trees, but the large, healthy oak tree in the back yard has been inflicting a silent pain for years because of its deep penetrating root system.

Trees that have developed a strong root system can spread their roots for many yards. Even a large oak tree in the back yard can spread large roots through the ground that you may not consider a problem until it’s too late. In certain circumstances, the tree may start to grow roots above the ground, which could become another problem in itself.

If you have a tree close to your house, and you notice foundation cracks beginning to form in your home, there is a chance that a large root system has continued to grow over time and is causing the foundation of your home to shift.

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This would require removing the tree and killing the stump so that the root system stops encroaching on your home. You should consider calling in a professional building surveyor and/or a tree expert if you suspect these conditions.

Fungus Growth

Another sign of a dead tree that is not always obvious is mushrooms. Mushrooms will grow at the base of a tree when the tree has been infected with fungus. Mushrooms are a sign that there is a fungus or fungi present around the tree. This means that a decay-producing fungus is extremely likely to be rotting the wood within the tree without any visible warning signs.

To know if a fungus has weakened the tree, you should remove a section of the bark of the tree and see if the wood underneath is wet, soggy, or soft, wood mites can also be present. If so, you likely have a fungus that has infected your tree.

Fortunately, having a tree diseased with a fungus does not always require tree removal. In fact, there are often instances where you can keep a tree without removing it.

When to Keep the Tree Instead of Removing it?

Not every diseased or insect-infested tree will need immediate removal. If there is still some life in the tree, such as greenery at the crown, then the tree may be salvageable.

Look for these signs to determine if you can keep the tree instead of removing it.

Signs of Life

If a tree that has been damaged or diseased has splotches of greenery throughout, there is a good chance you can save it with the proper tree care. You will need to cut off the damaged or dead branches and find the source of the problem.

You can perform what is called a scratch test, this entails scratching an area of the bark from the tree trunk to check if it is dry or moist. If there is moisture present, then the tree could be alive. If it looks as though leaves are going to appear, this is also a sign of hope, and that the tree needs some care and attention.

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If a storm damaged the tree, then cut off the dead and damaged branches and treat with a pesticide or insecticide to make sure that no pests have entered the tree through these cracks or tears.

Too Much Weight On One Side

Large trees that have been weakened by disease or damage can easily fall with very little warning. Trees can either be pulled to the ground by too much weight on the top, or the heavier branches of the tree can fall without warning.

Regardless, you will need to look at the tree to see where the most weight is located and have those branches removed. Removing the heaviest branches of the tree will help it to strengthen and keep it from falling.


If your tree has become sick due to a fungus, you can treat the tree with an anti-fungal treatment that can restore the tree and keep it from needing to be removed. Only if the fungus has done severe damage will the tree require removal.

Roots Above the Ground

Just because you can see tree roots in the lawn or elsewhere above the ground, doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to remove the whole tree. Above ground tree root removal is something that is regularly practiced pretty much globally. This is a great way to keep your tree rather than having to cut it down.

If you have a number of trees on your property, it might be a good idea to call in a professional tree expert or arborist from time to time, just to determine the state of your trees. At best, they would be able to help you plan any necessary tree removal, as well as spot a dying tree before it actually becomes a problematic dead tree.