How can I tell if my backyard tree is diseased or dead?

Is Your Tree Dead or Just Sick?

A healthy tree is strong and robust, but it can go south in a number of ways. Factors like wind, rain and extreme heat and cold can affect the health of a tree. These environmental causes can't be controlled, so it's important to keep an eye out for any early symptoms of ill health. Trees need to be inspected routinely: once each season and especially after severe storms. Healthy trees have full crowns, the area of branches and leaves that extend from the main trunk. Don't let green leaves fool you, though -- trees can be sick and still have a lush, green crown. These are some key symptoms that will indicate if your tree isn't healthy.

  • Dead wood: Dead wood looks dry and lifeless and breaks very easily. Because it's brittle and can't bend in the wind like a healthy branch, it's likely to break. For this reason, dead branches, also called widow makers, need to be removed immediately because they're very dangerous.
  • Cracks and cankers: Cracks are deep splits through the bark, and they usually indicate that a tree is failing. Cankers are holes where the bark is missing; they increase the chance of a stem breaking near the canker.
  • Weak branch unions: Weak branch unions are areas where branches aren't securely attached to the tree. This happens when two branches grow closely together and bark grows between them. The bark isn't as strong as wood, and it weakens the union of the branches.
  • Decay: Trees usually decay from the inside out, so it can be tough to notice initially. Fungi, like mushrooms, are good indicators, as is soft or crumbly wood.
  • Poor tree architecture: Poor tree architecture means an uneven growth pattern, indicated by lopsided or leans in a particular direction. This is usually caused by years of damage from storms or improper pruning.

If you think that your tree is in trouble, you should call an arborist for a consultation. Arborists are tree experts that will be able to diagnose a disease and offer you a course of action. Not all diseased trees need to be removed, but if the tree is dead, it's best to get it out of there. You should never try to remove a tree yourself. It's a big job that requires expert precision to avoid extensive damage to property and people.