How to Tell if a Tree Is Dying: Short Guide

how to tell if a tree is dead

Trees add value to a landscape. Besides providing aesthetics, they offer shade and shelter for wildlife. That said, no tree lasts forever.

So, it helps to know how to tell if a tree is dying. Keep an eye out for the following signs that you may have a dying tree so you can call a certified arborist to take care of it before it damages your property.

If you need tree care services, contact us for Fairfax tree service by Woods Tree and Landscaping.

Pest infestation

Termites, ants, and beetles can compromise a tree’s health. If you catch an infestation early, you may manage to stop it before things get out of hand.

However, if a tree incurs too much damage from an infestation, you should take it down. 


If a tree starts leaning suddenly, it may have a damaged or dying root system. Bracing the tree may keep it from toppling, but don’t expect that to save the tree. In most cases, a leaning tree has already suffered irreversible damage.

Rot, Fungus, or Mushrooms

Signs of rot, mushrooms, or fungus point to a dying tree. If you notice these, act fast to save the tree, as extensive damage is irreparable. 

An arborist may recommend treatments for rot, mushrooms, or fungus, but only if the tree isn’t already too far gone. If the fungus shows signs of spreading, an arborist may expertly remove limbs with the hope that the fungus won’t spread, or recommend tree removal.

Sawdust or Oozing Sap

If you see sap oozing down the trunk from holes that look like knife wounds, you probably have a borer insect problem. Because borers can compromise a tree’s physical structure, you should hire a certified arborist to handle this. 

Emerald ash borers have earned a reputation for causing extensive tree damage and death, but other insects can also infest your tree and leave sawdust or oozing sap in their wake.

Peeling or Flaking Bark

Checking a tree’s bark offers clues for how to tell if a tree is dying. If your tree’s bark starts to fall off, it’s not receiving sufficient nutrients. Bark issues provide clues about a tree’s health and point to a sick tree. 

Watering the bare spot or taping the tree back on until it re-attaches may save the tree. However, if the bark loss stems from an infection, you’ll need to cut down the tree before the infection spreads to other trees in the area.

No Foliage

Dying or dead trees will often have no leaves. If you notice bare branches on one side of a tree, it could indicate a tree disease, pest invasion, or root damage. Dead branches and leaves indicate an issue with the flow of nutrients inside the tree. 

In most cases, you can’t reverse the damage. Evergreens will start to show red, yellow, or brown needles or leaves when dying or stressed. For a deciduous tree, look for branches that lack healthy leaves and show only brown and brittle leaves during the growing season.

Exposed Roots

While some tree species have root systems that grow near the ground’s surface, most aren’t that visible. Exposed roots may show that the tree doesn’t have enough space to grow. Call an arborist to assess whether you have a dying or healthy tree and recommend the best course of action.

Now that you know how to tell if a tree is dying, call an arborist as soon as you notice signs of trouble with your trees.

Woods Tree and Landscaping offers comprehensive tree care and landscape design services in Fairfax, VA. Contact us online or dial (703) 478-4704 to request a free estimate and learn how to prevent apple scab disease.

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