how to save a dying tree

Common Signs Your Tree is Dying and How to Save It

Trees are a very important part of the natural habitat, and they can add value to your home, shield your home from the sun during the hot summer months, or protect you from the wind. So, it’s well worth it for you to attempt to save a tree when it gets sick, and there are several things you can do.

Sometimes, it’s obvious that your tree is dying because it’ll have branches riddled with holes, or the leaves will turn brown in the summer, but this isn’t always that obvious.

You have to identify your problem and whether or not the tree is dying first, and then you have to correct any moisture issues, be careful with mulch, prune away sick limbs, and more to help save your tree.

Learning how to save your tree may seem like a daunting task, but we’ve laid it all out here for you, so it’s simple to understand. You can try a few different steps to see which one works best for your needs below.

Common Signs That Your Tree is Dying

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a dead tree and one that is actively dying. If the tree is too far gone, you may have to choose to remove it, but there are five signs you can use to see if you can still save it.

1. No Leaves on the Branches

It’s completely normal for your trees to lose their foliage during the fall months, but you have to be wary if your tree starts to lose leaves during other times of the year because this is a sign that your tree is sick.

Your tree should have full coverage and look healthy, and one sign that there is something wrong is for your tree to be full in certain areas and bare in others.

Trees use their leaves to produce energy using a process called photosynthesis. When the trees start to get sick and lose their leaves, they can’t produce food anymore.

It’s a very downhill battle when your tree starts losing leaves, especially as the sickness progresses.

2. There is Dried-Up Wood on the Tree

The outer layer of the branches and trunk is called the bark, and you can think of this like the tree’s skin.

When the tree doesn’t have correct hydration, the bark can look cracked or brittle, and this very dry bark isn’t a good sign.

Brittle branches and trunks also have much less flexibility to them, and this can cause strain on your tree each time the wind starts blowing.

Another issue you can run into with a sick tree is cankered, and these are patches of dead bark. They come on by stress, just like they do on people.

The stress for a tree usually comes from fungi or bacteria that infect and attacks the tree through the bark.

3. You See Obvious Decay

If you’re noticing decay, it can be too late to save your tree already. Decay is obvious when fungi or mushrooms start to grow on your tree’s branches or trunk, and it’s a bigger problem if it’s on the trunk over the branches.

Trees decay from the inside out, and the decay starts at the center. This is like the tree’s spinal cord, so the tree will soon die if the center decay.

4. Cracks on the Tree’s Trunk

While some cracks on trees are normal; other cracks can run far too deep to be healthy for the tree. Any cracked bark leaves areas exposed and open to fungi, mold, bacteria, or insects to get and cause more deterioration.

You have to treat deep cracks before they start to fester because they can start out as a minor cut and go downhill fast if an infection takes hold before you treat it.

5. The Tree’s Structure is Weak

The root system works to anchor your tree, and the roots can start to suffer a strength loss if your tree gets sick.

Weakened roots mean that your tree’s ability to stay composed in the soil and upright becomes compromised, and the tree can start to droop or lean.

This can make the issue much worse, and gravity’s pull can slowly pull the tree down until the roots come out of the soil.

Also, any trees or branches that can fall are a huge liability to you, and this is especially true during any storm when the conditions get more severe.

You don’t want to risk anything with dying branches, and this is why it’s best to prune them.

You’ll also need structural support for your tree during this time, or you run the risk of it getting to the point where you have to get rid of it.

How to Save a Dying Tree

You need to confirm that your tree is dying before you do anything else, and you have to identify what is wrong with your tree, so you know how to save it.

Sometimes, even taking general steps to help the tree is enough to help it ward away any sickness.

Correct Your Moisture Issues

Mature trees can usually survive in dry environments better than overly wet ones, and younger trees can run into problems with too much or too little water.

Watering your tree too much is usually an issue with the weather instead of a man-made one because it indicates that there is a problem with drainage around the tree.

You should look for signs of water-logging where the tree’s roots have gotten soggy and soft.

If the soil is constantly wet around your tree, you have to work on getting the water to drain away better from that area or consider pruning the tree to allow more sunlight to filter through.

If you think that the tree isn’t getting enough water to survive, you can let the garden hose run around the base or put in an automatic watering system.

You could even fill and carry five-gallon buckets out and dump them around your tree’s base to ensure it’s getting enough water to thrive.

Mind Your Mulch

Mulch may not be bad, but it’s a very common issue where people allow mulch to build up in a cone formation around the tree’s base.

Doing this can make it very difficult for the roots to breathe, and this can cause the roots to start to rot away slowly. Bacteria, fungi, and insects will be drawn to these rotting roots and infest them.

If you have a thick layer of mulch around the base of your tree, you want to take steps to thin it out. If the mulch builds up directly to the base of the trunk, remove all of it in one go.

The same thing goes for any fertilizer. You don’t want to build it up right around the tree because it can cause burns due to the chemical content.

Pick the Correct Fertilizer

A lot of people just buy an all-purpose fertilizer and sprinkle it around the tree, and this can be deadly. You really should do a soil test before you do anything to the tree to find out which macronutrients are absent in the soil.

Potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen are the ones that could be missing, and they’re also what your numbers mean on the fertilizer bag.

Too much fertilizer lets bacteria and bad types of bugs make a home right in and around your tree’s root system, and you can think of the roots as the tree’s mouth.

You shouldn’t let bugs be nesting anywhere near this area, and directly adding fertilizer to the tree’s roots can chemically burn them. So, you want to sprinkle the fertilizer with a light hand around the tree.

Prune Sick or Dying Limbs

Pruning what you think are sick limbs can be very tricky because it’s hard to see how far the sickness spreads, but you can remove any visibly dying or diseased limbs from the tree.

By pruning off the limbs, sections of the trunk, or sections of bark, you can stop the sickness from getting worse and spreading out.

You do want to sterilize your saws, shears, and knives that you used to prune the branches, so you don’t spread the sickness to any healthy trees.

Do your research and find out exactly how you’re supposed to prune the type of tree you have, and there are various pruning techniques available for different trees. A drastic pruning can shock your tree, and this can make it sicker.

Diseases That Cause a Tree to Die

Along with the things we outlined above, there are several diseases that could cause your tree to get sick and die.

You can treat these diseases to save your tree, but you have to know what they look like first.

  • American Chestnut Blight – Cryphonectria Parasitica is the pathogen that causes this disease, and it can make orange spots appear along the branches and trunk, sunken cankers, and yellow spore emission.
  • Dutch Elm Disease – The American bark beetle will spread this disease from tree to tree, and it also spreads through the root system. Yellowing of wilting branches and wilting leaves starting at the crown and moving down to the trunk’s base are the biggest symptoms. You should prune away any infection and apply a fungicidal injection.
  • Fire Blight – This disease is mostly on fruit trees, and it can make them look like they got burned. The trees will get a black coloring and shrink in size as it takes hold. You should immediately prune away infected areas and spray your tree with antibiotics.
  • Powdery Mildew – Fungi causes this disease, and it’ll start on the leaves of the tree’s lower branches before spreading upwards. It’ll produce a powdery, white layer over the leaves and fruits, and these areas will turn black. Applying a fungicide can help remove it.

Bottom Line

There are several signs and symptoms that indicate that your tree is sick and dying, and you want to identify the problem and resolve it as quickly as you can to improve your tree’s outcome.

We outlined what causes the sickness and what you can do to save your tree, and you can use this information to ensure your trees stay healthy and thriving.

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