How to Tell if a Tree is Dying and Potentially Dangerous

“The best friend on earth of man is the tree.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

They are treasured, beautiful landmarks accenting your home’s property and landscaping. They are living history, tracing their lineage back dozens and even hundreds of years. They are loyal providers of shade on hot summer days and a child’s best friend when trying to escape the harsh glare of the sun or looking for something to climb. They are living, breathing, sometimes breathtaking picture postcards of America. For many American homeowners, trees are family and part of the very fabric of their property.

The United States is a country of trees, with over 250 billion trees currently spreading their colorful, leafy arms in America today. The USA is home to 8 percent of all forest area in the world.
If only they, like us, could live forever. Even something as strong as oak has an expiration date. The harsh reality is, like us, trees do not live forever. And when trees die, they can become dangerous threats to your home and family’s safety, especially when provoked by the unpredictable wrath of hazardous spring and summer weather. High winds and saturated soil conditions can cause tree roots to fail and branches to weaken.

“A dying tree in a forest is nature simply running its course and eventually giving back to its ecosystem,” Mother Nature Network’s Noel Kirkpatrick writes. “A dying tree in a well-landscaped yard, however, can pose problems for other trees and everything else around it.”

The problem is less than one percent of one percent of us are professional tree doctors or a certified arborist. The hazards and telling signs of unhealthy trees are not always obvious to the untrained eye. Diagnosing a sick or dying tree can be challenging. Healthy trees have lush, green crowns, but not all trees look like they are National Geographic Magazine cover material.

A Dormant or Dying Tree?

The first step toward identifying if a tree is dying is to make sure it’s not just behaving like it’s supposed to. There is a telling difference between dead and simply dormant branches. Dormant, which in Latin means “to sleep,” branches are simply resting before they spring to life again. Dead branches cannot revive themselves.

Here are Mother Nature Network’s Sure Signs A Tree May Be Dying:

  • A Leaning Tower of Fading Leaves: Too much leaning or an otherwise odd shape. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), trees leaning 15 degrees away from their original vertical position aren’t doing so well. Large trees leaning due to wind damage unfortunately seldom recover.
  • Cracks in the Armor: Deep cracks and gashes in trees can lead to serious issues and, as InterNACHI notes, “indicate the tree is presently failing.”
  • Dead Bark: These areas of dead bark can be the results of bacterial or fungal infections. The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) pinpoints these infections as targeting the inside of a tree, which can lead it to slowly break apart.
  • Deadwood: When a tree starts dropping leaves or branches, it’s a clear sign its long-term future is in doubt. Trees drop limbs to conserve resources and make themselves smaller. If a tree’s deadwood is brown, it’s deadwood. If it’s bright green, it’s healthy.

Here are The Spruce’s Telltale Signs of Dead Tree Limbs:

  • Leafless while other branches have green leaves.
  • Clinging dead leaves while other branches are bare.
  • Bark has mostly fallen off, exposing smooth wood underneath.
  • Large fungus.
  • A hole in the trunk.

And just like oil and water are a volatile mix, wind and dead tree limbs are a combustible match capable of causing severe home damage. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 1 in 50 insured U.S. homes this year will have a property damage claim related to wind or hail.

Remember, trees are like children: they need loving care and attention. Trees need to be inspected routinely: once each season and especially after severe storms. A qualified arborist is the best resource to determine the potential failure and fall of a tree.

For a truly healthy tree only drops colorful leaves in the fall, not dangerous branches or trunks on your home and property.

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