How To Tell if a Tree is Dead

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How To Tell if a Tree is Dead

If you have a tree on your property and you are concerned that it may have died, then we’re here to helpUnfortunately, trees can die over time for many different reasons. Let’s discuss some good ways in which you can test the trees in your garden to assess their health. 

So how do you tell if a tree is dead? Assessing whether a tree has died or not can be done by looking at 7 key areas:

  1. Does the tree exhibit new bud growth?
  2. Apply a snap-snatch test
  3. Assess the roots for damage or rot
  4. Has the tree grown new bark?
  5. Is the trunk damaged or split?
  6. Assess for woodworm holes
  7. Are there dead branches attached to the trunk? 

These 7 steps should indicate whether or not trees have died. Let’s look at each step in detail to see how professional tree surgeons assess the health of a tree.

How To Tell if a Tree is Dead – 7 Basic Steps

Here are our 7 top tips for being able to tell if a tree on your property has died. They aren’t to be followed in any particular order. However, we would recommend carrying out 2 or 3 of these practices to give yourself a realistic idea as to the condition of the tree. If you are ever in doubt of your own safety whilst carrying out these assessments, don’t hesitate to contact a qualified tree surgeon

Does The Tree Exhibit New Bud Growth?

Even during the tree’s dormant stages, it should still exhibit new bud growth. If you haven’t noticed any new growth over late winter to early spring, then that is a sign that the tree has died. 

Apply A Snap-Snatch Test

To determine if a tree is dormant or dead, tree surgeons often perform a snap-snatch test. This test involves looking for the green cambium layer that exists beneath the bark, even when a tree is not actively growing. 

First, make a small hole with a knife to access the cambium layer. If the layer underneath the bark is green, the tree is dormant. On the other hand, if the layer beneath the bark is dry, this indicates the likelihood that the tree has died.

Assess The Roots For Damage Or Rot

If a tree’s roots have been damaged or rotted, it can result in the tree’s death. To determine whether this is the case, remove some soil below the trunk and examine the roots and soil. If you notice any signs of damage or fungi on the roots, then it’s likely that the tree will soon perish. Fungi and mushrooms growing at the base of the trunk often indicate that the trunk is decomposing.

If you have noticed signs of rot in the roots of your tree, this might cause instability in the tree in future. As such, the professional opinion of a tree surgeon is required, especially if the tree is near a building, outhouse, roads or parked cars, where it may pose a threat to health and safety.

Has The Tree Grown New Bark?

Similar to the buds that grow in the crown of a tree, bark can be a key indicator of a tree’s health. Trees that are struggling to live often don’t regenerate their bark. 

Noticing bark that is missing from a tree isn’t too important as trees naturally shed their bark seasonally. However, if this bark isn’t replaced by the tree, then that’s when you need to consider seeking the help of a professional tree surgeon. 

Is The Trunk Damaged Or Split?

To see if a tree is still alive, examining its trunk is essential. This is because the trunk is responsible for providing water to the crown and canopy above. Here are some things to check the trunk of your tree for:

  • Dangerous holes or cavities in the trunk
  • Cracks or splits in the trunk 
  • Signs of lightning strikes, such as a long stretch of missing bark, particularly if the leaves are turning brown and not falling off.

Assess For Woodworm Holes

Woodworms are pests that feed on the cellulose found in trees. Since trees are made up of between 34 and 51% cellulose, this can cause the tree some major problems. 

Woodworm can be found by looking for many small holes within the trunk or branches of the tree. You can also notice their presence by finding wood pulp, which is similar to sawdust, around the trunk of the tree. 

If you find signs of woodworm in the trees on your land, you may need to remove the tree and grind the stump. This removes any possibility of contaminating the other trees on your property. 

Find out more about stump removal with our dedicated blog Is Tree Stump Removal Necessary? Everything You Need To Know About Stump Grinding

Are There Dead Branches Attached To The Trunk?

Whilst it isn’t a clear indication of a tree having died, dead branches often can indicate issues with the general health of a tree. Branches sometimes die, and most trees have some amount of dead wood. Trees can adapt to this loss and recover. However, an increased number of dead branches can indicate that the tree has a dead trunk, too. 

If you notice this on your trees, it’s important to get a qualified surgeon to assess the tree. Dead branches can break and fall, causing a risk to you and your property. For any work that needs to be completed at height, like removing deadwood, always get the help of a trained tree surgeon. 

What To Do If A Tree Is Dead

Using the above tips, you can now assess the health of the trees on your property. But what do you do if you find one of your trees has died? If you are certain that the tree on your property has died, you should have the tree removed by a professional tree surgeon. 

If you feel comfortable removing the tree yourself, always wear suitable PPE and follow the instructions of a trained professional. 

Removing a tree is labour-intensive and requires a high level of planning and skill. If you are in Kent or areas south of London, why not contact Broadleaf Tree Surgery to not only remove the tree but also grind the stump down to a point where it no longer presents any issue to its surroundings? 

When Does A Dead Tree Pose A Risk?

Dead trees pose a risk to their surroundings. This risk is caused by a combination of the tree’s size and its inability to support its weight now that the wood is no longer living. 

If the tree has recently died, perhaps within the last year, the wood in its trunk will still be structurally sound enough to not pose any immediate threat. However, as time passes, the tree deteriorates and this ability to support the weight of the crown is reduced. As such, we recommend that a dead tree is cut down within 18 months.  

Not only does a dead tree pose a risk to humans and nearby structures, but it also poses a risk to nearby trees. Ash dieback is a fungus that kills trees of the genus ash and spreads through airborne spores. These spores can not only kill trees, but they can spread through deadwood coming into contact with living wood. 

It is estimated that ash dieback will eventually kill around 50% of ash trees here in the UK. You must report any sightings of ash dieback to Treealert.

Cutting Down Dead Trees With Broadleaf Tree Surgery

Dead trees can be unpredictable and dangerous. We do not recommend that you try and cut down a dead tree by yourself unless you are absolutely sure of your skills, tools, and your ability to manage the task at hand. Tree felling can be a dangerous job, so it is always best to leave it to professionals with the right tools and protective equipment. 

Broadleaf Tree Surgery have over 15 years of professional experience in felling dead trees in Kent, safely. We also offer consultations if you need help assessing the condition of your trees. 

Don’t hesitate to contact Broadleaf Tree Surgery today for help with identifying and felling your dead trees, today.


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