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How to Tell if a Tree Is Dying: A Guide for Homeowners

Got a willow that’s looking a bit weary? An oak that’s looking a bit old? An evergreen looking a bit exhausted?

You probably get where we’re going with this. For the untrained eye, it’s actually harder than you think to figure out whether a tree is dying

image - How to Tell if a Tree Is Dying A Guide for Homeowners
How to Tell if a Tree Is Dying A Guide for Homeowners


Use our tips on how to tell if a tree is dying to figure out whether your tree is on its way out.


Start with the most obvious place to look — the leaves.

How much foliage is on your tree will depend on the season and the species of the tree. So don’t panic straight away if yours is looking a little bare on the branches.

This said, if it’s the middle of summer and your previously green tree doesn’t have a single leaf then your tree is likely dying.

In the winter when leaves are gone, you can instead look for tree buds. These look like small dots at the ends of branches. If your tree has none of these, it’s an indicator your tree may be dying.

This process is a little different for evergreens. Evergreens cycle their leaves out all year round, typically from the interior of the canopy to the exterior.

In other words, the leaves closest to the trunk are the first to fall.

If you’re seeing the opposite and foliage is browning at the ends of branches first, then your tree may be dying.


Branches are another great indicator of a tree’s overall health. The most obvious tell-tale sign of a tree coming to the end of its life is when multiple branches are dying from the tips.

This indicates declining health and stress.

It’s worth noting all larger trees will have some dead branches. It’s all part of their natural life cycle, so don’t worry if you spot a few.

However, if multiple large branches are dead, then this may indicate a larger problem.

There’s an easy trick to test if branches are alive. Simply take a small twig and bend it between two fingers.

If it bends with ease then the branch is alive whereas if it breaks it’s likely the branch is dead.

We recommend doing this test over a few different areas to gauge the health of your tree.

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You can also look at the trunk to gauge your tree’s health. If there are large sections of bark peeling off the trunk, this could indicate a problem.

Similarly, large sections of rot indicate poor health, especially if this rot continues all the way around the trunk.

You can use the scratch test on a trunk or a branch to check the health of a tree. Take a knife and scratch the bark from the surface. This should reveal some level of green underneath.

If it doesn’t, this suggests the tree is dying.


If you can’t get to the trunk of your tree, you can check the roots instead. If there are a high number of mushrooms or fungus growing at the roots, this can indicate root rot.

If the roots of your tree are lifting out of the ground entirely, this suggests the whole tree is destabilized. In these instances, it’s worth considering having the tree removed altogether.

To get a free tree removal quote, click here.

Now You Know How to Tell if a Tree is Dying

There you have it! Just use our easy tips and tests on how to tell if a tree is dying to assess the health of your tree. We have loads more useful gardening tips available on our blog, so make sure to check them out.

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