How Do You Know If a Tree Is Dead? 5 Signs to Look For

Dead or dying trees are at a high risk of falling over due to things like high winds. These dead trees can cause a lot of damage when they fall. When you prune or remove your dead trees, you can prevent them from falling and reduce the damage.

So, how do you know if a tree is dead? If you suspect your tree is dying, there are some signs you can look for and that professional arborists can help you with.

How to Tell If a Tree is Dead

Even though they can live for hundreds of years in their life cycle, all trees eventually die. But there are some warning signs you can keep an eye out for in case there’s a problem early in your tree’s life. Beyond the obvious like fungus growth or dead wood, here’s how to tell when a tree’s health is failing.

Take a Look at Your Tree

The first, and probably easiest, way to check dead tree is to spend some time looking at it.  

Take a look at the branches of the tree to see if there are visible signs that can help you determine the health of your tree. Here are a few signs to look for to determine the health of your tree:

  • Do they have green leaves and buds on them? Fresh green leaves and new buds are a great sign that your tree is healthy and alive. Discolored leaves can sometimes be a telltale sign in your trees. For example, if you notice your leaves turn brown or spotted after a long period of rain, it can be an indication of either tree fungus or stress from droughts.
  • Are there hanging branches and missing leaves? Hanging, dead branches, and missing leaves (or dead leaves) can be a sign that the tree isn’t healthy enough to support the growth. Keep an eye out for bare branches in the summer and spring.
  • Is there pulling or peeling bark or cracks or splits in the trunk of the tree? These are signs the tree could be dying or already dead. Vertical cracks are a sign that your tree may be dying. Using a pocket knife, you can also do a scratch test to remove a bit of the outer layer of bark. The scratch test lets you see if the tree is healthy and green underneath or brown and dead. 
  • Is there fungus or mushrooms growing around the bottom of the tree? Fungus growing around the base of the tree trunk can mean that the tree is already dead inside. 
  • How do your tree roots look? Beyond fungus, if you notice any small branches coming out from the base, this could also indicate your roots are damaged.
  • Is your tree leaning or standing tall? If your tree has a leaning trunk, then it could be a sign of a structural imbalance. Odd growth patterns like this can also be indicative of your tree being too weak to stand on its own.
  • Can you see bark beetles or carpenter ants? If you’re seeing these insects, chances are you have a dead or dying tree. An increased prevalence of carpenter ants or other wood-boring pests is a red flag. If you don’t have any noticeable pests, look for branches riddled with holes. Pests prefer to live in dying hosts or trees with poor health.

When looking at your trees, keep in mind the current season. During the winter, most trees look dead or dying, so you might want to wait until spring to see what the tree does then. If you’re seeing these problems during the growing season, then it’s time to call a professional for tree removal services.

Get an Evaluation from a Professional

If you’re not comfortable doing a visual assessment yourself, call a certified arborist to come out and take a look. Our team of tree professionals is able to tell if you have a sick tree or if it’s a dead or dying tree. We look for damaged roots, brittle leaves, structural problems, severe damage, and other signs of tree problems.

Our team of professionals can also evaluate if you need to remove the whole tree or if your tree is still healthy enough to save. We understand that you want to save your trees if possible! However, a dead tree can be a serious risk to your family and the rest of your landscaping. Any insects or diseases can spread from tree to tree. Plus, a dead tree is at risk of falling during intense winds during storms.

How Do I Keep My Trees Healthy?

how do you know if a tree is dead

Trees are a vital part of our environment. Not only do they provide shade, but they also provide a home to lots of different animals. Having healthy trees in your yard is something most homeowners want. 

Removing sick trees can help keep your remaining trees safe. Keeping sick trees can allow the diseases to spread to the other trees, causing them to all get sick. 


Dead or dying trees have dead branches that can fall.  If they hit healthy tree branches as they fall, that can knock down the healthy branches or leave them susceptible to disease, insects, or fungus. 

Dead tree branches can also get stuck in the healthy branches, weighing them down and causing bigger issues.   

Regular tree service can help you identify dead trees that need to be removed before they become a bigger, more dangerous problem. During your tree services, the professionals will conduct tree pruning. Tree pruning helps remove dead limbs and branches to help keep your trees healthy and growing strong.

Read More: How to Cut Down Small Tree Branches

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What Happens When My Tree is Dead or Dying?

Taking care of your sick or dying tree before it dies and falls over can save you a lot of stress and money. A professional tree removal company will be able to take care of the tree removal without damaging the healthy trees in your yard.

While pruning and tree services can remove dead limbs and branches, it’s best to remove the entire tree if it’s dying or dead, especially if they’re large trees. 

Call the professionals at United Tree Care at (703) 436 – 9851 for a free estimate to help with all of your tree service and removal needs.

We will have a professional inspect the trees at your home or business and let you know the best plan of action to remove dead or dying trees as well as keeping your other trees healthy.

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