Best Methods for Saving Your Dying Tree | An Arborist's Advice

September 19, 2020

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Mature trees make a property look welcoming and inviting, which is why a homeowner might wonder if a dying tree can be saved. Removing a dying tree isn’t always the best option for a yard, as this can mean too much sun exposure on your property and a bleak, barren look.

The good news is that trees are typically strong enough to return to good health, with a bit of care from a property owner. There are also many steps you can take to keep your property’s trees healthy in the first place, and avoid otherwise unnecessary damage. Check out some expert advice if you’re wondering, can a dying tree be saved?

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How Do You Know If a Tree Is Dying?

To ensure you keep your property’s tree in good condition, it’s vital to know signs of a tree’s struggling health. In some cases, it’s obvious that a tree is struggling; brown leaves in summertime or bare branches, or a lopsided trunk and large holes along its base are difficult to overlook! However, when you know more subtle signs of pest infestation, root rot, and other such conditions, you’ll know when to intervene and save that tree from dying or collapsing altogether, including:

  • Rotted and dried trees usually display long splits up the base of the trunk.
  • A tree’s leaves or needles indicate it’s health. Brown or yellowed leaves during summertime growing season or yellow evergreen needles indicate a dying tree.
  • A few dead branches don’t necessarily mean that your tree is dying but when you notice that the tree displays a majority of dead wood, it’s time to intervene and keep the tree from dying altogether.
  • Insects often prefer trees with lots of dead wood they can burrow and eat through easily. Healthy trees also resist fungus and mold. If you see obvious insect infestation or the tree is covered with mushrooms and other contaminants, it might be dying and in need of intervention.
  • As tree roots are usually deep underground, it’s difficult to check them for health. However, damaged roots typically result in thin or undersized foliage, yellowing leaves, and dead branches.
  • Strong roots keep trees growing straight; damaged roots or a weak trunk allow a tree to lean over and grow crooked. If the tree is leaning at more than a 15-degree angle, it’s probably struggling to stay healthy and upright.
  • Directly below the outer bark layer is what’s called cambium. This layer should be green and soft; if you peel back a small bit of bark and its underside is dry, brown, and brittle, this typically indicates a struggling, dying tree.

Can a Dying Tree Be Saved?

If you notice any signs of damage or poor tree health, the good news is that your tree can most likely be saved! Your first vital step is to determine what’s affecting your tree’s health and why it’s dying. If you cannot determine this on your own, consult with an arborist as he or she can typically find the root cause of a dying or struggling tree.

Moisture issues are a common reason for a tree to struggle or die outright. Poor drainage affects tree roots, risking root rot. A landscaping engineer can note your property’s moisture levels and recommend retaining walls, better grading, a French drain, and other such corrections.

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Overuse of lawn fertilizer is also a common reason for a tree to struggle. Acid levels in fertilizers are harmful to tree roots and its base, and homemade fertilizers sometimes contain diseased plants that affect tree health. A diseased or struggling tree also might not need fertilizer to grow healthier roots, so use caution about adding this around the tree’s base.

Windstorms can also cause otherwise healthy trees to lean. If the tree’s roots are strong, you can typically use bracing to gently push the tree back to an upright position. This helps take pressure off those roots and reduce the risk of the tree outright collapsing.

In some cases, a tree might struggle to thrive because of overly thick branches and leaves that then cut off sunlight and fresh air to the trunk below. Trimming away some branches can allow for better air circulation and ensure the tree gets plenty of sun exposure.

Can a Rotting Tree Be Saved?

If a tree is overwatered, better drainage and added sunlight exposure can help restore it to good health, as said. It’s vital that you don’t overcompensate for too much moisture in the soil by creating an arid condition, but a better water level can sometimes allow a tree to recover from rot.

In other cases, however, an overly rotted tree needs removal. Once the tree is covered in mushrooms and other fungi, or is suffering from severe root rot, there is often little that can be done to restore the tree. It’s also important to remove a rotted or infested tree that poses a danger of water damage or infestation to other trees, vegetation, or even exterior structures on your property!

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Does Cutting Off Dead Branches Help a Tree?

One of the best things you can do for your property’s tree is to keep them properly trimmed and pruned! Doing so before branches die off or show signs of rot allows trees to grow and thrive; as said, too many branches and thick leaves can mean not enough sunlight and fresh air around the tree.

Pruning branches also means less wind resistance, a vital consideration in areas prone to strong storms and high winds! The fewer the branches, the less likely it is that a tree will lean or tip over in high winds. Dead and weak branches might also start to break away from their base, pulling on the tree as they do, creating unhealthy resistance.

To protect trees, however, it’s best you leave pruning to a tree trimming specialist near you. Branches should be cut at an angle, to reduce what is called bruising and to allow them to grow back healthy and strong. A tree trimming company will also know how to remove branches safely, without damaging surrounding branches or property below!

How Do You Save a Stressed Tree?

A stressed tree is one that is showing signs of damage but which is typically still salvageable! As with nursing a plant back to health, you can often tend to a stressed tree and see it grow healthy and strong once again.

As with a dying tree, first consult with an arborist to note why your tree is struggling and what he or she would recommend. Avoid fertilizing your lawn while your tree is stressed, so you don’t add too much acidic material to the tree’s base. Your arborist can also tell you if your property needs more or less moisture, to better support your tree.

A pest control company should also be called to treat a tree infested with ants, termites, squirrels, and other wildlife. If termites are an issue, put firewood away in plastic or rubber totes and have wood decks and fences checked as well, to ensure your entire property is free of these bothersome pests.

Why Is Half a Tree Dead?

Very often a tree that is dead on one side suffers from what is called girdling roots, when roots get wrapped around the trunk right below the soil line. If this happens with roots on just one side of the tree, this will cut off water and nutrients to that section and, in turn, the tree will thrive in some areas but then dry out and die in others.

Lightning strikes or other such outside factors can affect one part of a tree. Lightning, downed electrical wires, or sudden impact can bruise or damage wood along one side of a tree while still allowing the rest of the tree to thrive.

An arborist can check the roots under the soil and note if they can be relocated or otherwise replanted. In some cases this can allow the dead part of the tree to return to health. However, if there has been too much damage or too many roots are wrapped around the trunk, the tree might need removal. A property owner might also not want to wait for the tree to return to health; removing it and planting a new, healthy tree provides the shade and visual interest you want on your property without having to wait for the current tree to thrive again!

How Can I Make a Tree Healthy Again?

One of the best things you can do for your property’s trees is to call a tree trimming company near you every year, or every other year at most, and have them check your tree for needed pruning and trimming. A tree care company can also typically tell you if your tree is overly dry, suffering from too much water or sun exposure, or is showing signs of pest infestation.

It’s also good to leave needed excavation on your property to the pros! A professional excavation contractor can dig pits or trenches needed for plumbing pipes, a large garden, a pool, and other such features without damaging tree roots. A landscaping engineer or arborist can also note if you might relocate a planned patio, walkway, or other feature that would otherwise damage tree roots.

Your arborist or tree care company can also tell you if a dying tree can be saved, or if you might replace it with something more likely to grow strong and healthy. Nonnative trees might struggle in the local climate no matter how you care for them, and overly large trees might need more water than they will get on your property. In turn, you’ll have beautiful, healthy, mature trees that enhance your property and create that welcoming look you love.

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