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How to Identify a Dead or Dying Tree

While the majority of deciduous trees in Cincinnati should experience a life span beyond 75 years, there are many factors that can cause them to die. Home owners are wise to inspect their trees every year to look for signs of decay and hazardous conditions.

Unfortunately, many “sick” trees do not recover from disease or pest infestation. Because of this is, it is usually recommended that dying trees near residences be removed to protect both life and property.

Here are some things to look for when determining if a tree is near the end of its lifespan…

Overall Condition: Trees in poor condition typically have an abundance of fallen twigs, dead branches, and off-color leaves. Owners may notice that entire sections of a dying tree are without leaves or buds.

Tree Species: Certain tree species are more prone to disease and defects in Cincinnati. Maple trees for example are particularly sensitive to drought conditions, while oak trees and ash trees are susceptible to insect damage. Identify the species of your tree and compare it to others in the area. Often times a specific disease or condition will cause stress throughout a region.

Age and Size: Just like any other living organism, trees are subjected to stress and the effects of time. Do not make the mistake of assuming a tall tree is stronger than others as internal rot and decay can drastically weaken the tree’s support structure.

Signs of Hazardous Tree Conditions:Dead Wood in Trees


Dead wood – Obvious signs of dead wood require immediate attention. Falling bark, branches without leaves, and hanging limbs are all indicators of immediate danger to the surrounding landscape. It is recommended you call a tree service to remove all dead wood and assess the health of the tree.



Tree Cracks


Cracks – Any noticeable split through the bark and into the wood of the tree is considered a crack. Cracks indicate a physical stress in the tree’s support structure and they should be considered a serious threat. Because it is unlikely that a tree crack will ever mend, the safest route is to remove all branches extending from the base of a crack.




Weak branch unions – These occur in some trees after a branch falls or is removed. Branch unions occur when two or more branches grow so closely together that bark grows between them. Eventually this bark penetrates the union, and since it does not have the strength of wood it creates a weak connection. Weak branch unions are prone to failure during high winds or severe weather.

Tree Decay


Decay – This is perhaps the most difficult condition to diagnose in advance since trees decay from the inside out. However there is no mistaking advanced decay because it typically shows obvious fungal activity or exposure to a hollow branch cavity. In such cases the affected area must be removed to insure safety.




Tree CankersCankers – Primarily evident on the trunk of a tree, a canker is an area of sunken or missing bark caused by disease or wounding. Cankers can become problematic when the infection grows to affect the wood of the trunk. Any branches located near a canker are much more likely to break due to malnourishment or failing support. Note that while cankers may appear to be localized, disease or pest infestation can spread throughout the tree.


Tree Root Decay

Root Problems – It is common for root issues to go undetected until major problems occur. The most common root issues are root decay, unstable soil, and crushed roots. It is possible to identify some signs of root decay by examining the root flares or “buttress” roots. Soil issues are typically defined by leaning trees, exposed roots, or other instances of soil movement. A certified arborist is recommended to diagnose root problems.