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How To Save A Dying Tree: A Closer Look At Tree Health

how to save a dying tree

Homeowners with mature trees typically love them for their shade, majestic beauty and the enhanced curb appeal and property value they provide. But if you have a tree that seems to be ailing, you may wonder how to save a dying tree. Many homeowners also wonder how to recognize the symptoms of a tree that is diseased or otherwise in need of help, so they can provide care before it’s too late.

There are a number of different diseases that can infect a tree’s branches, roots or foliage. So many, in fact, that you may need the help of a professional who specializes in trees to give you an accurate assessment of your tree’s health. The good news is, most tree diseases cause a range of visible symptoms that can serve as warning signs, enabling homeowners to intervene on behalf of the tree’s health. The not-so-good news is that many of these symptoms tend to resemble those of a tree that is simply dormant, not diseased or in danger of dying, which makes it difficult to determine whether the tree is truly ailing. How can you tell the difference? Read on to find answers.

how to save a dying oak tree

How To Save A Dying Oak Tree: Common Illnesses

Oak trees are some of the most common trees in North America. Homeowners with red oaks, live oaks or any other oak tree species gracing their backyard typically enjoy these trees for their beauty, their low-maintenance watering needs and their ample shade that can help decrease utility bills and make outdoor living more enjoyable.

While Texas oak trees and those in many other parts of the country are known for being strong and sturdy, they can still be susceptible to illnesses and diseases. Some of the most common oak tree illnesses are oak leaf blisters and oak wilt. A certified arborist can help you determine whether it is one of these two conditions or something else entirely that is causing you to suspect that your tree is suffering.

Oak Leaf Blisters

Oak leaf blisters, also known as Taphrina blisters, can occur on most species of oaks trees and are caused by a fungus known as Taphrina caerulescens. Red oaks are particularly susceptible to this particular disease, which causes circular, raised, blister-like areas on the upper surfaces of the leaves. These spots might be bright green or yellow, and typically change to brown as the leaf ages. Several blisters on one leaf can merge together, causing the leaf to curl unnaturally.

Fortunately, oak leaf blisters don’t threaten the overall health of the tree; they usually don’t even cause leaves to fall prematurely. They simply affect the tree’s aesthetic appeal. Homeowners wishing to control the spread of this disease can find success with a single application of fungicide, but it must be applied in early spring before the tree’s buds begin to swell. If it is applied after bud break, it won’t be effective.

It is also helpful to rake, bag and dispose of infected leaves after they fall to help prevent against future spread of the fungus. Watering and fertilizing healthy trees during dryer seasons will help keep trees healthy and vigorous, which will make them less prone to infection during cooler, wetter months.

Oak Wilt

Oak wilt is one of the most destructive tree diseases in the United States and can bring devastating damage to oak trees. This fungal disease interferes with the tree’s ability to retain water, and it is most likely to infect red oaks and water oaks, although any species of oak can be affected. Live oak trees are less susceptible to oak wilt than red and water oaks, but if they do contract this disease, they are likely to be much more severely affected due to their interconnected root systems.

A live oak tree infected with oak wilt will display leaves with yellow veins that turn brown over time, and may fall off prematurely. Red oaks may have new, young leaves in spring that quickly wilt and turn either pale green or brown, and may also fall too soon. Oak wilt can also cause mature leaves to turn pale green, dark green or even bronze in color. Some trees may develop fungal mats, a damaging fungus found beneath the bark of trees. Insects attracted to fungal mat’s sweet-smelling spores help them expand across trees.

Oak wilt is a severe disease that can spread from one tree to others surrounding it, and trees with oak wilt must be treated or, in some cases, removed with great care. For these reasons, if you suspect your oak tree is suffering from oak wilt, it is best to consult with a professional arborist to identify the disease and develop a plan to save the tree or at least to protect other trees nearby.

dying tree symptoms

Common Dying Tree Symptoms

There are five common symptoms that homeowners should be aware of to determine when their trees might need extra watering or other assistance.

Odd Tilting

A strong, healthy tree will stand tall, so if your tree begins to lean, it’s likely that its roots are too shallow or are losing strength. This type of damage can be caused by severe storms with lots of wind and rain, but it can also be caused by improper pruning techniques.


Cankers are dead sections of bark. Cankers form when fungi and bacteria infect a tree through an open wound, such as a recently cut branch. When bacteria and fungi make their way inside, they cause stress to the tree, resulting in a canker. A skilled tree specialist can prune away some cankers from your tree and seal off others. Since bacteria that can lead to cankers are most active in the fall and early spring, it is best to prune during other seasons.


Decay can destroy a tree from the inside out, as it often begins within the tree’s trunk. Homeowners are often unaware of the presence of decay until there are outward symptoms, such as numerous dead branches, mushroom-like growths on the tree’s bark and a shortened lifespan for the tree.


Dry, easy-to-break tree branches most likely mean your once fast-growing tree is suffering from deadwood. This infection can occur when tree branches are hollowed out by fungus, or after trees have suffered through a strong storm or drought that caused the bark to decay.

Poor Joints

If your tree has branches that look as if they could break off at any moment, this could be an indicator that your tree is ailing due to poor joints. To prevent these weak branches from falling, it may be time to call a tree specialist for an inspection.

is my tree dead or dormant

Is My Tree Dead Or Dormant? How To Tell The Difference

If you notice that your tree has very few leaves and doesn’t seem to be growing, you may wonder, “Is my tree dead or dormant?” It’s easy to confuse a dying tree with a dormant one, or vice versa, since the symptoms can be quite similar, including few leaves or obvious signs of growth.

Dormant trees are not dead or dying; they are undergoing a process that is closer to hibernation. This typically happens in the winter months, when cold temperatures lead trees to halt their active growth cycle, drop many or most of their leaves, and stop producing new leaves.

While the most accurate way to determine whether your trees are dead or dormant is with the help of a tree specialist, there are a few tests you can conduct on your own, such as bending a twig from the tree to see if it breaks sharply and looks dry inside, or if it is flexible enough to bend or split, revealing new growth within.

You can also try scratching the bark of a twig with your fingernail or with a knife, to see if there is greenish growth beneath the bark. If so, then the tree is likely to be simply dormant. If the wood underneath is brown and dry, however, the tree may be dying or already dead.

tree falling warning

Worried About Your Tree Falling? Warning Signs To Look For

In the moments before a tree falls, its breaking, snapping root structure and limbs make a distinctive sound—something like a loud crackling noise, or even a thunderous clap. But are there tree falling warning signs that could tip you off to a problem well before the tree actually topples to the ground? Falling limbs and trees are serious safety hazards, after all. If a tree falls or drops a limb onto your house or vehicle, it can cause extensive damage that is very costly to repair.

This is why routine visits from a tree specialist are so important to maintaining the health and longevity of your trees. Tree specialists can spot tree falling warning signs like leaning trees, weak joints or signs of fungal growth or decay. It is also important to schedule an inspection by a tree specialist if your area experiences powerful storms or heavy winds, as these can contribute to broken limbs and even trees that fall due to their root structure being compromised in the storm.

Extreme changes in the environment can also put a tree at risk for falling, such as when a tree used to be surrounded by other trees that were then cut down to make way for construction, leaving the standing tree newly vulnerable.

ABC Can Keep Your Trees Healthy

Unpredictable weather, droughts, intense heat, vicious cold snaps and powerful storms can compromise the structural integrity of diseased or weak trees, putting your loved ones and property at serious risk if and when a tree falls. The knowledgeable arborists at ABC Home & Commercial Services can help keep your trees thriving and healthy, and we can also spot symptoms and warning signs of tree diseases or other problems as they develop. We can remove dead, diseased or damaged limbs before they fall or infect surrounding branches, and we can also perform specialized treatments to address a variety of tree diseases. Leave the hard work to us, so you can sit back and enjoy the beautiful landscape of your home.

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