How Do I Know If My Tree is Sick?


Trees go beyond providing aesthetic value to any landscape. More importantly, it emits oxygen valuable to humans, minimizes stormwater runoff, provides shade and protection, and other relative advantages it offers to humans and the environment. 

Though trees are known to be resilient and can withstand frequent weather changes, for survival, they also need food and nutrients, just like humans, to thrive in the environment. Sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and the soil, are just some of the factors that must be taken into consideration to ensure that a tree is healthy and thriving. Unfortunately, trees are also prone and vulnerable to illness and death. To have a better insight if a tree is sick, the following symptoms to look and observe for are provided below:

Symptom #1 – Examine the Roots

Since roots are hidden underground, determining the health of a tree based on its root is quite challenging. The roots are known to be the least vulnerable section since they are sheltered beneath the surface from almost all factors that may cause harm against them, it can be either strong winds, stray animals, or other visible components that they are exposed to. 

However, even underneath the surface, they are still susceptible to sickness. To check if the tree is facing stress, it is recommended to check a construction nearby. Soil compaction and other pressures might cause harm in trees causing them to get sick. Small branches growing from the tree’s base are one evident indicator of this, aside from roots suffering from a fracture, wound, or damage.

Symptom #2 – Any Abnormalities in Leaves


Heat stress causes leaves to wilt. Temperature and humidity cause leaves to regulate the amount of water they take up from the tree’s root system and release or transpire through their pores. When the weather becomes too hot, leaves are unable to absorb and release water quickly enough, causing them to wilt. On the other hand, drought-stressed trees wilt in hot weather since there is not enough water in the soil for the roots to absorb and keep the tree hydrated, later on causing wilting of leaves.

Wilting leaves could indicate something else if trees are not strained by either heat or drought. Wilting leaves might be a symptom of waterlogged soil that does not drain well. In this situation, withering is caused by a shortage of oxygen, as too much water is drowning the leaf tissue.

Yellowing of Leaves

Leaves turning yellow and it’s not due to the changing seasons, usually is the sign of nutrient insufficiency. Leaves tend to turn yellow or chlorotic if the nutrients they require are not met, which eventually may lead to stunted leaves and fruit. Yellowing of leaves is possible through the status of the soil. When the soil’s pH is too low,  this indicates acidity, making mineral nutrients in the soil, such as iron, become insoluble for tree absorption. Absence or insufficient minerals in soil may also contribute to the yellowing of leaves. Lastly, nitrogen, the macronutrient primarily responsible for green development, when deficient in the soil can also cause leaves to be yellow. 

Brown and Dying Leaves

Early in the winter, most healthy trees’ leaves tend to die and fall. Dead leaves can cling to trees late into the winter for a variety of reasons. Temperature variations may be creating confusing signals in the leaves, which could be a symptom of environmental stress. If there was a sharp drop in temperature early in the season, dead leaves may stay. They could also stay if the fall was warmer than usual. If temperatures were typical in such a location, however, dead leaves hanging to the tree during the winter could be an indication of pests or illness.

Spots and Holes on Leaves

Spots, blotches, sunken regions, and other imperfections on trees’ leaves may be caused by a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases. Some marks, such as yellow stippling caused by sap-sucking spider mites, are also evidence of insect damage. It is recommended to examine the color, shape, size, and location of the spots, as well as the time of year and tree species, to diagnose the problem. 

Leaves with holes or ragged sections might be a nuisance that has to be addressed. However, most of the time, it’s merely cosmetic damage that won’t affect your tree. Insect damage could be the cause of holes in your tree’s leaves. Beetles and caterpillars, for example, gnaw on the undersides of leaves, devouring the tissue and making holes in the process. Beetles usually fly off to other trees, and caterpillars turn into butterflies after a few weeks, so this is usually only cosmetic damage that won’t hurt your tree.

Symptom #3 – Bark Abnormalities

A sick tree will have discolored, wet, flaking, or weeping bark. The bark of a tree serves as its protective outer layer. When it fails to do its function, the remainder of the tree suffers as well. As a result, damage to a tree’s exterior can be more damaging than it appears that can eventually cause it to die completely.

Symptom #4 – Weak and Dead Branches

If the tree’s branches are drooping, cracking, or dry, it may be an indication that it is seriously harmed. By snapping a branch, it can be determined that the tree’s health is deteriorating, if the branch snaps easily and is quite bone dry, it is a sign that it is already dead.

It is exceedingly harmful to have a tree with dead or weakening branches. On a huge tree, these types of branches might fall unexpectedly and without warning. It is recommended to remove any dead or weak branches from a tree as soon as possible to prevent further accidents. 

Symptom #5 – Leaning Tree

It could be an unusual growth pattern or a symptom of damage if a tree is leaning or crooked. It is usually not a major concern if the lean developed gradually or the tree simply grew unevenly. Odd growth patterns, on the other hand, might contribute to frailty and imbalance. If the tree develops a lean abruptly, it could be an indication of serious damage and could fall without prior warning. Wind or root damage may be indicated by trees that tilt more than 15 degrees while the tree will almost certainly need to be removed if the entire trunk is leaning 30 degrees or more off-center.

Symptom #6 – Decay, Mold, Pest, and Fungus

There are instances when trees simply receive too much water. Deterioration, mold, and rot will likely develop if they are in a muddy or swampy place. It can be quite difficult to handle trees that have begun to decay and the rot must be trimmed away as soon as possible, otherwise, it will spread throughout the tree.

On the other hand, mold might indicate that a tree is deteriorating from the inside out. It can also be caused by a multitude of other factors, such as excessive wetness on the tree’s bark.

To some extent, insects and trees may coexist. When a tree is attacked by pests it can quickly become ill. For example, the presence of termites. Termites are another threat to a landscape’s vulnerable trees. Deadwood is a food source for termites and such only start eating a tree that is already been harmed. These insects will further weaken the tree’s branches and structure, making it more vulnerable to storm damage.

Lastly, the presence of mushrooms or fungus on trees indicates that the tree is decaying. Some mushrooms are good for trees, while others are harmful. The presence of such hazardous fungi on trees indicates decay in the roots or trunks and structural issues arise as decay penetrates deeper into the tree.

Seek Professional Help

Trees are vital to the environment, and if properly cared for it can live a long and healthy life. By monitoring trees regularly, signs of illness on trees may be detected at an early stage and addressed before it becomes a bigger problem. To ensure that trees are healthy and thriving, equipped with experience and expertise in all aspects of tree care, Richmond Tree Service is here to help or call us at 804-485-2568.


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