How to Spot a Stressed Tree Before it Becomes a Dead Tree

One of the services that we provide is taking care of sick or stressed trees.  Often times we get called into to look at a sick tree when it is too late to really help.  With only a few exceptions, trees tend to show signs of decline slowly, and can be slow to recover once the problem is corrected.  If a tree problem can be caught earlier, it is often much easier to deal with successfully.  Our goal is to identify the underlying problem for the tree, create a plan for correcting the problem, monitor it for results, and change and adapt the program as needed.

Tree decline and stress can take many forms, some of which are very specific and rather hard to spot.  But many stress signs are general in nature and once they are spotted it indicates that there are problems for the tree.  Below are listed some of the more common stress signs on trees that can indicate a major problem for trees.  Early detection is the key to good results.

Off color foliage (lighter green, or yellowing leaves or needles)- This can be the first sign of a problem for a tree.  Generally a nice dark green leaf or needle color indicates good health.  If you start to see signs of lighter color in the leaves, something is wrong.

Smaller leaves - If the leaves of a tree start to become smaller than they had in the past, it is a sign that the tree is not bringing enough water and nutrients to the leaves.  This is a sign that the vascular system of the plant is not working properly.

Thinning canopy, dead branches- There still may be leaves, but they are less in number than in the past.  Also watch out for dead branches, especially at the top of the tree.  Some dead branches can be normal, but if they occur at the top of the tree where sunlight is readily available, it is a warning sign of future problems.

Wilting leaves- Some diseases such as Oak Wilt, Dutch Elm Disease, or fireblight disease tend to start as wilting on individual branches, usually at the top of the tree.   If caught early enough sometimes these severe diseases can be corrected.  But quick detection is paramount, otherwise the disease can spread throughout the tree and it becomes too late.

Know your trees.  It becomes much easier to spot signs of distress in your trees if you have taken notice of their normal appearance.  Look and enjoy your trees, and the more you do this, the easier it will be to take notice of the warning signs of distress.

August Hoppe

Certified Arborist WI-0477A

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