Trees are valuable resources that must be protected and looked after to keep them healthy. Bacteria and fungi infections can develop into serious diseases that can be fatal unless the tree gets proper care and attention. These diseases can also spread to nearby trees if left untreated.

Hiring an arborist to perform an accurate diagnosis of the problem and then working on a cure remains the way to save a dying tree. Also, a combination of moderate pruning, providing sufficient water, air, and nutrients to the roots, and practicing sustainable fertilizing and mulching methods can restore your dying tree to full health.

Professionals should handle the treatment of a sick tree. Contact your local arborist for advice on the best treatment for your tree.

Identify the cause

Trees form a critical part of our ecosystem. They clean up the air and provide valuable raw-material for our shelter. However, several factors can affect the health of a tree and cause them to die. These factors are a combination of natural and artificial causes that work either solo or together to bring about the demise of your beloved tree.

They include:

Disease: disease is a common cause of death in trees. The most common tree diseases usually infect and gradually kill trees by infecting bark wounds, roots, and leaves. Homeowners who notice a wilting or rotting tree on their property should have the tree removed immediately before the disease spreads to nearby trees.

Examples of common tree diseases include:

  • Dogwood anthracnose.
  • Leaf blister.
  • Oak wilt.

Insect infestation: insect pests are another common cause of death in trees. Insects invade by living and feeding on the leaves, bark, roots, and afflicted tree branches. They kill trees by preventing photosynthesis, a vital process that trees use to provide the energy they need to survive. The second group of insect pests known as borers consists of different species of beetles, weevils, and horntail wasps that burrow into the inner bark layer (cambium) of the tree, severely disrupting the movement of nutrients to the foliage. Borers damage the structural quality of afflicted trees, causing them to break and fall.

Examples of insects include:

  • Bark beetles
  • Wood-boring caterpillars.
  • Carpenter worms
  • Gypsy moth.

Drought: Adverse environmental conditions that impact tree growth are significant contributors to tree stress which can directly or indirectly cause a tree’s death. Ecological factors which result in the restricted supply of water, nutrition, soil degradation, poor air quality, increased ambient temperature, and light conditions can cause direct harm to a tree.

Examples include:

  • Severe drought conditions.
  • Intense urbanization.
  • Poor draining and salty soils.
  • Air pollution.
  • Soil contamination

Soil compaction: This a big one and often overlooked. If the conditions around a tree has changed recently such as driving your car on a law which compacts the soil, laying pavers or anything else that would affect/ change the amount of water and air the roots had been getting up to this point.

Even something less obvious like placing a new drain which diverts water away from the tree can affect the tree’s health moving forward.

Old Age: all living organisms will die from old age (if lucky), and trees are no exception. Although, instances of trees dying from old age are extremely rare. Tree growth slows after maturity. And as senescence sets in, it’s potential to produce food and hydration declines. Eventually, the tree dries up and disintegrates. This process can take several years to several centuries to complete depending on the tree species’ longevity.

How to save the tree

A sick or dying tree can be treated in various ways, depending on the nature of the disease and the tree species. A certified arborist can perform most tree treatments, but your average tree owner can carry out some remedies. You can use the tips below to restore your tree with a degree of confidence.

Remedy the problem – Spotting the problem, followed by proper treatment, remains the vital first step in saving a dying tree. If your tree is dying due to disease or pest infestation, giving the tree the appropriate treatment can help save it.

Prune 30% of the foliage – pruning can help revive a dying tree if you follow the proper techniques. has an excellent article that explains how a dying tree can benefit from proper pruning. Pruning a dying tree helps in two fundamental ways:

  • Pruning removes the diseased sections, which stops the disease from spreading all over the tree.
  • Pruning 30% of tree foliage can help it survive on less water and nutrients. This is especially beneficial for dying trees in drought areas that aren’t getting enough water and soil nutrients.

Excessive pruning can cause more damage to a tree. Hiring an experienced arborist to prune your tree can restore your tree, leading to healthy growth.

Control the water intake – Too little or an overabundance of water in the soil can negatively impact a tree’s health. Installing a yard irrigation system during a drought to supply sufficient water to a dying tree can save its life. Draining water-logged soils guarantees the proper supply of water to the tree roots. Consult professional landscapers on adequate irrigation methods. Use the correct irrigation equipment that will allow water to penetrate deep into the soil to enable root growth which helps the tree flourish.

Limit the use of your fertilizers: indiscriminate use of fertilizers containing herbicides can kill your yard trees. When tree owners apply nitrogen-based fertilizers around trees with root damage, they increase the tree’s stress which further weakens its resistance to disease and pests.

How to prevent a tree from dying

Practicing the following helpful tips can prevent your tree’s death from disease and insect infestation and increase its longevity.

Tip 1. Implement a trimming program

Trees respond well to being trimmed every 2 – 3 years. Make sure you use a certified arborist and don’t trim more than 10 – 30% each time. Also, it is important that you tree is trimmed at the right time of year to avoid infections like oak wilt and other fungal diseases. Late winter is generally the best time of year, but please research your specific tree for your region.

Tip 2. Provide your tree with sufficient water and air

Trees need a lot of air and water to survive. Providing those two elements in substantial quantities helps the trees growing in your yard to resist disease and insect infestation. Tree roots must be able to access oxygen from the soil. Compacted soil prevents deep root growth as the absence of root level oxygen forces the roots to grow near the surface, where they are exposed to damage and root rot.

Tip 3. Avoid over mulching

Piling a massive heap of mulch against a tree trunk is dangerous for its health. Examples of common trees susceptible to over mulching include; Ash, spruce, and dogwood trees. Over-Mulching kills trees through oxygen deprivation (suffocation of tree roots) in soils with poor drainage and creates a favorable environment for fungal and bacterial diseases to thrive. The thickness of the mulch spread around your tree should not exceed 3 inches. Mulch thickness around surface rooted trees and on waterlogged soils shouldn’t exceed 2 inches. The following procedures can help save a tree showing symptoms of over-mulching:

  • Remove all mulch from the tree stem, move 8 -12 inches from the trunk, and re-spread.
  • Search for signs for root flare by removing the soil and mulch around the trunk and root collar.
  • Leave the root collar uncovered and allow it to receive air to improve the tree’s health and vitality.

Tip 4. Practice good tree management

Adopting regular good tree management practices is the best way to keep your tree healthy. They can reduce the likelihood of tree damage and increase resistance to drought and disease. They involve:

  • Periodic pruning.
  • Prompt treatment of diseases and insect infestation.
  • Regulating soil acidity levels.
  • Draining waterlogged yards.

How is a tree problem diagnosed?

Performing an accurate diagnosis is the initial step in determining the type of sickness afflicting your diseased tree. Diagnosing a sick tree is a complicated process that may require collecting tree samples for further laboratory analysis. Tree experts often review extensive background information about the tree to help them eliminate any false possibilities during a diagnosis.

A typical tree diagnosis consists of the following steps:

Examine the tree.

Conduct a thorough physical inspection of the tree.


Step 1

Inspect the leaves for visible symptoms associated with damage, disease, and stress. Look out for holes, torn edges, discoloration, and the presence of insects.


Step 2

Investigate the tree trunk and limbs for signs of damage, infection, or decay. Pay attention to the bark’s state; liquid oozing from tree bark is often a giveaway sign of a severe illness or disease.

Look out for the following signs when performing a diagnosis on a tree trunk and branches:

  • Any dark or discolored tissue layer under the bark may be a sign of winter damage.
  • Brownish or green lines may signify a fungus infection.
  • Fungal corks extend from the tree trunk, which may indicate inner wood rot.
  • Signs of insect infestation.
  • Signs of sunscald injury (bark split or cracks)
  • Signs of damage from vehicle impact and collision with mowing equipment.
  • Weather damage, e.g., wind and frost
  • Signs of injury from animal activity.
  • Marks left by girdling wires?


Step 3

Assess the condition of the tree roots. Is there any root damage due to stress, disease, or injury that can bring about a deterioration in the tree’s health? Also, a change in soil conditions can stress the root. Here is what to look for when performing a root diagnosis:

  • The soil acidity level. Also, observe any difference in the neighborhood terrain or discrepancies in ground level. Check for soil compaction and the presence of chemical residue from soil treatments in the ground.
  • Signs of visible injury to the roots as a result of construction activities. Find out any recent addition to the property, a sidewalk, fence, or recently buried utility line.
  • The soil drainage, check whether the soil is waterlogged or if it drains water excessively.
  • Look out for changes in the water table level.
  • Check for the presence of plastic sheets around the roots.

Compile additional background information

A successful diagnosis is not complete without valuable background information. Review the tree history. Identify the tree’s healthy characteristics, and use it as a guide during your assessment of its rate of decline. When planted outside their hardiness range, some species are more vulnerable to certain diseases, or they succumb easily during less than optimal weather conditions. Check your information to know if this is what you are dealing with.

Other essential background information includes:

  1. The type of tree species, its characteristics, and disease susceptibility.
  2. The age of the tree. Was the tree planted as a young shoot or transplanted later.
  3. When did the tree start showing the first symptoms? Is this the first time, how often, and if the symptoms are related to insect, disease, or weather cycles?
  4. Are nearby trees exhibiting similar symptoms?
  5. What was the level of care and attention given to the tree by its owners?

Can an arborist save my tree?

A disease-ravaged tree has a greater chance of survival when treated by an arborist. A professional arborist has the knowledge and experience to diagnose a sick tree properly and quickly go to work, prescribing the appropriate treatments that could cure your dying tree. Hiring an arborist

Apart from performing tests, identifying diseases, and prescribing tree treatments, arborist’s also do the following:

  • Keep you updated and vigilant on any recent outbreak of disease ravaging trees in your neighborhood.
  • Observe the laws and professional standards relating to tree handling and the safe handling of chemicals used in tree treatments.


Most tree deaths occur as a result of or from a combination of several factors. They include; disease, insect pests, ecological factors like drought and extreme temperature, natural disasters, soil compaction, erosion, human activities, e.t.c.

Bringing a mature dead tree back to life is practically impossible. However, some trees may look dead while they are still alive. You can perform a scratch test to check the health status of your tree. To do this, nick a branch or two with a small sharp knife to take a look at the insides. If you see green, then your tree isn’t dead and can be brought back to life.

  • Signs of a healthy tree include:
  • Signs of growth.
  • Lush foliage and branches.
  • A single and healthy trunk.
  • Healthy leaves.
Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.