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Is My Tree Dead?

Give your tree a test, the scratch test.
Vertical lines mean the trunk is in trouble.


We get a lot of calls and emails at Esterline Landscape, and we love it! There’s nothing we like more than talking about landscaping and researching questions for our customers. One query is coming up quite a bit, and it’s a blunt and simple one; is my tree dead? We want to go over a few ways that you can check?

Scratch test
The first thing to do is the scratch test. Take a small knife, or you can even use your thumbnail to peel back the bark of the trunk. Don’t go too deep. There are two colors you’ll find under that bark. Green is good; your tree is alive. Brown is bad news; your tree is dead or dying. You can do the scratch test on branches, but the results may fool you. Some trees shed branches, and those branches will fail the test, but that doesn’t mean the tree is dead.

Sick tree symptoms
Sick trees like people show signs before they get really ill. One big one is bare branches; especially if there are a bunch of bare branches in one part of the tree; this is a sign of root or trunk damage.
After your scratch test, look for cracks on the trunk. Vertical lines are a sign of bark splitting which is caused by changes in the environment. Also, don’t be too concerned about bark falling off the trunk, healthy tree do it when they age; however if you notice the old bark isn’t being replaced by new bark, that tree may be in trouble.
Fungus can be a sign of a tree in trauma. Fungi sneak into a tree through a hole in the bark, once in, it eats and eats, then grows and grows. This causes the tree to rot. There are several kinds of rot, but as you can imagine they are all bad.

We hope your tree passes the scratch test and doesn’t show any of the sick tree symptoms, but if it does, get it checked out. It may not be too late to save it, and the last thing you want it your yard is a tree that’s in danger of dropping limbs or collapsing onto your house.
If you have more tree questions, want one removed, or even better—planted, please contact your friends at Esterline Landscape.
Keep a look-out for fungus..
Tree rot can cause a tree to collapse.
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