If you suspect the health of your tree is in decline, I always recommend following a course of observation. Examining the tree yourself may avoid a visit from a professional tree service. Here are some tips to help you figure out what’s wrong with your tree.
The first step is to review the history of the tree.
- What type of tree is it?
- How old is it?
- Is your climate zone compatible with the tree’s needs?
- How long has it been on the site?
- What are the elements of the hardscape such as sidewalks, curbs, decks, pools, and sprinkler systems, that are close enough to the tree to affect its health?
Examine Your Tree Up Close & Check the Roots
Once the tree’s history has been reviewed, the tree can be examined for clues to its health. Start at the root crown because so many of the threats to the tree’s health start there. Is the root crown flare above ground and in good condition?
Three-quarters of urban tree deaths can be attributed to root damage. Some trees, such as the cedar, go into decline almost immediately if they suffer root damage, while others, like the oak, may take five years or more to show the effects of root damage, and people often fail to associate the decline in a tree’s health with changes in its root system.
Do not cover the root crown with soil or mulch. While we strongly recommend using mulch as a way to conserve soil moisture and keep it friable, it is not advisable to cover the root crown itself. This area needs to breathe.
Condition of the Soil
The condition of the soil is an important factor in determining the health of the tree. What is the soil’s ability to absorb water? If the area under the tree is kept clear by frequent raking and leaf blowing or is subject to heavy foot or vehicle traffic, the soil often becomes compacted and may no longer allow water to penetrate the root zone.
A tree may be exposed to adequate amounts of water, but if the water runs off before the tree can access it, there is clearly a hazard to the long-term health of the tree.
Tree Damaged from Gardening Tools
Gardening tools can be a serious hazard to trees. As our examination moves from the soil up the trunk of the tree, we look for indications of weed whip damage, caused by nylon string trimmers, which can appear as bruised or torn tissue in the bark. This is an all too common threat to trees, and with thin-skinned species such as citrus, birch, ficus, and camellias, as well as with almost all young trees, weed whip damage can often result in their death, as the flow of water and nutrients is cut off by the disruption of the cambium layer.
Check the Bark
The condition of the bark is another indicator of the health of the tree. Bark loss is a sign of decline and indicates an interruption of the vascular supply. It can be caused by damage to the root system or improper pruning. There are some trees such as eucalyptus, birch, and Chinese elm, that peel superficial bark naturally, which is why it is crucial to identify your trees and know their characteristics in order to observe them properly. Healthy bark has a firm attachment to the tree and shows and shows good expansion with fresh deposition of tissue, an indicator of the tree’s vigor.
Don’t Neglect the Leaves
As the examination moves up the tree, the condition of the leaf is another gauge of the tree’s vitality. Healthy leaves are bright, fresh, and hydrated. Curling indicates an insufficient supply of water, while yellowing leaves often indicate a nutrient deficiency.
Call a Professional Tree Service
If you think your tree is showing signs of instability, decay, and rot, it may be time to get in touch with a professional arborist or tree surgeon service near you. Leaving the problem for too long may only end up leaving the tree compromised.