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Trees are one of Mother Nature’s most magnificent productions. They provide shade in the summer months and block chilling winds in the winter. They provide shelter for a microcosm of life from beetles to birds and even host the occasional treehouse for young humans. We tend to think of trees as living forever.

This misconception is understandable, many tree species outlive humans by several hundred years. Conifers can even live to be thousands of years old. As long-lived as some of their kind are, trees are not immortal. They have a finite lifespan. Be it 50 years or 5,000 years, they will eventually grow old and die like all living things.

Risks Posed By Dying Trees

As trees reach the final years of their natural lifespan, they begin to show telltale signs of their advanced age. Some of these age changes can spell trouble for the trees surroundings. Aging trees are more prone to being uprooted in a strong windstorm, and because they are often much dryer, pose a higher fire risk than younger trees still in their prime. Dying trees are also prone to pest infestation which can spread to nearby healthy trees if not monitored carefully.
Curtis Fay and his team showed up at our house today with all of the heavy equipment necessary to surgically remove a large tree leaning toward our house. I couldn’t stay the whole time and when I got home I surveyed the yard and you wouldn’t even know they were there. Except, of course, the tree vanished. Fast. Excellent clean-up. Great value.

Eric Fuhrman, Memphis, TN

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Dying Tree Warning Signs


Decay is caused by organisms that occur naturally in the environment. Decay organisms generally exist in the earth and break down dead wood on the ground. However, decay organisms can enter a live tree through open wounds and begin to breakdown the soft pulp inside the tree trunk. Decay is likely to be in its advanced stages by the time you begin to see the outward signs. Outward signs of decay include mushroom-like growths extruding from the tree bark, softwood you can break or crumble with your bare hand, numerous dead branches not attributable to storm damage or drought, an expanded base.


This is a tricky one. Healthy trees can develop cracks for various reasons and may not necessarily be sick or dying. Cracks are a concern when they are deep and affect the core structure of the tree or when they serve as an entry point for invasive insects, fungi, and bacteria.


Cankers are large patches of dead bark visible on the outside of the tree. They are generally indicators of a tree that is experiencing internal stress. Internal stress can be caused by a serious illness or infestation that can be remedied to restore the tree’s health. Stress cankers can also be a sign of trees experiencing internal stress due to the natural process of aging and death. The larger the canker the more serious the internal stress. Large cankers that reach around to cover more than 40% of the trunk’s circumference and feature a rippled appearance with multiple rolled callouses filling the canker space are signs of a compromised tree.

Poor Architecture

A tree that is leaning to one side or another at an extreme angle can be due to restricted space, or injury. Alone, it does not always indicate a sick or dying tree. It should be considered along with other symptoms to determine tree health.

Crown Dieback

Crown dieback is indicated when a tree’s upper most branches appear dead and bare of leaves. Crown dieback occurs when a tree lacks the resources to produce foliage at its furthest extremities. Dieback can be caused by insect infestation, environmental stress, or disease.

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Loose bark

Loose and flaking bark that can easily be pulled or knocked off the tree is an indicator of severe insect or fungal infestation, sun scalding, or root decay. All of these are serious problems that can result in tree death if not managed.


Severe discoloration of leaves can be caused by insect infestation, fungi, drought, environmental stress, and disease. Trees obtain the nutrients and energy they need by photosynthesis that takes place in green leaves and pine needles. Photosynthesis cannot take place in leaves that have been discolored by insects or diseases. A tree with a large percentage of bronzed or yellowed leaves or needles is essentially starving to death.

Save Your Dying Tree With Mister Tree

These are some of the most common signs of tree that is experiencing a high degree of chronic stress. However, stress alone does not indicate that a tree is dying. All of the symptoms above are serious and untreated will likely result in tree death. Depending on the root cause of the symptoms, the damage may be reversible if caught and treated quickly.

If a tree on your property is displaying any of these symptoms, it is time to call in a professional who has the knowledge to diagnose the cause of the problem and advise you on whether the tree can be saved or needs to be removed. Mister Tree Service has a team of ISA-certified arborists with over 30 years of combined experience in tree care. Mister Tree Service serves clients throughout the greater Memphis area. Click the “Contact Us” button and fill out a contact form to let us know how we can help you.