How to Tell if a Tree is Dying

16 June 2018 Around The Property

tree with rotten trunk

Early detection of a sick tree near the cottage can prevent a disaster down the road.

6 Signs Your Tree Might Be Dying

A tree that is full of green leaves normally means everything is fine, but that’s not always the case, especially if the tree is old.

Here are some of the warning signs to keep in mind when checking the trees around the cottage.


Mushroom growth on the trunk of a tree is a tell-tale sign that something could be amiss with the heartwood (inner core) or in the roots. The emergence of mushrooms can indicate the tree is rotting on the inside, despite having branches that are full of healthy leaves.


Carpenter ants (the big black ones) make their nests in decaying wood. When you start to see carpenter ants coming in and out of one of your trees, there is a good chance the tree is in trouble. The problem could be isolated to one large branch that has died, but the presence of the ants often indicates decay in the trunk.

carpenter ants in tree


Woodpeckers will spend some serious time on trees that offer a source of food. If the large pileated woodpeckers or the smaller hairy woodpeckers, or downy woodpeckers are whacking away at a particular tree on a consistent basis, the odds are pretty good the tree has a bug problem.

Ash trees, for example, are being destroyed by the emerald ash borer larvae. The larvae kill the tree by eating away the layer between the bark and the trunk that transports all the nutrients.

Peeling bark

If large sections of bark are starting to separate from your tree, the odds are pretty good the tree is sick. It could be a fungi problem that is isolated to a spot where the tree was damaged, or the situation might be more serious.


If you see a large hollow at the base of the tree trunk, or notice squirrels or raccoons have made their home inside the tree, it might be time to have the tree checked out.

Dying branches and loss of leaves

A dead branch is a common sight on a tree, but a progression of dying branches with less leaves over the course of two or three seasons could mean the tree’s years are numbered.

What should you do?
If you think one of the large trees near the cabin is dying and could hit the cottage if it comes down, the best option is to call an arborist to confirm your suspicions. A “tree doctor” will quickly know if the tree is sick and can provide advice on the best course of action.

When a healthy tree falls and hits a structure, the insurance normally covers repairs, but the situation could be different if the investigation reveals the damage was caused by a sick or dead tree.

by Andrew Walker