mobile menu button Menu

Is my tree sick?

by Keith Brown
April 17, 2009

This may seem like a simple question, but it is not. Here’s the “X” factor that makes it hard to know if your tree is sick: trees have energy reserves. This means that when something afflicts your tree, the tree is going to fight a good battle without you ever knowing it. But, there are some subtle signs to look for. Here are the secrets you need to know.

Let’s start with the leaves; that’s the only thing most people take notice of anyway. The first thing to look for is color. Ninety nine percent of tree species are supposed to have a very dark, rich-green colored leaf. If the leaves aren’t green, they’re usually some shade of yellow-green or brown. Obviously brown is bad, this is serious. However, yellow is serious, too (often the precursor to brown). The “yellowing leaves” condition is generally refered to as chlorosis (klor-osis), which can be caused by many things. The next leaf characteristic to look for is leaf size. One of the first symptoms of many tree disorders / stresses is for the tree to shrink leaf size. This symptom can be trick for non-arborists. Healthy leave size varies from species to species and even from location to location. For example, a live oak located near lake Austin should have leaves about 2” long, whereas, live oaks in the rocky slopes of the hill country should have leaves about 1 ¼” long. The last leaf characteristic to look for is leaf shape. Again, this one can be tricky for non-arborist because you’ll need to know what the leaves are supposed to look like.

The other place to look, besides the leaves, is at the ground. Very often trees main problems are that we have damaged their roots or rooting environment. Cutting roots, compacting soil and filling soil around tree trunks are the most common injuries. Most of the time these activites are related to some sort of construction activity. I doesn’t take much; 75% of tree roots are in the top 12 inches of soil, and they do extend all the way to the surface.

Determining if your tree is sick or stressed is just phase one. You’ll then need to make a proper diagnosis so that a comprehensive treatment program can be implemented. It’s always a good idead to hire an arborist if you really have a sick tree. Reading about something isn’t replacement for field experience. If you can’t afford to hire a tree guy for their service to provide treatments, caughing up $150 for a consulting fee will save you great amounts of time, money and frustration in the long run.

Leave Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Heads up! You are attempting to upload an invalid image. If saved, this image will not display with your comment.

  • Mike Cotton says:

    Well my tree is looseing leaves and turning brown and yellow in different places. It looks like a nest in different place on the tree,leaves are on the ground.I hope can tell you something so you can tell me something about my beautiful tree. Thank you

    • Keith says:

      Mike — Nest? Is it maybe more like a web. That could be spider mites if the webs are small. The leaves turning yellow could be many things. Virtually all tree disorders result in the changing of color before leaf drop. What kind of tree do you have? What size is it? Can you email me a picture?

  • rich says:

    my backyard fruitless mulberry has deep hollows in its trunk…otherwise seems healthy. Are these a bad sign or just a sign of age? Or what?

    • Keith says:

      I would mostly consider the hollow a sign of age. Virtually all trees have decay to some extent. Sounds like yours is worse than average. Usually stem decay only affects the inner column of wood in a tree and does not affect tree health. The inner column of wood is not really alive anyway. Only the outer few growth rings of a tree are functionally conduction water and sugars. The decay is more of a structural integrity thing most of the time. Mulberries aren’t really known to have limb failure or fall over so I wouldn’t worry too much.
      To help you understand decay better…I like to describe it by comparing to people. If you considered our life long battle to live a long time and be healthy is to maintain heart heath (low cholesterol, eat healthy, excercize, etc…); then, for trees you would say their life long challenge is to battle wood decay. There are many organisms out there who’s job in mother nature is to recycle wood back into the soil. And, they want to recycle all trees. An otherwise healthy tree has a good system to resist decay and is able to live in harmony with these fungi. But, if the trees health goes south or a really pathogenic fungi comes along, then the tree may begin to lose functionality of its barriers and succumb to the fungi.

  • Donnieboy says:

    Just wanted to drop you a line to say, I enjoy reading your site. I thought about starting a blog myself but don’t have the time.
    Oh well maybe one day…. :)

  • joyce says:

    my flowering pear tree (bradford) doesnt change colors in the fall. instead the leave eventually turn brown and hang on most of the winter.by the way i live in michigan so it does go dormant. any answers out there.

  • VIKKI TANNER says:

    My tree is dying i think.The leaves are wilting.My cousin wacked the bark off when weed eating.What can I do to save it?Its a 2 yr. old .

    • Keith says:

      The first thing you need to do is pull the grass up around the base of the tree so your cousin doesn’t have to weed eat around it. Knowing whether the tree is going to survive is all guess work. Send me a picture if you can.

  • Lance says:

    Hi Mr. Brown.
    Our Fruitless Pear tree lives in So. Ca. mild climate. The tree is in a planter area and looks very healthy. The concern is random small branches and the leaves will die and turn brown on our otherwise nice dark green tree.

    • Keith says:

      Send me a picture if you can. Brown leaves could be many things, and I am not familiar with all the issues in your area. You should try to contact a local arborist.

  • widiwidi says:

    I have a crepe myrtle and the tree trunk is turning yellow! I have no idea why.

    Today, I noticed that the tree is turning yellow by the trunk and this tree is located in an area where I compost material (this I do not think is the problem).

    What I did notice is that the branches I put on the side of the composter had some from my neighbor’s annoyingly overgrown tree which were yellow (with yellow leaves)and was touching my tree’s trunk. The trunk is especially yellow on the area where those branches touched my tree (not on the other side). AND, I had just placed those limbs there on Monday..and I noticed the yellow color today (Tuesday)!

    What do you think this is? can you help? I am new at this gardening stuff.

  • Susan Gallagher says:

    Keith, Here are a few pics of my (sick?)tree. Any advice?
    Susan

  • Chris Shaw says:

    Spoke to you on the phone about our sick tree.
    Here are the photos and please give me a call.
    Chris Shaw

    • Keith says:

      The pictures of the cotton-like web is unrelated; as with the bugs. The bugs are just attracted to the bleeding. The bleeding is a bacterial thing most likely. In my experiences it is not fatal to the tree and requires no treatment. It would be good if I could see some other pictures to give insight to the tree’s health and site conditions. Ideally, I’d like to see a close up of the leaves, the whole tree and where the trunk goes into the ground.

  • vijay persaud says:

    Hello Keith, I have this locquat tree that is about 6 feet tall, and this season it started to show stress with the leaves turning yellow, then dark brown. It stopped giving new leaves and look sick, the branches do not look healthy. I have a identical one about six feet away with no problems. Your guidance is appreciated.

    • Keith says:

      The tree is planted too deep. It is likely that you have developed some root born disease. Start by excavating the dirt away from the base until you can see the first roots emerging from the trunk.

  • Richard says:

    Hi Keith,
    Really appreciate you sharing your expertise.
    This tree has been part of my life for last 24 years and I really want to know if this tree will survive.

    This tree is a common Mast tree(first pic. is how it would normally look), for last year it has shed all of it’s leaves and everyone thought it was dead, but just as it was going to be disposed, this is what happened(pic 2. onwards) after one month of good rainfall.

    So what do you think, is there any chance it will survive?

    • Keith says:

      It appears that the trunk has many old wounds to me. The canopy may have looked ok, but the tree has been ailing for awhile. Certainly the trunk is buried too deep like the last commenter. It looks like the tree has died and beyond bringing back.

  • Ian Wann says:

    I have a sick pear tree. Up to last year it produced fine. Now half is alive and the other half looks dead. As a non professional looks like Fire Blight. Can you take a look and let me know what to do? I really like the tree and would like to save it at all possible. See my website for pictures.

  • Teresa Ramirez says:

    Hi Keith
    I have notice a change in my tree in the front yard. It has area’s that on a couple big branch that are very thin on leaves and other area of the tree that are doing great. When the last hurricane came through the tree got some damage and we trim up the tree and the tree seemed like it was ok. But a couple month ago a water main in the front yard by the street broke and the water company dug a hole in the front yard by the curb and i really think this has affected the tree. I didn’t realize they had possible cut roots. Any advice on how to help the tree. The tree is over 30yrs old.
    Thank you
    Teresa

  • Ken Gafford says:

    Almost over night my trees (pistachios-nonbearing) have small bore holes all in a line, so do we have wood peackers in the Bastrop Tx area and if so what to do?

  • Bonnie Ikemoto says:

    My Mayten Tree is 12 year old and looking sick. It is about 15 feet tall and wide. It is loosing leaves fast. The leaves and branches are turning yellow, drying up and falling off so it is looking very thin. How can I tell if it needs more water? What time of year should I fertilize it? Does it harm the tree to trim the branches up from the bottom so it doesn’t hang so low?
    Thank You.

  • Bonnie Ikemoto says:

    I have a Strawberry Tree that is looking sick. It is 12 years old and about 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It is getting very thin because the branches are drying up, the leaves are falling off and it is not growing new leaves. It is near the lawn so I think it is getting plenty of water. Can it be getting too much water? My gardener thinks it is rotting away at the base but can’t tell me what caused this problem or if it will happen again if I plant another tree. Can you help me with ideas for to saving the tree? Thank you.