Five Tree Problems to Watch For

Landscape MaintenanceTree Care

A healthy tree may not always stay healthy. Examine the trees on your property for signs of developing weakness or illness: dead branches, codominant stems, cavities, decay, and root problems. Take corrective measures to keep trees from falling and causing injury and damage.

Do you have a failing tree? In this article, we look at five signs of vulnerability in trees. Be a responsible property owner and examine your trees for these indicators.

Look for anything that seems abnormal in a tree’s structure. If you suspect that a tree is on the decline, consider calling a certified arborist to look at it. He or she will be able to assess the tree and advise you on corrective measures to take. In severe cases, a sick tree might need to be removed to avoid the risks of it falling.

Dead Branches

Are there branches on the tree that have no buds or leaves? Unless they’re on a deciduous tree in the wintertime, branches with no leaves may be dead. Dead branches can be a sign that something is wrong with the tree. If the dead branches are stubby, meaning that all smaller branches have broken off them, this indicates that they died a while ago.

Dead branches will eventually drop. While strong winds may snap off dead branches, sometimes branches will fall even when the weather is calm. Be careful; falling branches can hurt or kill people and animals and can damage structures.

Codominant Stems

When it comes to trees, “codominant” means two branches that are growing in a “V” from the same point on the trunk. This kind of growth structure isn’t normal, and although the tree isn’t sick, it is vulnerable to breakage in high winds. When the branches are even in size, the risk of the tree splitting down the middle is even greater.

When the V is tight, and bark is pressed between the two branches, it makes the junction weaker and raises the risk of the tree splitting. A tree growing like this can have corrective pruning done or may be reinforced with a system of cables.

Cavities in the Trunk

A cavity, or a hole, in the side of a tree, is a point of vulnerability both in terms of tree strength and in disease resistance. An arborist can examine a cavity and may be able to tell how much internal decay is present. He or she will advise on measures to take to save the tree and to reduce the risk of it falling in a storm.


Internal decay in a tree is not always easy to see. It is usually caused by fungi that feed on different parts of the wood—the cellulose, hemicellulose, or lignin. The decay can occur at any place in the tree. Signs of decay include fungal conks (a fungus that looks like part of a plate stuck to a tree trunk), cavities, holes in the tree that are harboring animals, and the presence of carpenter ants.

Root Issues

Root problems can greatly impact a tree’s health. A tree with dieback (quadrants of the tree that are dead), a thinning canopy, or overall loss of vigor may be the result of root problems. Look for exposed roots that are circling trunks; swollen root collars at the base of trunks; fungal conks; and mushrooms growing around the bottom of trees.

Summing Up

Some of the problems mentioned above can be reversed or at least managed. Other issues are fatal. Inspect your trees regularly; hire an arborist if in doubt; remember that taking preemptive measures may save a tree or at least prevent it from falling and causing injury and damage.

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