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Is It Time to Remove a Dead or Dying Tree?


A tall, mature tree can add value and beauty to your home. It is also a home for an entire ecosystem of wildlife. So it's understandable that some homeowners don't want to part with a favorite tree. But when a tree is dead or dying, tree removal may be the only available option. In general, tree removal should be a last resort. But a failing tree can pose a risk to your property. If it falls in a storm, it could damage your home and even cause personal injury. To avoid that risk, it is usually necessary to remove a dead or dying tree.

Who's Responsible

Tree removal can be an expensive process. And removing a tree that you don't own could land you in legal trouble. On the other hand, if a tree that you own is dying and falls on someone else's property, you may be financially responsible for any damage.

Determining who is responsible for a tree is not always easy. If a tree is clearly on your property, it is your responsibility to maintain or remove it if necessary. But if a tree's trunk is located precisely on your property line, it may be more complicated. A tree on a property line is usually the responsibility of the property owners on both sides, and taking it down has to be a joint decision. If a tree is not on your property line, but its crown spans both properties, the responsibility typically rests on the homeowner who owns the property where the trunk is located.

Another issue you may face in determining responsibility for a tree is whether the city our county owns a tree. In some cases, a tree that looks like it is on your property may actually be the responsibility of the local government. On the other hand, some trees that you would think should be maintained by the city or county are actually your responsibility. To determine liability for a tree, call your local building, planning, and zoning department. They should be able to tell you which trees are yours and which belong to the city. In some cases, if a tree grows close to a power line, the city may cut it back for safety reasons, even if you own the trees. Also, if a tree you own blocks the sidewalk—for instance, if it's branches hang too low—you may be required to trim it back.

Why You Need an Arborist

An arborist is a professional who specializes in trees. If you believe your tree is diseased or dying, an arborist can help you determine the best course of action. They are trained to diagnose and treat trees that are sick or infested. They can also help make the tough call to remove a tree. And if the tree needs to be removed, an arborist is trained to safely remove a tree without damaging surrounding trees, buildings, or other property.

Here are some signs that you might need to call an arborist:

Is It Time to Remove a Dead or Dying Tree [infographic]

A Tree is Leaning

If a tree is sick or dying, its roots may not be strong enough to hold it up. Some healthy trees may grow crooked, especially if they have to reach for sunlight. But if a formerly upright tree is suddenly leaning, that's a sign that all is not well. In most cases, a tree that has started leaning will need to be removed before it falls and damages property.

Fissures and Cracks in Bark

Tree bark varies a lot from species to species. The real trick here is noticing what your tree looked like when it was healthy compared to how it looks now. If you notice large vertical cracks in the tree's bark or its trunk, that's a bad sign. These large fissures can be a sign of internal decay or infections. Either way, if your tree is sporting large cracks where there were none, it's time to call an arborist. You may not have to take down the tree; in some cases, it can be saved. But an arborist can help you determine if the tree's issues are treatable or if its collapse is inevitable.

Fungus Around the Base of the Tree

This can be a tough sign to spot. Trees naturally create a cool, moist microenvironment that is perfect for fungi. So it is not unusual to see mushrooms or other fungi growing underneath or even on a tree. But if a tree has not had mushrooms growing beneath it and you suddenly spot a whole bunch, this may be a sign of root decay. If you suspect root decay, check for heaving soil, which could be another sign that the tree's roots are not healthy. Since it's hard to determine root problems on your own, these are just some warning signs that it might be time to call an arborist. Your arborist has the training to make a more definite diagnosis.

Dead Branches or Leaves

If your tree is dying, it likely won't die all at once. You may notice that your tree's foliage is not as thick or green as the surrounding trees. This may indicate poor health. Also, look at the leaves and not if they are misshapen, discolored, or have holes. Leaves like that are often a symptom of disease or infection.

Another clear warning sign that your tree is unhealthy is dead areas in the crown, the part of your tree with leaves. If you notice windows in your tree, areas without any leaves, that part of the tree is likely dead. The same is true for areas with dead branches. The general rule is that if 50% or more of your tree is dead, it should be taken down immediately before it can fall and cause serious damage to the surrounding property. But you don't have to wait until half of the tree is dead. If you notice any of these signs in even part of the tree, call an arborist. They may be able to treat the tree and save it from removal.

More Than a Third of the Tree is Hollow

In most trees, the living part of the trunk is the outer edge. So a tree can actually survive for quite a while with a hollow core. Depending on the tree's size, there may even be enough space for a child or even an adult to get inside a hole in the trunk. The significant warning sign has to do with how much of the tree is hollow. If there is a hollow area at the base, the tree can usually survive. But once that hollow area extends more than a third of the way up the trunk, the tree will start to lose structural integrity and becomes a falling hazard. Ask an arborist to check the tree out and determine if the hollow area warrants removing the tree as a precaution.

The Tree is Threatening Buildings or Power Lines

If a tree has grown too close to a building or power lines, it needs to be cut back. Even if a tree does not collapse on a building, falling branches, leaves, and other debris can damage the roof. Tree branches that hang close to a building can also be a pathway for squirrels, rats, and other pests to reach and infest the building.

If a tree hangs close to powerlines, it poses a double threat. Wind or a storm could knock the tree into the powerlines, knocking out power for nearby buildings. Broken powerlines or a power surge could also start a fire if tree limbs hang too close to the wires.

Find Tree Removal Experts

If you have a tree that you suspect might be dead or dying, don't wait for it to fall on its own. A falling tree can damage property and even injure people. Removing a tree is dangerous work and not something you should try to do yourself. Instead, hire a TrustDALE certified tree removal expert to do the job for you. Every TrustDALE tree removal company has passed Dale's 7-point investigative review and is backed by Dale's trademark $10,000 Make-It-Right™ Guarantee.