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How To Tell If A Tree Is Dead?

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Following the dry summer we have just had you might be worried about the condition of your tree; even the most resistant trees can become stressed during a drought. If you are concerned, it is important to establish whether it is dead as soon as possible. You might need to have the tree removed, particularly if it is in a location where its’ failure could cause damage or injury.


So, how to tell if a tree is dead? It is not always immediately obvious if a tree is dead, below is a quick guide to help you carry out an inspection.


  • Inspect the crown:

New leaves or buds are a fairly good indicator the tree is alive. But depending on the time of year, it might not be quite so easy to tell, so what else can you do?


  • Inspect the trunk:

The bark is the skin of the tree, if it is missing large chunks, has cracks or fungus growing on it, it could be a sign the tree is dying.


  • Scratch the bark (The Scratch Test):

An illustrated diagram of the layers that make up a tree trunk
The structure of a tree trunk. The cambium can be found under the bark layers.

Underneath the dry outer layer there is the cambium, in a healthy tree this should be green. If it is brown and dry, it is very likely that the tree is dead. Be careful when carrying out the scratch test, if you scratch off too much and create a large wound it could cause damage to the tree.

We recommend carrying out the test on the trunk as you might find individual branch is dead, but not necessarily the whole tree.


For more warning signs to look out for that might suggest your tree is in poor health, you can check out our blog article on the topic here.


If you are still unsure, it is always a good idea to have a professional arborist carry out an inspection and recommend the best course of action. If you live in the Torbay, Teignbridge or Exeter area, we would be happy to take a look at your tree and if necessary provide a quote for any tree work that might be needed. You can contact us here.



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