How can I determine if my tree is healthy?

Inspecting Trees

We all tend to ignore our trees until something dramatic grabs our attention such as, leaves falling off, or half the tree turning yellow. By the time the dramatic signs are happening, it can be too late to fix the problem. It is important to take the time to inspect your trees as often as possible. Does this mean I have to go out in the yard and spend hours inspecting leaves and bark? Absolutely not, a quick review of five basic indicators can keep you ahead of problems, that could damage or kill your trees if left unchecked.

Try to choose a day when you will be active in your yard anyway. Perhaps every time you mow or take the trash out. It soon becomes part of that routine. And you will be surprised at how many issues are happening to a tree you walked by a dozen times and didn’t notice.

Make a point of walking around your yard with your focus specifically on your trees. You are looking for five basic indicators that there may be a problem starting to occur.

  1. The first thing to inspect is the very top of the tree. If there is a vascular issue, the top will show the first signs. This might include wilting, needle or leaf drop. Look at each tree from the front and the back. The vascular system of most species runs vertically, so a tree can look healthy on one side and be very unhealthy on the other side.
  2. The second is leaf or needle drop throughout the canopy. A tree may have a fungus creating what is called needle cast. Leaf drop in a decidua tree in summer may be due to irrigation issues.
  3. The third is leaf or needle color. Look at your type of tree in other neighborhoods or online for a baseline of what the color should be. If the tree is yellowing it may be a nitrogen or chlorosis issue. Incorrect watering can affect the color of the canopy, however, do not guess, you must use a water meter to know if this is the problem and take the correct steps to remedy it.
  4. The fourth is the trunk and structure. Are there hanging or dead limbs. Is the bark peeling or being damaged by mowers or trimmers or…dogs? Do you see woodpecker holes in the tree? Black stains or dripping sap can be issues of bacteria in wounds or bores attacking our tree. Are roots coming up in your lawn?
  5. The fifth is insect and disease attacks. Normally we see the damage before we see the tiny insect. Do you see small round holes in your tree trunk? Do the leaves have ragged edges or chew marks? Does it feel like a light mist of moisture as you walk under your tree? Look at the bottom of your leaves, are there little tiny black or white insects?

These five points can be summarized into the top, leaf drop, color, structure and insects. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes with each tree to catch many of the major issues that damage and kill trees.

It’s best not to take one indicator and try to do a diagnosis. Certified Arborist are trained to look at all aspects that can create symptoms and then do more in-depth investigations into what is creating the symptom. An example can be holes in a leaf in August, that looks like insects chewing; further investigation can often find that the cause is leaf tatter from dry winds tearing out individual leaf cells. If you find an issue, contact your Certified Arborist to be sure you are applying the correct remedy.