Top 5 Reasons a Tree Dies (and what to do when it does)

Many people take for granted that trees are living things that require nurturing and care. While trees are typically low maintenance, they are susceptible to disease and death just like we are. Here are some common reasons trees die:

Reason 1: Natural Disasters

While this is first on our list, it is one of the last things people typically think of when they imagine a tree dying. Think about it: Have you ever thought about the way a hurricane affects trees? We’re willing to bet you haven’t. But natural disasters—fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes, to name a few—are as deadly to trees as they are to humans. And even though trees help protect people in times of natural disaster, they are bad for the trees themselves.  Natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes uproot trees, killing them almost instantly. Unfortunately, cutting off a tree from its roots is akin to cutting off a human’s blood supply entirely. In the case of forest fires, the fire often does not kill the tree outright but weakens it for pests and disease to finish it off.

Reason 2: Disease

Disease is another often-overlooked tree killer. The worst part about tree diseases is that they are contagious.  So, when a disease kills a tree, that tree’s shell (often called a “snag”) is a risk to the live trees that surround it.

Unfortunately, most tree diseases are incurable. Diseases like Dutch elm disease and the chestnut blight have killed entire forests in North America. Since tree diseases cannot be cured, prevention is usually the only option. Like natural disasters, tree diseases don’t always kill outright. Oftentimes a disease kills part of a tree and the rest falls victim to pests.

Diseases often kill only one type of tree and don’t harm others. This is the case with the chestnut blight disease. Chestnut blight wiped out almost all of the chestnut trees in North America. Before the disease, an estimated one in five trees in North America was a chestnut. The disease survives today as a non-lethal parasite on chinkapin, Spanish chestnut, and post oak trees.

Reason 3: Pests

Insects are the most common kind of tree-killing pest. Pests are a double threat—not only do they kill trees by weakening them, but they often spread diseases from one tree to another. This happens because pests usually won’t go after a tree unless it’s already weakened, and disease is a big weakener of trees.

Reason 4: A Toxic or Unsuitable Environment

While there are some extremely hardy trees (evergreens, for example), there are many trees that are extremely sensitive to their environment. Soil chemistry, temperature, humidity, and amount of rainfall are all factors that influence a tree’s health. Some of these are obvious: you will never see a palm tree in Ohio because the winters here are too cold. However, some are less obvious. For example, soil chemistry (this includes relative acidity, salinity, and wetness) also plays an important role in a tree’s survival. So, pesticides leaking into the soil or climate change caused by global warming put delicate trees at risk.

Reason 5: Old Age

This is a tricky one, because scientists don’t agree on whether or not old age actually kills trees. It’s no question that trees die when they get too old, but what actually does the killing? Does a tree simply putter out like a car out of gas, or does an old tree become weakened and more susceptible to disease, pests, or climate change? Whatever the case, trees have lifespans. For some species, this lifespan is thousands of years. For others, like the palm tree, it is shorter—around 70 years or so. Once a tree’s health begins declining due to old age, there is often nothing to do but wait for it to die.

When in doubt, call Merriman

If you notice a tree might be dying, you should call us to assess it. We offer year-round maintenance, treatment, tree stump grinding and removal, and you can call us today for a free estimate on tree removal. The sooner you catch the problem, the less costly tree removal is—and there’s always the chance you could actually save the tree. We recommend you remove a dead tree from your yard, even if the tree died of something that doesn’t put your other trees at risk. Here are a few reasons why:

Dead trees attract pests

Dead trees that remain upright have another name: wildlife trees. As far as woodland critters are concerned, there is no better home than a nice, cozy dead tree. Oftentimes these critters are harmless, like birds and squirrels. But oftentimes these include rats, termites, and all sorts of nasties. You definitely don’t want those guys near your home.

Dead trees usually don’t look good

Let’s face it—dead trees can be ugly. Your lawn typically forms someone’s first impression of your house, and studies have shown that first impressions, though often wrong, are frustratingly difficult to change. Plus, if you’re selling your home, a nice-looking lawn is practically a necessity.

Dead trees are dangerous

A dead tree is a tree that is not structurally sound. Branches often fall off dead trees, and sometimes strong winds bring down the entire tree! On top of being dangerous, this is potentially a huge financial risk, especially if a falling branch or tree injures a neighbor or their property.