I am constantly amazed at the number of clients who call up to ask for an appointment with a “certified arborist” specifically to determine if their tree is dead. These clients are different from the ones who call up with similar requests but they inform me that their tree is alive but has “issues” and want to know if the tree can be “saved”
What surprises me most is that the first group seems to have forgotten basic biology. And if they remembered that the way plants produce food is through photosynthesis, they would be able to answer the question themselves. I usually try to remind clients of this simple fact by asking “Does the tree have any green leaves on it?” I emphasize that no matter how little green foliage there is, technically the tree is still alive. My goal is to give them hope no matter how futile, or break the news that their tree is a goner if there is no green whatsoever.
I remember when my father was in the emergency room with a life-threatening condition. His entry to the ER was sudden to the family but perhaps not entirely unexpected as he was suffering from breathing issues that were progressively getting worse. But I remember one of the ER technicians telling us “As long as there is a pulse, there is hope.” My dad died less than a week later, so the hope he offered was slim at best, but it did help buy us some time to come to grips with where he was at.
But just like there is a fine line between life and death for us humans, the same is true with trees. And just like my family huddled around my father in the ER room, looking for the glimmer of hope, so too are our clients.
Sometimes our arborists arrive “too late”. The tree is devoid of any green foliage, the bark is falling off the trunk and the branches are dry and brittle. They are forced to give the clients the bad news, their tree is dead and there is no hope of it coming back.
Sometimes our arborist arrives to find the tree is still producing green foliage, but what little is there is in such poor condition that it is probably not enough to resuscitate the tree. But, the will to live is very strong in trees, so who knows? As long as there is green, there is hope.
And then are times where even our experienced arborists are not sure if the tree is on it’s way out or there is a chance of revival. These are trees that a have a few leaves here and there in the canopy, but the branches are still supple, and by using a thumbnail to scratch off the thin layer of bark on the branches, there is green, a sign of life. Perhaps with a change in cultural care (such as removing the excess soil from the base of the tree, stop overwatering, or give the tree more water, etc.) the tree might be able to come back.
But just like facing the inevitable mortality of human life, tree owners must face the same fact with their trees. Contrary to popular belief, trees do not live forever. Whether they die of old age or due to circumstances beyond their control, once a tree stops producing leaves, it’s a sign the tree is in trouble.
What you can do if you suspect your tree might be dying:
1. Be observant. Watch your tree during different times of the year so that you can get a feel for its cycle, and you can compare year-to-year if the trees are putting on more or less foliage.
2. Be aware of any changes made to or around the tree. Has there been any construction that might have damaged the roots? Any major change in climate? A drought? An El Niño winter?
3. Not sure, call to have our certified arborist look at the tree. If you suspect your tree is under stress the best time to call an arborist is in spring after the leaves have emerged and there is time to try some remedies during the growing season. Calling in the fall is too late to perhaps see any results from cultural changes that year, but it is always worth a try.