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  • Writer's pictureBrian Smith

When to Cut Down a Tree: 6 Warning Signs of a Dying Tree

Why is it that the big, beautiful parts of nature can also be some of the most dangerous?

If you have trees you take care of in your yard, you might know what we're talking about. Trees are gorgeous pieces of nature, shading us and giving us fresh oxygen. But when they fall over, damaging accidents can happen.

The good news is that you can prevent this with a good eye for tree health. Knowing when to cut down a tree is one of the best ways to make sure you save your tree when possible and save yourself when it's not.

Kansas City has its share of natural disasters, so if you live here, it's extra important to make sure your trees can weather the storm. Here are our top signs that your tree could be dying:

1. Root Rot

See what's growing on your tree. Certain fungus growth can tip you off that your tree's insides might be in a better place now.

It's always good to double-check, and even better to call an expert. Lots of mushrooms and trees have beautiful symbiotic relationships, so the simple presence of a fungus doesn't mean you will definitely have to cut down a tree.

Some specific things you can check for are white fan-like structures and dark brown threads with a shoestring shape.

Root rot can sometimes kill trees very suddenly. So if you're finding yourself in a tree emergency, like a situation where a tree has completely rotted and looks like it might fall on something hazardous (or already has), contact our emergency services today.

2. A Possible Reason to Cut Down a Tree: Cankers

What are cankers?

Simply put, they're diseased or stressed parts of a tree. You'll be able to tell where they are because the spot will be discolored and look odd.

Trees can have cankers and still be okay or have the potential to be saved from the brink, but you might need to call an expert to help you out.

3. Bare Branches from the Outside In

In the spring and summer, when you expect to see buds growing on your tree's branches, watch closely for empty spots.

Having a bare branch might mean that the branch itself is dead, but that doesn't mean the tree is dead. In fact, trees go through many periods of dying branches throughout their lifetimes.

If multiple branches at once are behaving like this, though, you might have a dying tree on your hands. Watch for branches with bud vacancies in a pattern that goes from the outside in.

This is true even for evergreen trees. These trees do lose needles from time to time, but if they're losing them from the tips of the branches first, you might have a problem.

4. Brittle Twigs

A similar indication of a dying tree is a pattern of twigs dying from the outside in. You can test the strength and vitality of a twig from your tree by bending it slightly—just with your hands or even one hand.

If the twig bends without breaking, chances are it's a healthy, living twig. But if it's brittle and breaks easily, it might be dead. Like the bare branches, this is okay once in a while, but if it's many twigs and it's happening in a pattern from the outside in, your tree could be in trouble.

5. Hanging Branches

This is a sign that might be coupled with one of the others. If your tree has hanging branches, it might be from a fungal disease. This can also happen at the same time as dying twigs or loss of buds.

Or you might have hanging branches due to a harsh storm. Kansas City, Missouri is one of the windiest cities in the United States, and its annual wind speed of 10 miles per hour is more than enough to break some branches.

When this happens to the trees around you, you should take the time to assess how bad the damage was. If some of your branches have fallen off or are broken and hanging from the main structure, the damage might be too much for the tree itself to handle.

In this case, it could be a good idea to try a scratch test around the trunk of your tree. Don't know how? We'll teach you:

6. Do a Scratch Test

This is a little more complicated than just scratching your tree—but honestly, not by that much. Like its name might imply, you can do the scratch test with your own fingernails, but you can also use a small knife if you have one handy.

With either of these tools, take off a tiny bit of bark from the tree. Take care not to harm the tree in doing so.

If the inner color is green, that's a sign that good things are happening inside. If it's a dark color, though, this could be a sign of a dying tree.

As with the other signs, there are plenty of possible false alarms. Try doing this scratch test in a few different locations and checking for other indications as well. This will give you a better idea of the bigger picture.

Stay Safe Out There!

If you're trying to save a beloved tree, it's understandable that you might want to take all the measures you can to prune dying parts and bring the tree back to health. And sometimes this can work well!

Other times, though, it's better for the safety of you and your surroundings to cut down a tree that's too far gone. The signs can sometimes be difficult to tell, so if you want to make sure you're making the right call, go ahead and talk to an expert.

Read what our satisfied customers have to say about our service, and if you'd like, you can request a quote right from our home page.

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