Is it dead or dormant?

1st January 2018

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Here are a few tips on how to tell if your tree is dead in winter …

Trees are continuously fighting, pests, diseases and pathogens. Over millions of years, they have built an extraordinary ability to withstand damaging agents that are ever-present in their surroundings. Although all trees do eventually die.

When in spring, summer and most of Autumn, trees are in full bloom; and it doesn’t take a genius to be able to figure out that if there are green leaves, it’s probably alive. Although in the dormant seasons (when deciduous trees drop their leaves), it can be very hard to be sure it’s not dead, rather than dormant.

If you are in doubt whether your tree is still alive, here are a few tips on how to check it is in good health:


Check for buds...

If your tree is Dormant – Buds will be apparent throughout the crown. If you look closely at the end of every branch, you will be able to see small leaf buds getting ready to pop in spring. Buds can a variety of colours, so don’t be too worried if they are slightly dark. Ash trees have a black bud; Norway maple trees have dark red/brown buds; Sycamore trees have green buds. Below we have attached an image for reference to on bud ident in winter.

If your tree is dead/struggling – There will be a lack of buds on the branches. Buds that are on the tree will be dry or not well established. When you touch to inspect the buds, they may fall off in your fingers. Be sure to check more than one branch throughout the inspection.

Check for green cambium (The scratch test)...

 ‘The scratch test’ involves using a knife or nail to scratch just below the bark of a branch. Locate a twig/branch on your tree and remove a small strip to expose the cambium (live part of the tree). If your tree is Dormant – The tissue below the bark will be green and moist.If your tree is dead/struggling – The tissue below the bark will be dark and dry. It may even

Check the bark for cracks and fungal brackets...


Like the buds on a tree, the bark can say a lot about the trees health throughout the winter. As trees grow older, bark can be a key indicator to its health. Healthy trees shed and replace their bark regularly. If a is unhealthy its will be poor in regenerating new bark and new growth. The bark will peel from the cambium, exposing dry heartwood; there may even be cracks throughout the trunk. If in doubt, call a qualified, experienced arborist or tree surgeon, as the tree may be at risk of falling or failure.

Another thing to keep an eye out for on the bark are fungal brackets (mushrooms). Most fungal brackets pop up throughout the year, but can be more apparent to the eye in winter when there are no leaves throughout the tree. Fungal brackets are the fruiting structures of many fungi that cause decay; usually once a fungal bracket is visible from a tree, the damage has been done and the disease is trying to spread its spores to another host so it is important to call a qualified arborist or experienced tree surgeon to identify the bracket and its damaging properties.

If in doubt or if your tree does appear to be dead or diseased, call a qualified arborist or experienced tree surgeon to carefully assess its safety. Dead trees can be extremely dangerous as they are prone to branches breaking out or worst, falling over completely. It is important that when removing a dead or diseased tree to use a qualified, experienced and insured Arborist or Tree surgeon, as dead tree removal can be a complex task; especially if it is located near buildings or public footpaths.



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