Tree Decay: Signs, Prevention, And Treatment

11 December 2015
 Categories: , Articles

A decaying tree is a major hazard for homes and businesses. Bacteria and fungi are major causes for decay and can weaken a tree to the point that it falls. While newly damaged trees can be treated to prevent or slow the decay process, there are times when the tree needs to be removed because the damage is too severe to save it.

Inspect Your Tree After Every Storm

Storm damage is often a precursor to decay in trees. You should inspect your tree after heavy winds, snowfalls, or rains. Look for gouges in the bark, broken branches, and areas where bark has been stripped away. If you catch any of these signs early, you can take preventative measures to keep decay from setting in and eventually losing your tree. After-storm care includes:

  • Removing Dead Bark: If you notice areas where bark has been torn away, leaving the edges ragged and dead, remove them with a knife. Make the cuts as smooth as possible to keep remaining bark healthy.
  • Pruning Branches: Proper pruning will encourage tree growth. If you aren't sure about how to prune branches that have been torn away by a storm, call in a professional. Improper pruning can stress the tree and take longer to heal – giving bacteria and fungi time to settle into the exposed wood.
  • Protecting Roots: Root damage will quickly affect the entire tree. Breaks in the roots leave the tree unsupported and it could fall. Adequate nutrients can't get to the rest of the tree if there are deep cuts and breaks in the roots, either. To combat this, it's best to thin the crown of the tree to reduce the tree's weight and the amount of nutrients necessary to sustain it. Give your tree extra water and make sure the soil around it is good, as well.

Look for External Signs of Decay

If you don't catch damage early in your tree, you should inspect it for signs that decay has already set in. There are some external indicators that will help you determine both the location and extent of decay in your tree and determine what steps to take next. These indicators include:

  • Bulging Near the Stump: If there is decay in the tree trunk, the stump will bulge in an attempt to strengthen it. While this bulge helps support the weight of the tree, any change in pressure could cause the tree to fall. Have the tree professionally inspected to determine if decay is major or not.
  • Brittle, Breaking Branches: Brittle branches are a sign that your tree is either dead or dying. If branches are breaking easily, it's time to remove the tree. Pruning might help slow the process, but continue to watch for signs of spreading bacteria in surrounding branches.
  • Crumbling Wood: Wood that crumbles easily is another indicator of a dying tree. You will notice this in wound areas where the bark is gouged or stripped. Crumbling wood is very weak and the whole tree could fail if not removed.
  • Abnormal Branch Growth: Abnormal growth weakens a tree and can be repaired in early stages. However, if left untreated (through pruning and staking), this problem can cause a tree to crack or die. Abnormal branch growth includes V-shaped branches or branches that grow heavily on one side and cause the tree to look lopsided.
  • Thinned Root System: Damaged and thinned roots are a sign that your tree isn't getting adequate nutrition. If the tree's crown is still healthy and producing leaves in season, you can attempt to supply it with better soil and extra water for a few months. If you notice changes in the appearance of the rest of your tree, however, it may already be dead and need removal.

If tree damage is caught early enough, you can attempt preventative measures to save it. However, once decay has set in, you should contact a professional through a site like to come inspect the tree to determine the extent of damage. It may be safer for you and those in the area to remove the tree.