As Sewell’s tree removal service, our licensed arborists at Bumblebee Tree Service answer hundreds of questions from curious business owners and residents about tree removal, stump grinding, and plant health. One of the most common questions we entertain is, “If a tree has no leaves, is it dead?” Peeling bark and leaf loss provide telltale signs of circulation problems and malnutrition, and we recommend you contact tree care professionals if you see these conditions on your trees.
In this explainer, our tree care professionals will outline the possible causes of leaf loss and the most prevalent signs that point to a dead tree. We will also offer a few pointers to help you take proper care of a tree with leaf loss, so you can prevent it from dying.
If a Tree Has No Leaves, Is It Dead?
Leaf loss does not mean your tree is dead. It might mean the opposite. Healthy trees shed leaves to cope with environmental changes, such as droughts, winters, and high external temperatures.
Shedding leaves acts as a defense mechanism of deciduous trees, such as elms, oaks, and aspens, which helps them preserve moisture and nutrients during challenging periods. Many trees shed leaves after replanting, which allows them to adjust to their new setting. Sometimes, leaf loss occurs after switching to a new fertilizer or irrigation system, as root systems might only source water and soil-based nutrition in a preset way.
Answer these questions to determine if your tree is dead or dying.
When Was the Last Time Your Trees Grew New Leaves?
Most trees in North America follow a seasonal growth and shedding pattern that involves massive leaf loss every autumn. It is 100% natural for trees to have no foliage left by mid-November as they prepare for a long, nutrient-scarce winter ahead. Arborists call this their dormant period.
Trees usually repopulate their branches with flowers, leaves, and buds around mid-May.
Is Your Tree Dormant, Diseased, or Dead?
Arborists use snap-and-scratch techniques to learn whether a tree is dormant or dead. The most basic snap technique works this way:
- Grab a few pencil-sized branches from a lower bough
- Snap them back and forth to test for moisture and sap
Branches from dead or diseased bows become brittle and will snap with little effort. Healthy ones will be pliable.
The scratch test works best for trees without thick bark tissues, such as paper birch. Let’s review the steps.
- Grab a pocket knife and scratch the bark. You can also use your nails.
- Inspect for moisturized green tissue, indicating your tree is alive and well.
If you only find hard, browning wood beneath the bark, your tree might be dead or dying.
Lack of foliage can have multiple compounding causes, such as fungal spores and infestations of tree-boring insects. Trees begin dying by holding dead leaves and hollow branches at the top of the canopy, and thicker boughs usually fall last when their connective tissues decay. Leaf loss can also occur from extreme cold and hot weather as trees attempt to conserve nutrients from the soil by keeping them inside their vascular tissues.
Signs of Death and Infestations
Trees cannot survive without leaves as photosynthesis supplies their food supply. Consider the human-based factors that might contribute to leaf loss.
- Overwatering, which causes yellowing leaves and root rot
- Underwatering causes brown tips and wilting branches
- Leafhoppers, aphids, and scale insects that leave sooty mold and webs
Contact the Experts
Answer questions like “Can a half-dead tree be saved?” or “If a tree has no leaves, is it dead?” by talking to the experts at Bumblebee Tree Service.
Call (609) 352-0499 for a free consultation today.