How to Spot Dead Tree Branches

Tree care practices like pruning often require correctly identifying dead tree branches. Aside from the uninspiring look, a dead branch is a safety hazard to nearby structures or, worse, people.

You need to remove these branches as soon as possible, but how do you tell whether it’s really dead? What if it is just a dormant branch?

Below, we explore how to spot dead branches with certainty, as advised by a premier provider of tree-trimming services in Littleton.

First, Look at the Leaves and Buds

Clinging Dead Leaves

Have you noticed your deciduous tree with dead leaves still attached to a branch when other branches have no leaves? If so, the branch could be dead. 

Deciduous plants usually shed their leaves in the fall, but the leaves on a dead branch won’t drop. Instead, they’ll often hang on for months or come off only when the wind rips off the blade, leaving the leaf stem attached to its node. All these signs indicate the branch has died.

Dry or Shriveled Buds on Trees

Often, arborists will be able to tell whether a branch is dead or just dormant by looking at the condition of the buds. A living, healthy branch has smooth, vibrant, well-formed buds. Every bud will have a strong outer covering protecting it.

However, if you notice dry buds, discoloration, or some that look shriveled, the branch may not be receiving the nutrients and water it needs. It’s likely already dead and requires pruning.

Next, Check for Dead Twigs and Other Signs

Dry, Brittle Twigs 

Healthy twigs and branches are naturally flexible so that the tree can stand up to high winds and storms, moving with the forces of weather rather than fighting them. However, when your tree dies, its branches and twigs become dry and rigid. 

Do a simple snap test as follows:

  • Hold a small twig or branch in both hands, about six inches apart. 
  • Bend the twig or branch a little.

Does it bend? If so, it’s probably alive. A dead branch or twig will often snap or crumble!

Pest Infestation

Pests like carpenter ants love dead trees or those under immense stress, so look out for these insects on your tree.

Fungal Growth

Dead tree branches could grow fungi, such as turkey tail fungus. Mushrooms often show up after a branch has died (due to an infection).

Finally, Check for a Failed Tree “Scratch Test”

Arborists can easily identify a dead tree branch by looking at its cambium layer, which is the growing part of the tree. 

  • Scratch a little spot on the branch with a smooth knife. 
  • Check for wet tissue beneath the layer you’ve just scratched.

If you see a greenish hue, the branch is alive. If the cambium layer is brown or dry, it’s dead.

Contact Local Tree Experts for Assistance

Do you need help identifying dead tree branches or selecting the perfect tree-pruning tools? If you aren’t sure whether a lack of leaves or bark shedding means your tree is dead, we’re your go-to local arborist in Littleton, Colorado.

So, contact Tree Keepers LLC at (720) 534-2872 today for a free estimate!

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