How to Tell if a Backyard Tree is Dead

Even though a tree may still have a few leaves and be standing tall in your yard, it could be dead. Some trees die slowly – as long as two years after a damaging event or disease -- and most trees die from the inside out, so even though it may look like your tree will survive, the odds are stacked against it. Trust your senses with a "snap-scratch test" to determine if a tree in your yard is merely dormant or if it's dead.

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Even without leaves, a healthy branch will be pliable.

Step 1

Watch the tree as the seasons change. Look closely at the limbs for the green bumps that signify potential new branch growth. Examine the tree for signs of new leaves, flowers and fruits.

Step 2

Break off a thin limb to feel if it bends, or if it snaps off the tree with a dry crack. Look inside the limb to determine if the branch is dry or moist; living trees have green, pliable branches.

Step 3

Scratch the bark of a young tree with a knife or fingernail. Look for green underbark that is damp to the touch in a living tree. Brown, dry bark signals the branch is dead.

Step 4

Consult care guidelines for your tree if signs of new growth and healthy bark are found. The tree may be stressed and merely need additional care.