All Good in the Wood: Top 5 Signs of a Healthy Tree

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated March 2, 2022
Woman in the backyard grilling food for the family
Photo: Maskot / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Healthy trees have dense bark, strong branches, and lots of vibrant leaves.

  • Regularly inspect for bare spots, excessive dead branches, and signs of tree disease.

  • Keep trees healthy with proper pruning, mulching, watering, and fertilizing.

  • Your best bet for saving a dying tree is to call a certified arborist.

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From effervescent evergreens to dense deciduous trees, nothing brings your outdoor space to life like a happy tree. Monitoring your tree’s health is crucial for addressing problems before its number of rings is cut short. Let’s branch out and discuss all the signs of a healthy tree and how you can stay on top of its well-being.

How to Tell If Your Tree Is Healthy

A happy, healthy tree will show its true colors. Here are the key signs that your tree is cool as a conifer.

1. One “Leader” Stem off the Trunk

In most cases, a healthy tree should only have one leader, which is a strong vertical branch coming off the top of the trunk. Along with keeping a straight, solid profile, a tree’s leader adds strength and stability to its structure. If a tree has more than one leader, it might split open, leaving it open to disease and ravenous insects. 

2. Strong Bark

Happy trees typically have thick, healthy bark throughout. The bark shouldn’t be loose or peeling, except on certain trees, like birches and maples. Healthy trunks are also free of fungi, dead branches, large holes, and cracks. 

Important Note: When checking the health of your bark, be extra careful not to gouge or break it off, as this creates a wound that can invite insects and disease.

3. Full, Robust Branches

A thriving tree should have strong branches that can’t get bent or snapped easily. Beneath the thin outer layer of bark should be a vibrant and healthy green core. Dead and broken branches are normal here and there, but if you’re finding excessive amounts, this could be a bad sign. Either way, these are a major “come hither” for insects and diseases, so prune them ASAP. 

4. Lots of Leaves

Healthy trees grow thick, consistent bundles of leaves throughout their canopy. Bald patches aren’t normal for a tree, regardless of its age. Bare patches could be a sign of damage from improper pruning, pesticide damage, pest infestation, disease, or lack of nutrients. Check with a certified arborist near you to determine the exact cause.

5. Healthy Leaves

Healthy leaves are a sign your tree is feeling fine. Check to see if they’re the right color for the season. Ensure there are no crispy edges. They shouldn’t be yellow or yellow-green unless that’s their natural color.

Spotting Common Tree Health Problems

Regular inspection is one of the most important steps of good tree care. Unfortunately, the signs of a dead or dying tree are even more apparent than the signs of a healthy one. Here’s what to look for:

  • Bare, leafless patches in deciduous trees during peak blooming season

  • Sections without needles in evergreen trees

  • Excessive dead or dying branches

  • Early fall foliage, a key sign of stress

  • Wounds, holes, or cracks in the trunk

  • Yellowing leaves, which could point to underwatering or chlorosis, a common tree disease

  • Tree branch flagging (when leaves wilt and turn brown), a key symptom of Dutch elm disease

  • Powdery patches or spots on the leaves, indicating a powdery mildew infection

  • Branches that snap easily instead of bending

  • Fungi growing in the bark or near the base of the tree

Preventing Tree Disease and Other Issues

Young man pruning olive tree
Photo: ozgurcankaya / E+ / Getty Images

Along with regular inspections, there are crucial care steps to take to maintain the health of your trees. Remember that your trees are large, living plants that need attention—even if they’ve been there for a while. These are your more essential areas of tree care.

Watering

Watering your trees is important at any age. A great method for tree watering is using a soaker hose or drip system. Generally, a tree should get around 5 gallons per inch of trunk diameter.

Mulching

A nice, smelly layer of mulch is one of the kindest gifts you can give your trees. This helps keep moisture in the soil while providing a stronghold against weeds. On top of that, it helps hold in all the organic matter your tree needs.

Pruning

Proper pruning is vital to your tree’s health—should you need to prune at all, that is. Remember to always have a good reason to prune your trees. Unless you’re removing dead or diseased portions of the tree or maintaining the shape, you don’t need to bust out the shears. As a general rule, never remove more than one-third of its branches at a time.

Fertilizing

It’s good practice to apply a slow-release fertilizer before your trees reach their peak growing season. Be cautious with fertilizer, though. While it can replace nutrients, too much can do more harm than good. It’s best to get an evaluation from a local soil testing service before any treatments.

Can You Save a Dead or Dying Tree?

If your tree is sick or dying, you might be able to save it by pruning off dead or diseased portions. However, more often than not, the problem at hand is more complex. Your best bet is to call a local tree service with a certified arborist on board. 

A dead tree, on the other hand, needs to go ASAP. These create a serious safety hazard and can do real damage to your home if they come down. Don’t wait to call a tree removal service near you.

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