Sometimes it can seem difficult to determine if your tree is dying, dead, diseased or has some other deficiency or just looks like that! I am often asked to look at trees to determine health and vigor and sometimes asked "Is my tree dead?"

Without seeing the tree it’s always difficult to answer that question and more commonly it can be difficult for the homeowner to determine condition during winter on deciduous trees, trees that lose their leaves during winter. Trees require leaf coverage for photosynthesis, "to keep the tree alive in essence" we all learnt about vegetations requirement for light at school, if you didn’t, you must have missed that lesson lesson! So a full crown of leaves is a sure sign that you have a healthy tree, like this one:

Healthy Tree

Then you can have trees that are obviously not doing too well and have lost some leaves, like this one below:

Declining Tree

Then there are the obviously dead trees like this one below:

Then you may have a perfectly healthy tree with no leaves, but it’s during a dormant period, like this one in winter:

Essentially a tree should have a full canopy of leaves during the summer period, any trees with no leaves or with a sparse crown is an indication that something’s wrong and an expert should be consulted. We provide these services for our clients in Southampton, a tree health check if you like.

It gets a bit more difficult to tell if a tree is dead in winter for the layman, however a very simple and basic test is a bark scratch test to see if the tree has healthy twigs. If you are at all concerned you should always contact a suitably qualified expert, a list of which can be found on the Arboricultural Associations web site, at this address:

The scratch test involves simply scratching a small section of bark from a selection of twigs or small end branches, live or healthy twigs/branches will appear moist, with a healthy coloured appearance as seen below:

Dead or dying branches will appear very dry with no healthy colouring, see the example below:


The methods described and information are by no means definitive answers to determine condition, however as a basic starting point the scratch test is a simple method to initially alleviate your concerns or prompt you to seek professional advice.