Some trees can live healthy lives even with some damage to them. Certain species can be more resilient than others, like oak trees for example. Some trees can receive only slight damage and decline very easily.
There are often clear indicators that a tree is unhealthy. This can be evident with obvious damage to the bark, pruning cuts, dead branches, irregular growth, or discolorations on leaves. Other signals of neglect can be weed eater damage, no mulch ring, improper mulching, weeds around the base of the tree, and more.
Trees have to battle a lot. They have to withstand competition from other plants, weather, diseases, pests, and humans. On the human side of things, trees may be planted where they don’t want to be, be planted at the wrong depth, and staked or pruned incorrectly. All of these stressors can show up in different ways.
Trees stand out in our landscapes; when we see a nice tree it can really create a magical sense of place. When we see a tree in bad health, we may start to feel bad, uncomfortable in the space, or we may pass judgement on its caretaker.
Here are some examples of trees that have been neglected. Trees like this are seen all too common in landscapes. This may be due to a lack of resources like funding, knowledge, or intent. However, any tree is better than no tree.
Identifying a tree can start with observing its shape from a distance. This one may be hard to identify this way from its irregular shape. What is the story behind this tree?
This tree is a white oak with many trunks. Oaks should have just one main trunk. The many trunks of this tree is a signal this tree has endured some type of stress.
From this image you can see that the tree has been topped, perhaps even several times. Topping is a practice of pruning that cuts off the top of the tree in a drastic way, stunting its growth.
In response to the topping, this tree is growing suckers. Suckering is a growth response of the tree to try and save itself. Topping reduced the tree’s size. However, the root system stayed the same, which means it still provides the same amount of energy to the tree. This energy has caused new stems sprouting very rapidly.
If you’ve looked closely at the photos, you can also see poison ivy vine on the tree. While poison ivy berries are a great nutrition source for birds, it is a safety hazard to let it grow on trees in public spaces.
Vines growing on trees can easily kill the tree. Allowing vines grow on trees in wooded areas is okay, since that vine (native vines, not invasive ones) offers value to the biodiversity of the area. However, allowing vines to grow on trees we want in the landscape, may not be a good practice since the vine can eventually kill a tree.
This tree looks in bad condition. Many branches have been lost due any type of reason, some which may have been preventable. This tree is also suckering at the base of the tree in response to loosing those branches.
This tree could have died for a number of reasons, but the pruning cuts are an indication that it has struggled for a while.
While these trees are not in good health, they are better than having no trees at all. They may still offer food for wildlife (oaks are the best!), habitat and shelter, space for nesting birds, shade, wind break, and carbon sequestration. From this perspective, removing them would be worse if no other tree was planted in its place.
However, healthy trees are always the best. Unhealthy looking trees on a property doesn’t create a pleasant or inviting space. As a general rule, for every tree removed in a landscape, three should be planted in its place.
When a tree dies, it’s not all bad. Ones left standing (snags) provide good things to the environment by creating habitats for many animals and insects, like birds. As long as they aren’t a safety hazard, it is better for wildlife to leave them standing. Dead trees on the ground eventually break down into humus, providing good things for the soil.