American Tree Experts

6 Methods To Distinguish Between A Dead And Dormant Tree

Deciphering nature’s code – Understanding the fine line between dead and dormant trees

In the realm of tree maintenance, accurately distinguishing between a dead and dormant tree is crucial for protecting yourself and your property. While dead trees pose safety risks and necessitate removal, identifying whether a tree is still alive during dormancy can be challenging. We have outlined effective methods to help you distinguish whether a tree is dead or dormant so you can schedule professional tree removal services when necessary.

Examine Buds

  • A simple method to determine whether a tree is dead or dormant is to inspect its buds. Even in dormancy, new buds will emerge from a tree’s crown, indicating that the tree is still alive. Conversely, a dead tree will not produce new buds or display any signs of budding growth anywhere on its structure.

Snap and Scratch Test

  • The snap and scratch test offers a rapid and dependable means of distinguishing between a dead tree and one in dormancy. In a healthy tree, branches should bend rather than break when subjected to pressure. This resilience is attributed to the cambium layer beneath the bark, which should appear fresh, green, and slightly moist.

Conversely, if a branch snaps and reveals dry tissue beneath the bark, it indicates the tree is likely dead. Additionally, gently scratching the bark can expose and evaluate the underlying tissue for further confirmation.

Assess Roots

  • The root system is an essential component of a tree’s well-being. It can also provide information about a tree’s overall health. Deteriorating roots indicate that the tree is already dead or dying. It is essential to observe any signs of fungi growth at the tree’s base or within the surrounding soil, as these are common indicators of decomposition.

Evaluate The Health of Trunk

  • The trunk is a tree’s primary support structure and plays a critical role in determining its health and vitality. Any indications of trunk deterioration or damage can provide clues about the tree’s overall condition. A strong trunk should stand upright without visible signs of harm, such as cracks, splits, wounds, or decay.

Additionally, it should maintain a consistent diameter and show no abnormal swelling or shrinkage. Conversely, a deceased or dying tree often displays signs of trunk decay, including soft or mushy areas, bark loss, or hollow sections.

Bark Inspection

  • Similar to a snake shedding its skin, a healthy tree undergoes cycles of shedding old bark and regenerating new layers. In contrast, a dead or dying tree cannot undergo this process, resulting in unhealthy bark displaying signs such as peeling or discoloration.

Detection of Diseases, Pests, and Parasites

  • dead and dormant treeThoroughly examining your tree for signs of diseases, pests, or parasites can help you differentiate between dormancy and death. Common tree diseases, including fungal, bacterial, and viral infections, as well as various forms of blight, often show visible symptoms such as discoloration, wilting, cankers, lesions, or abnormal growth patterns.

These indicators can be identified by carefully inspecting the tree’s foliage, branches, and trunk. Severe symptoms, such as extensive dieback or complete defoliation, are more indicative of tree death or decline rather than dormancy.


  • Accurate determination of whether a tree is dead or dormant is essential, as dead trees pose significant safety risks and should be promptly removed. Properly inspect your trees to identify the dead and dying trees and make well-informed decisions regarding the necessary tree care services.

We can treat and prevent your trees from dying and remove dead trees to keep you and your property safe. At American Tree Experts, Inc., we offer the best tree care and tree removal services. Our most sought-after services are pruning, bracing, pest, and nutritional management. We offer services in Montclair, New Jersey. Call us at (973) 744-6091 for a free quote.

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