Trees can have health problems just like people. These problems can range from damage done by storms, to a lack of proper care (water or nutrients), to disease and insect infestation. Even a seemingly harmless act like locking your bike to a tree or brushing the trunk with a lawnmower can have long-term implications for your tree’s health, compromising the bark and making it more susceptible to insects and disease.

Keeping Your Tree Healthy

Basic elements that influence plant health include sufficient water, light, and a proper balance of nutrients. Too much or too little of any of these environmental conditions may cause plant stress. (For more on maintaining your tree.

Trees deal with environmental stresses, such as shading and competition for water and nutrients, by adjusting their growth and development patterns to reflect the availability of the resources. Although trees are adapted to living in stressful conditions in nature, many times the stresses they experience in the landscape are more than they can handle and may make them more susceptible to insects and diseases. Trees also can suffer damage from storms and other natural disasters.

How to Identify Problems

  • Know your tree – many insects and diseases are plant specific.
  • Regularly inspect your trees for anything unusual, including roots, leaves, trunk, and branches.
  • Use handbooks or online resources to help you identify any insect you may find.
  • Be familiar with symptoms that indicate a lack of water.
  • Hire an expert to help if you are unable to determine the problem.

Removal is recommended when a tree:

  • is dead, dying, or considered irreparably hazardous.
  • is causing an obstruction, or is crowding and causing harm to other trees and the situation is impossible to correct through pruning.
  • is to be replaced by a more suitable specimen.
  • should be removed to allow for construction.

Treating the Problem

There are many ways to treat pest and disease problems, and damaged trees can often be salvaged with a quick response. But if the problem is great enough and the tree is creating a hazardous situation, you may need to consider removing the tree. Although tree removal is a last resort, there are circumstances when it is necessary. An arborist can help decide whether a tree should be removed and remove it safely and efficiently.

With proper maintenance, trees are attractive and can add considerable value to your property. Poorly maintained trees, on the other hand, can be a significant liability. Pruning or removing trees, especially large trees, can be dangerous work. It should only be performed by those trained and equipped to work safely in trees. For more information on mature tree care, contact your local ISA Certified Arborist, garden center, county extension agent, or city arborist.

See our pages on insects and diseases and tree damage for more specific information on these types of problems.

Some of the information on this page was provided by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), a not-for-profit organization supporting tree care research around the world and dedicated to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees.