Can My Tree be Saved?

I get this question a lot. The customer knows they have a sick tree but have been unsure of what to do or just all of a sudden noticed that the tree was sick or that it didn’t look right once spring came. And in Sioux Falls, the varying weather and seasons can often make things change quickly.

The answer is complicated. No two trees are alike and a lot of what I can do to save a sick or dying tree will depend on when in the decline process I get to see it. The trees I usually can save are those that just started to look bad. The ones I can’t are the ones with dead tops or have been sick for a year or more. But again, that all still depends on what is making the tree sick.

The biggest thing I can say to tree owners is to catch it early and to focus on constant care in order to keep the tree healthy. Having said that, there are some common signs of sick trees and what I can do as a tree health care specialist to save the tree from the firewood pile.

Sick looking

First off, there are a number of fungi and insects that attacks leaves all summer long that make the tree not look all that healthy, but are generally nothing to be concerned about.

For example, Apple Scab on crabapples, apples, and other fruit of ornamental flowering trees. It will happen almost every year to a Spring Snow crabapple and on certain years to all apple and crabapple trees. But as long as its not a severe case for years in a row, its of little health concern to the tree.

Apple scab infections on crabapple leaves.

Apple scab infections on crabapple leaves.








Leaf color

Leaves that don’t look that normal green color is a sure fire red flag that something isn’t right. There are a variety of issues that could be going on depending on species, but more often than not, its a sign of the start of a major problem. Now there are some varieties of trees that are supposed to have off colored leaves, but those are rare and every leaf will look the same versus only some of the leaves.

This goes for needles on spruce and pine as well. If the needles don’t look like the others on the tree it can be a sign of a problem.

Most tree health issues that start or cause off colored leaves are usually correctable. Iron chlorosis is a common issue in Sioux Falls that causes yellow leaves, but just because the leaves are chlorotic doesn’t necessarily mean its iron chlorosis.

Iron Chlorosis in silver maple.

Iron Chlorosis in silver maple.









Die back

Whole dead limbs or the tips of any part of the tree is a major sign of a health issue. Especially dieback or dead tips at the very top of the tree. Sometimes, if caught early, the issue can be fixed if its an insect issue. But not always.

There are two common reasons for dieback, but really, the reasons can be endless. One is insect related such as bronze birch borer in paper birch or emerald ash borer in ash trees. In those cases, if caught within the first year or two, the problem is treatable with the proper timing of insecticides. The other reason is from a type of root system stress. Sometimes fixable, but if caught early generally a better chance of saving the tree.

Dieback of major limbs.

Dieback of major limbs.










Treating and correcting tree health issues can be done. I often have great success with my clients and the trees I get called to. However, I don’t usually select or recommend trees that have started down, what we call, ‘death spiral’.

A common thread I start with my clients while giving them the information they need to make a decision on whether or not to try and save a trees is to help them remember that trees are plants and are living, growing beings. I try and temper expectations that there is no guarantee that any treatments will work or that the tree will live. There are too many variables that are out of my control to provide such comforts. Having said that, as long as I follow the treatment protocols that are science based and within the parameters of reasonableness, as well as provide all the necessary information to the client of the process, the majority of the time the tree can recover and thrive on longer.

Finally, there is this to consider. In urban areas, it is a rare instance, but trees do not, and cannot live forever. Although they can be amazingly long lived, they do have a terminal lifespan. In some instances with mature old trees, it may just be their time.


Lastly, what I will say on this topic is this; Your best defense against having healthy and thriving trees in your landscape is to keep the trees healthy. Be proactive rather than reactive. Its just like with your health, the better you take care of your body, the healthier you will be. Sure, there may be the occasional cold, but your far more likely to stave off the major health problems.