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How to Tell If My Arborvitae Is Dying (3 Clear Signs)

How to Tell If My Arborvitae Is Dying (3 Clear Signs)

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The reason arborvitae trees are so popular around the world is how hardy they are. They can withstand extreme temperatures and weather conditions, from moderate droughts to ice and snow. So, what’s the catch? Well, they need to settle in first!

Most new arborvitaes die in the first year of being placed in their new home due to transplant shock. This is one of the main issues that homeowners face when getting acquainted with the evergreen tree.

Once you get past that first year successfully, arborvitae can be an incredibly zero-effort tree, growing up to two feet per year. However, depending on the climate of the region, it can also suffer when multiple stressors happen at the same time like frost coupled with strong wind.

In this article, we’ll shed light on how to tell if an arborvitae is dying. We’ll also go into details on what causes arborvitae to die.

How to Tell If Your Arborvitae Is Dying

Trees can have a damaged branch or two here and there and still thrive for years to come. They can also get a little exhausted from weather conditions like extreme heat or lack of nutrients and recover once these conditions are changed.

On the flip side, a tree can face critical issues that it may not recover from without intentional or even specialized help. So, how can you diagnose your arborvitae tree to know if it’s dying?

1 – Going Completely Brown

Dying Arborvitaes

The most glaring sign that your arborvitae is dying is its leaves turning brown. Now, we’re not talking about a few branches or the inner needles going brown; it’s more like whole sections or even the whole tree going brown.

This is a sure sign that your tree is drying out fast, and it could happen in either poles of extreme weather. More commonly known as winter burn, winter desiccation occurs when the soil around the roots freeze entirely for an extended amount of time.

When the soil is frozen, the roots can’t get enough water up to the leaves. Coupled with strong sunlight or wind, these conditions can be fatal for your tree. This can also happen during the drought season or due to extremely dry wind.

If the whole tree has gone brown, it’s not very likely to recover, though it may be possible. Wait until the end of spring to see if it gets any new growth before you consider removing it.

2 – Tree Trunk Splitting

Arborvitae Tree Trunk Splitting

This is another type of damage that can happen due to extreme cold. Arborvitae is a very adaptable tree, but smaller, thinner trees tend to have a hard time fighting off storms, and arborvitae is no different.

Extreme winds, heavy snow, ice, or rain can all push an arborvitae tree beyond its limits and crack its branches. This can be a somewhat easy fix if your tree was split near the outermost branches or the top part of the trunk.

Remove split branches as soon as you see them as they might end up damaging the trunk itself. If the split happened closer to the base of the tree, it’s more likely to be a death sentence for your tree. A split trunk won’t survive another storm and will be very sensitive to strong wind.

Prevention is the best cure for splits. There are lots of ways you can prevent splitting, including choosing a split-resistant variety of arborvitae or having single-leader trees. You should also plant arborvitae in an area that has some protection from the wind if possible.

If you already have an arborvitae that’s prone to splitting, you can prevent it by tying the branches to their main trunk. Another important task is to brush off the snow as soon as possible.

A split trunk can be salvaged by bolting the two sides back together or by using a cable support system. However, this is a delicate process that can easily kill the tree. If you have a split arborvitae, it’s a good idea to have a specialized arborist handle it instead.

3 – Bark Damage or Decay

Arborvitae Bark Damage

Healthy bark is essential to the livelihood of a tree. The bark is the skin of trees, and having damaged bark is just like having a missing patch of skin on humans; it promotes diseases and makes the circulation of nutrients in that area impossible.

There’s a myriad of reasons tree bark may be damaged. Pests, splits, accidents with a lawnmower, rodents, or other animals can all cause life-threatening damage to the tree.

Identifying the cause and extent of the bark damage is integral to finding the right solution, so we won’t be going into much detail. However, it’s important to understand that if one spot is damaged, the area above that spot, all the way to the top of the tree and branches, won’t be getting any nutrients.

This means that if the bark damage goes all the way around the circumference of the tree, it 100% needs a specialist and is most likely not going to survive.

Final Thoughts

Healthy arborvitae can live anywhere between 25 and 100 years and can grow to be 200 feet tall depending on their species. They’re hardy conifers that can maintain their green all year long. But like any other plant, this depends entirely on the environment they’re growing in.

While some arborvitae owners don’t need to pay them any attention, a lot of homeowners and hobbyist gardeners can never seem to keep arborvitae alive in their backyard.

This may simply be caused by the soil in their area or the climate in their region, but it’s most likely due to weak roots.

If you can relate to this issue and every arborvitae you plant starts dying soon after, you may need an arborist to make sure your tree survives the transition. They will also help you identify the problem that has killed your trees before.


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