Why The Top of My Tree is Dead and the Bottom Is Still Alive

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Normally, when you plant a tree, it is the joy of the planter to see your plant bloom in due time and follow a sequential growth pattern and remain green all the time.  However, certain circumstances can affect the growth of a plant and, its color and appearance, like the temperature, wind, flood, sunlight, gardening services, and so on. Worse, your tree may be dying right in front of your eyes without knowing it until you may not be able to revive it.

How do I identify a dying or dead tree?

Sometimes without the help of a professional, you may not be able to identify a dying or dead plant. Here are some ways to know if your tree is dying or dead;

The Leaves

You can know if your tree is dying if, at the expected time, it still hasn't sprouted leaves, for example, if by August, your tree hasn't grown leaves then the tree has a problem. To know if your tree is alive during winter, watch out for tree buds that grow on the branches. Tree buds may be difficult to spot but you'd see them if you look more closely and they are often formed on the ends of the branches, if you can't find them, your tree may be dead.

Although evergreen trees could be different because they have green leaves all through the year, the needles close to the trunk would fall out. If this is not so, and the evergreen foliages or needles are turning brown at the end of the branches then your tree may be dying.














The Branches

If you see more than one branch with a dying tip, and these branches form a canopy then your tree is stressed and experiencing a health decline. A dead branch or two does not mean your plant is dying, it is part of a tree's life cycle but if these branches are multiple and large, something is wrong. You can test for life in your trees by twisting a twig in your fingers, if this twig bends easily between two fingers then your tree is alive but it breaks easily then your plant may be dead. However, ensure that you try this on more than one area so that you're not testing only one part that is dead. Also, you can scratch the bark of the tree, if you see green underneath, your plant is alive. You can use both forms of testing on smaller and younger trees because for a large tree that is probably a hundred years old, finding multiple dead branches or twigs does not mean it is dead.

The Trunk

If the bark of the trunk of a tree is peeling off and not a species trait it indicates that there's a problem. If you spot signs of rotting around the trunk, not necessarily a hollow, because hollow trunks don't mean a dying plant, then the rot means your plant is dying.

The Roots

For you to determine if your plant is dying from the roots, there are quite a few signs. Firstly, the growth of mushrooms around your root area means your tree root is rotting. You can also know, if the root of your tree is lifting off the soil, not as in the case of surface growth but the seeing that your roots are separating themselves from the ground. It can mean tree destabilization too but essentially it needs to be removed.

If the tree is dead, should I remove it?

Removing a dead tree is not important, except it could be hazardous to lives and properties if it falls. Dead trees play a significant part in the ecosystem, they are habitats for birds, bats, squirrels, and other little animals.














Why the top of your tree is dead but the bottom is still alive

A tree could be dying from the top to bottom due to many reasons which include;

Root Stress:

A plant needs to maintain a balance both at the top and at the root for it to flourish, if the root of your plant is stressed, the sign may start to show from the top. The common cause of root stress includes new construction like buildings, roads, near trees, soil compaction, root girdling which is when roots wrap around the base of the tree and restrict the sap flow. Roots girdling often occurs in transferred plants grown in a container at the nursery but planted too deep in a permanent area.


If there's no enough water, a plant could start to die from the top. You need to ensure that your tree plant has enough water often. Make sure that your plant's base gets a good soaking with water up to twelve inches deep by pouring water till you see a runoff then you pause and start again once it is soaked into the ground, keep watering until you get your twelve inches soaked.


Sometimes insects, bark beetles like, bronch birch borers and emerald ash borers are the cause of your tree dying from the top. Look around for them in the tree trunk and branches, the presence of woodpeckers would likely mean the presence of these beetles.

Lack of adequate soil or soil texture:

Thin and inadequate soil is a soil problem that can cause the death of plants. Inadequate soil can not provide adequate stability and nutrients for your tree to be healthy. In case of a rocky or sandy soil texture, which cannot hold enough water.


If you planted your tree close to a lawn, be careful of using fertilizers with herbicide contents. These weed control chemicals can enter into the root and cause harm to your roots which can lead to the rot of your plant.

How to save your tree from dying

You need to identify why your tree is dying and if, for any reason from the above, you can take these actions;

In case of drought, you must ensure that your plant doesn't lack water even during dry seasons with less rainfall. Also mulching the soil around your root will let evaporation occur more slowly and helps to retain soil moisture.

Treat your soil, although you may need to contact an arborist for a soil test, treatment, and recommendations or you can also test it yourself by getting a kit.

Use insecticides to control the presence of insects. Often insect infestation is caused by an existing condition and the tree is already dying, after using insecticides you can now work on the other factors.