Is My Tree Dead or Dormant? [Determining the Difference]

December 12, 2022

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Are you a homeowner wondering, “Is my tree dead or dormant?” This is a vital question, as you should remove a dead tree from your property to protect soil conditions and avoid having that outright tree fall and risk property damage. However, a dormant tree can often be returned to health, making it vibrant and green once again!

is my tree dead or dormant

The best way to answer the question, “Is my tree dead or dormant?” is to review vital information about tree health, including when it goes dormant and if a dead tree can be revived. You might also note signs that a tree is beyond saving and when it might be time to call a tree removal service near you. This information ensures you know when to cut down a dead tree while preserving a dormant or otherwise salvageable growth.

Is My Tree Dead or Dormant?

One of the best ways to tell if a tree is dormant is with the “snap-scratch” test. Find a pencil-sized twig at the end of a branch and push it back firmly at its base. If the twig snaps in two and looks and feels dry outside and inside, it’s most likely dead.

If you push back the twig and it feels somewhat pliable and rubbery, the tree may simply be dormant. You can also scratch the twig with a fingernail or small knife; if it’s green and soft under the bark, the tree is probably only dormant and not dead. However, if the twig starts to crumble and reveals brown wood under the bark, it is probably over.

One important note; the twig test isn’t always accurate for the entire tree! A branch or section of the tree might die due to infestation, disease, lightning strikes, and other damage while the tree itself is still salvageable. Pruning those dead branches away can help the tree return to health and make room for new, healthy branches.

Is a Tree Dead If It Has No Leaves?

One common sign of a dead tree is that it has no leaves! Conversely, lush, healthy leaves are a sign of tree health; if a tree loses all its leaves or leaves along one side, this typically indicates that the tree is dead or is in the process of dying.

If you notice that your tree has lost all or most of its leaves, and especially if you see the tree losing its bark, it’s vital you call an arborist or tree service near you as soon as possible. In some cases, the tree is salvageable; insect repellants, better soil hydration, pruning, and removing pollution sources might allow the tree to thrive again. However, if the tree is dead and beyond saving, you’ll want to schedule tree removal as quickly as possible.

Can a Tree Go Dormant for a Year?

Plants, including trees, can go dormant for a year or other short period and then return to health on their own. Vegetation might go dormant due to a sudden or unexpected change in weather; if you’ve had a particularly long, bitter winter, for example, a tree might go dormant as a defense mechanism, preserving nutrients and moisture and slowing its growth during those cold months.

Stress can also cause a tree to go dormant for a year. As with a bitter winter, an overly hot summer can stress a tree so that it goes dormant to save moisture. Improper pruning methods might also choke a tree, robbing it of oxygen and sunshine. If a tree is simply dormant, whatever the cause, it will typically come out of this state and thrive as soon as soil and weather conditions are healthy.

dormant tree on property

At What Temperature Does a Tree Go Dormant?

Trees thrive in different weather conditions and temperature variations as with other plants. For example, you rarely see palm trees thrive in icy environments while growing quite well in the tropics! Knowing that various tree species thrive or go dormant in different weather conditions can help you better understand why trees go dormant at multiple temperatures.

On average, trees in the northern hemisphere can withstand temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 straight days before they start dormant. If you’re concerned about a specific tree on your property, check online for the best weather conditions for that species to thrive and what might cause it to go dormant.

tree in winter


Note, too, that the seeds of trees are different than the tree itself. Some seeds need a cold period for the seed to germinate and its outer layer to crack, so the seed can drop; others need intense heat for an outer cone around the seed to crack. If you’re worried about your tree becoming dormant or wonder why it’s not dropping seeds, call an arborist to have soil and weather conditions checked and note if that tree is still healthy or needs treatment and pruning.  

Can a Dead Tree Come Back to Life?

With hard work and proper care, it is possible to revive a sick or dying tree. Pruning dead limbs can increase sunshine and oxygen circulation, and treating root rot helps protect a tree from dying. Your property’s soil might also need better drainage, and treating the tree for termite infestation or other such pests helps protect it as well.

However, an outright dead tree cannot come back to life. Therefore, if a tree on your property is dead rather than sick and dying, it’s best to remove it. Dead trees are at risk of falling branches or outright collapse, which can damage property below and even cause physical injury to anyone in the area! Dead trees can also detract from your property’s appearance and attract termites and other pests which can then make their way to your home.

How Long Will Dead Tree Stay Standing?

Once a tree dies it’s at risk of falling branches or of collapsing outright, as said. Considering this danger to you and your property, it’s vital that you schedule tree removal on your property as soon as you notice a dead tree, or if a tree is dying and you have no interest in trying to save and revive it.

While immediate tree removal is best, note that a dead tree will stay standing just 1 to 2 years, on average. It’s overall strength and size, soil and weather conditions, and other such factors affect its stability. Some trees might lose limbs before simply falling, while others might outright collapse. To avoid this risk, don’t wait for that 1 to 2 window to start closing before scheduling tree removal but have it cut down as soon as you notice a severe health problem.

Is My Citrus Tree Dead or Dormant?

is my citrus tree dead or dormant

Homeowners often wonder if a citrus tree is dead or dormant when it doesn’t produce fruit, produces shriveled fruit, or otherwise doesn’t thrive as expected. One vital tip to keep in mind is that citrus trees don’t go dormant like other trees! If your tree is struggling to survive or thrive, it’s imperative you tend to it as needed or else it is likely to die away.

Citrus trees grow best in warmer climates, which is why you often find them in southern states or along eastern coastal states, where weather is warm and the sun shines almost year-round! Citrus trees are sometimes a bit more delicate than other trees, and how you care for them can affect their growth cycle and health. Smaller trees should be moved indoors during winter, and offered as much light and warmth as possible throughout the day.

To ensure your outdoor citrus trees thrive, practice proper pruning techniques. Wait until after the harvest season, typically early winter or spring, and prune only overgrown or decaying branches. Keep the growth of citrus trees to about 8 to 10 feet, and ensure it doesn’t become overgrown with too many thick branches that cut off sunlight and air circulation. Cut branches as close to the trunk as possible, at a 45-degree angle rather than directly vertical, to avoid splitting and damaging bark.

How to Ensure the Health of a Tree

Once you’ve determined that your trees is not dead but only dormant, you’ll want to maintain its overall health. Your first step is to measure its growth; even trees that are decades old should still be growing, albeit slightly! Make a small mark on the trunk with outdoor paint or chalk and measure the girth of the tree at that mark every year, and note if it shows expansion. Even a small bit of growth indicates a healthy tree.

Trunk health is vital for tree health. Protect the tree’s trunk by avoiding nicks and bruises; don’t allow children to bounce toys against it, and be careful of getting too close with weed trimmers and lawnmowers.

Bark is also vital for a tree’s health, as it protects the tree against harsh weather and keeps in moisture. If you notice missing bark in a small location around the tree trunk, this can indicate wildlife nibbling away at it or other such damage. Wrap the tree in a protective shield as needed, to keep it protected from damage and keep wildlife away.

Also, ensure you're not overwatering the tree, as this can cause it to die and impact the health of the tree.

arborists completing a tree inspection for health

Arborists Can Be Your Tree Health Partners!

The last tip you might consider is having an arborist inspect your tree every year or so, to check for signs of disease and infestation. An arborist knows how to examine leaves and branches and evaluate their health, and can spot indications of pest infestation, root rot, fungi, and disease. He or she can also tell you if your tree is dead or dormant, and how to bring it back to life versus when it’s time to simply cut down that tree and remove it from your property.

This information has been proudly brought to you by SRQ Tree Care & Removal Service. If you’re still wondering, “Is my tree dead or dormant,” or if you know a tree on your property needs removal, give us a call! SRQ Tree Care & Removal Service offers a full line of tree care services including trimming and pruning, insect treatment, and removal. To keep your property looking its best and reduce the risk of damage from dead and fallen trees, call the pros at SRQ Tree Care & Removal Service today. We often recommend tree pruning & trimming for tree care services in Sarasota to our clients in order to maintain the health of your trees!


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