How to Identify a Healthy Tree: 6 Things You Need to Know

To know when a tree is sick, you have to know how to identify a healthy tree! This post takes a look at six indicators of a healthy tree.

If you’ve ever planted a tree, you know there can be a lot of homework involved. From assessing your property and climate to choosing a species based on water, pruning, and fertilization requirements, the research isn’t easy.

Even if you’ve done everything right and chosen the perfect tree for your environment and lifestyle, trees can still become sick. Here are 6 things you’ll notice on a healthy tree.

One Central Leader

parts of a tree

The central leader is the vertical stem at the top of the tree trunk.

Most landscape trees should be pruned to have only one central leader.

This leader is critical because it adds strength and stability to the tree structure.

The central leader also creates an upright and straight appearance. 

If your tree has more than one central leader, it may eventually split.

Split trees leave a “wound,” allowing for insects or diseases to take up residence in your beautiful tree. 

There are exceptions to this “rule,” though. Fruit trees often thrive with more than one leader.

Topiary or bonsai trees also do well with more than one leader, as they are pruned and trained to take on particular growth patterns. 

While we’re talking about trees, you may want to read some of our other recent article:

Observable Yearly Growth

measure tree growth california

Healthy trees produce new growth every year. This new growth should occur on both the trunk and branches.

You can inspect progress yearly by observing the distance between the current season’s buds and last year’s buds.

Last year’s buds will leave evidence of their presence by scars on the branch.

Each species has its own determined appropriate growth– a local garden center can assist you in understanding your specific tree varieties.

To help you, we’ve created a list of some of the most common trees here in California.

We’ve all observed the age of a tree by looking at growth rings inside the trunk.

This trick doesn’t help you when it comes to a healthy tree, however, because you aren’t going to cut it down to observe those amazing rings!

Because a healthy tree’s trunk will expand in thickness each year, you can use a tape measure to assess tree trunk growth from year to year. Even small measures of growth can be indicators of a healthy tree. 

Living Branches

Dead or broken branches need to be pruned yearly, as soon as they appear. Leaving dead branches invites insects and diseases to overtake your tree.

You can test suspect branches by scraping them with your thumbnail. If the branch is alive, the area you scratched will be green underneath. Dead branches will be brown under the scratched area. 

Another way to test the branches is to bend them. If they easily bend, the branch is still living.

Dead branches snap under pressure. 

Healthy Bark and Trunk 

tree trunk damage insect california

Tree bark should not be loose or peeling, unless that’s normal for that particular species (birch, eucalyptus, maple, for example).

Bark should also be free of fungi or moss. 

Be careful to avoid damaging your tree’s trunk when using garden tools nearby.

A nick or gouge to the trunk can leave a wound open for insects and/or disease to take over. If your tree has substantial cracks or holes, cover them with a tree guard. 

Full, No Bare Patches

Evergreen trees can develop bare patches, or areas free of needles.

Pay attention to these areas, as they can be indicative of: lack of nutrients, lack of water, animal damage, poor pruning, pesticide damage, insect infiltration, or disease.

Deciduous trees, however, grow their leaves in the spring, shed them in the fall, and sit bare all winter long.

This type of “bare patch” is completely normal and should be no cause for alarm. 

Healthy Leaf Characteristics

Leaves are a great indicator of tree health.

Leaves should be the correct color for the season. In evergreens this means year-round green needles. For deciduous trees this involves green leaves in spring and summer, and yellow, orange, or red in autumn. 

unhealthy tree leaf california

If you notice yellow or variegated leaves on your tree, pay attention.

Unless your tree is a species that naturally produces this type of leaves, this can be an indication the tree is not getting or retaining enough water or nutrients.

Leaves should not be stunted (undersized) or shaped irregularly. These can be signs of nutrient deficiencies, insect or pesticide damage, or disease. 

Recognizing Disease

One central leader, observable yearly growth, living branches, healthy bark/trunk, no bare patches, and healthy leaves are six great indicators of a healthy tree.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to know some telltale signs of disease when it comes to your tree(s).

Warning signs of insect infiltration or disease can include: visible insects, fruit trees lacking fruit or flowers, leaf distortion, holes in bark, irregular growth on the branches, and oozing sap on evergreens. 

Be wary of wilting leaves and drooping stems.

These can indicate a watering issue (too much or too little) or a sun issue (too much in some species).

Wilting can be a sign of over fertilization or a root bound tree, as well. 

To maintain the health of your trees, consider regular tree service from Pacific Garden Landscaping.

We can help maintain proper growth and health for your trees, keep your trees trimmed safely, and add visual appeal to your property.

You can contact us or request a quote here, or complete the form below. We’d love to hear from you! 

Paradise Is Possible

Contact our landscaping team today for an honest and accurate quote for your next landscaping project.

Paradise Is Possible

Contact our landscaping team today for an honest and accurate quote for your next landscaping project.