It can be unsettling to find that a tree that is an important part of your landscape is declining in health. Whether it is just a shade tree or the tree that houses your kids' treehouse, it can feel like part of the family is dying. Before making a drastic decision to remove the tree, use the following information to diagnose the severity of the problem and to decide whether you should call in a professional for help.

Determine the Cause

The type of damage determines how likely the tree is to survive. Trees can often recover from mechanical or storm damage if at least 50 percent of the tree is intact and there are no scars that fully encircle the trunk. Minor damage may not require professional tree services, but more severe damage will need a professional to make sure that the tree recovers well and doesn't contract any diseases.

Disease and pest damage can be more difficult to survive. Often, a healthy tree can overcome a pest infestation if the pests are treated promptly. Recovering from disease depends on both the type of disease and the health of the tree. It's best to have an arborist examine the tree, because they can quickly determine what disease your tree is suffering from and whether it's curable or not.

Look for Symptoms

Some symptoms of a problem are more troubling than others. Common tree decline symptoms and their causes are:

  • Splitting trunks or lop-sided growth. This is generally caused by improper pruning or outside damage. If the trunk hasn't split completely, a professional tree trimmer may be able to save it.

  • Weak or cracking branches. Disease or pest infestation can sometimes cause the branches to weaken, as can internal decay. In some cases, weak branches are the result of improper pruning.

  • Cankers and lesions. Trees can develop sores on their trunks and branches. These may resemble areas of dead bark, or they may ooze sap or liquids. Sometimes, galls form near the lesion, which are simply visible fungal bodies. The cause of cankers are typically viral, bacterial, or fungal pathogens. An arborist will need to diagnose the exact problem before determining whether the condition is treatable.

  • Dieback. This may be the death of entire branches or of individual leaves, but it usually increases in severity. There can many causes, from water and soil issues to diseases or pests. If dieback is severe and the tree doesn't appear to be recovering, you need to have it properly diagnosed. Sometimes, simply changing your watering schedule can save a tree.

If you notice any of the above issues, your best bet is to call in a tree service provider or arborist. These conditions can indicate a more severe problem that requires prompt treatment.

Pruning Wisely

Often, homeowners unknowingly introduce disease or pest organisms to their trees. This is done via improper pruning. Your pruning saws and shears can become a conduit of unwelcome micro-organisms. If you attempt to prune a tree on your own, especially if you're cutting out deadwood, make sure you disinfect the shears or saws in a 10-percent bleach solution after every cut. If you suspect a tree of being ill, consult with an arborist before attempting to prune.

If you suspect any type of health issue with your tree, call in a professional tree service provider. Often, trees can be saved if you act quickly. In the rare instances where a tree is a lost cause, you will need the help of professionals like Darrel Emel's Tree Service to remove the tree and to make sure any diseases or pests it contained don't infect your remaining plants.