How to Spot and Prevent Tree Decay

Tree decay and tree rot can kill trees or make them extremely vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. Learn the common signs of tree decay here.

Tree decay, also known as tree rot, isn’t always easy to spot. This is because rot usually starts deep inside the tree and reaches more visible areas later. Therefore, spotting tree decay as early as possible is important if you don’t want to end up with unhealthy trees that may need to be removed or trees more vulnerable to strong winds and adverse weather.

What is tree decay?

Tree decay occurs when pathogens attack and destroy the internal structure of a tree. The pathogens can be present due to many bacteria and fungi. Some insects can carry and transmit pathogens that result in tree decay. 

What happens if tree rot is left untreated?

If left unchecked and untreated, tree decay can kill the tree, which means it should be removed. The tree decay may also weaken the tree so much that it becomes destroyed by external circumstances, such as strong winds causing it to fall. The latter may even pose a risk to your property, so it must be removed or transplanted to a safer location

What are the different stages of tree decay?

Tree decay can usually be classified into three main stages, although some academic publications use four classifications. The three basic stages of tree decay are:

  1. Incipient decay
  2. Intermediate decay
  3. Advanced decay

These three stages of tree decay can also be called white rot, brown rot and soft rot, respectively. DIY gardeners are unlikely to identify the incipient decay stage of white rot. There are further classifications to state where the decay begins or travels. The most common are Root Rot, Butt Rot, Heart Rot and Sap Rot.

For example, the fungi that cause the rot could begin in the roots or the centre (heart rot) and the decay can then spread to the tree’s trunk (butt rot). Sap rot is a secondary fungal infection.

Which trees are more susceptible to tree rot?

All trees can suffer from tree rot and tree decay. However, tree rot is more common in older trees. 

The tree’s location can increase its susceptibility to tree decay, especially trees that are stressed due to the surrounding environment. The presence of some tree diseases can also increase the tree’s susceptibility to tree rot. 

What are the common signs of tree decay?

Some of the early and common signs of tree decay are:

  • Sudden and unexpected leaning of the tree
  • Wilting leaves or leaf discolouration
  • Stunted or slower growth than usual
  • Dead branches lying on the ground near the tree
  • Trunk growths (often mushroom-like in appearance)
  • Fine sawdust appearing near the base of the tree

Many of the above only become noticeable after tree decay has spread because it works its way inside out. To identify tree decay at its earliest stages and prevent further rot, it’s advisable to speak to your local tree surgeon or arborist. They will assess your trees’ health and could prevent you from having to remove trees. 

How to treat tree decay

A qualified tree surgeon will create a bespoke tree healthcare programme to tackle tree decay. This may include new fertilisation techniques and decay management fungicides. The latter can be especially effective at delaying the spread of tree decay and extending the tree’s lifespan. 

But, like with most things, prevention is better than cure. It can also be cheaper to prevent tree decay than to remove a tree and then remove the tree stump. So how can you prevent tree rot and decay?

How to prevent tree decay

There are things you can do yourself to prevent trees from decaying. Avoid excessive moisture at the tree’s base by not placing mulch immediately adjacent. Pruning dead branches and adding phosphorous-rich fertiliser can also help. Furthermore, you should improve drainage when necessary and remove any insect infestations nearby. 

Tree health assessments in Kent

NJ Apps’ Kent arborists and tree surgeons are on hand to help you identify tree problems early. Our team can come to your home or commercial premises to complete a comprehensive tree health check – and provide solutions if necessary. Contact our team for a no-obligation free quote today!