Skip to Content

6 Clear Ways to Tell If Your Arborvitae Is Dying

6 Clear Ways to Tell If Your Arborvitae Is Dying

Share this post:

Disclaimer: Some links found on this page might be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, I might earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

The arborvitae is a coniferous tree and is quite popular in many countries. It is an evergreen tree that can grow all the way up to 200 feet. It has a stringy texture, with a bark that is usually a shade of red or brown.

The shoots of the tree are relatively flat, and it makes for a pretty great addition to any garden. If you have been thinking of adding some trees to your garden, the arborvitae is an excellent addition.

But, like all other trees, the arborvitae is also going to require a considerable amount of care and attention on your part. You will need to make sure that you properly care for the tree, and make sure that you observe any signs that might indicate that the tree is suffering.

You need to understand that trees are incredibly valuable to the environment, but they also require care.

Most trees are quite resilient and will do quite well as long as their basic needs are met, but if you are able to notice the signs of a dying tree, you can do something about it.

There are some pretty obvious signs that indicate problems with the arborvitae. In some cases, these problems might prove to be severe, and the tree could eventually succumb to its death.

Here are a few ways to tell if your arborvitae is dying.

1 – The Bark Turns Brittle and Brown and Starts Cracking

Closeup of Browning Arborvitae

The tree might begin to die from the bottom up, and the most obvious sign is a change in the texture of the bark.

As the tree begins to die, the bark will become quite loose, and will start to fall off of the tree. You will notice vertical cracks appearing on the bark, or certain sections might be missing altogether.

This is arguably the clearest sign that your arborvitae is in danger and requires you to take action. Steps need to be taken to identify the problem and then resolve it.

You need to look for deep, internal splits that might appear in the bark, and may extend all the way to the cavities. More importantly, you should know that the appearance of cracks is also going to make the plant weaker, and ultimately, it may fall during a harsh weather event or a storm.

2 – Lack of Healthy Leaves

Browning Arborvitae

Another clear sign that your tree is dying is when it starts losing all of its healthy leaves.

Being a coniferous tree, you should know that the arborvitae has lush green leaves that grow all around it. If you notice empty branches and cracked twigs with clear patches appearing in the middle, then this is a sign that your tree is dying.

You will also notice dead leaves still clinging to the plant, despite the fact that winter might have ended. Another clear indication that the plant is dying is when you begin to see yellow, brown, or red needles appearing on the branches.

This is a clear sign that the plant is stressed or about to die.

3 – Excessive Amounts of Deadwood

A couple of dead branches or bits and pieces of dead wood isn’t a problem. But, if you notice excessive amounts of dead wood appearing on the tree, you might want to consider taking a closer look.

If the amount of deadwood increases on the tree, you might want to consider hiring an arborist and figuring out exactly what’s wrong with the plant.

The worrying part about this is that a dead tree can fall at any point in time, so you might want to have it removed from your property.

4 – Fungus and Pests

Another sign that your tree is dying is when it becomes heavily infested by pests and fungus. Common kinds of pests such as bark beetles and the carpenter ants prefer to live in trees.

However, healthy trees are able to ward them off, but if your plant gets heavily infested with carpenter ants or other kinds of pests or fungus, it’s a clear sign that your plant has been infested.

Another common infection is the Cankers disease. If the plant gets infested with the Cankers disease, it’s a clear sign that your plant is rotting.

The decay is only going to extend further with the passage of time, so you need to make sure that you take action as quickly as possible.

5 – Foot Damage

Brown Arborvitae

You need to understand that the roots of coniferous trees tend to run underground.

If there was any recent construction work done on your property, you might want to consider taking a close look at the tree. There is a pretty high chance that the health of the tree might be affected as a result.

Even subtle changes usually indicate signs of soil stress, and may affect the quality of the roots. Foot damage is easy to spot, because the roots will begin to appear above the ground, indicating that the plant is tilting toward one side or maybe the roots are not being properly embedded in the plant.

6 – Scratch Test

Checking the cambium layer of the plant is a great way to figure out whether it is in a healthy condition or not. The cambium layer is right underneath the dry layer on top of the bark.

All you need to do is take a pocket knife and then strip out the outer layer of the bark. If the cambium layer is green, the tree still has life inside. On the other hand, if the bark is dry on the inside, it’s a clear sign that the tree is dying.

If you find out that the plant is dying, you might want to take action right away. There’s still hope for dying trees as long as you hire an arborist and take the right steps. The arborist is going to inspect the tree and then determine whether the tree is in dire condition.

These are just a few signs that will tell you whether the tree is dying or not.

Before you go: Now is the perfect time to start tracking your gardening progress, and I created a garden journal to do exactly that. Click the image below to see it in action and to get your own copy.

Share this post:

Cathy Curatalo

Monday 10th of April 2023

My shipped Arborviatal is turning white in the branches. Looks like it's dying. What do I need to do to save it?

Marty Cook

Sunday 30th of October 2022

can a bleeding heart plant, planted next to arborvitae, kill the arborvitae? I have 5 Arborvitae planted in a row, I have roses planted inbetween some of them, but I planted a bleeding heart plant next to one and it died this summer. could there be a connection? Thank You

Stephens Terri

Sunday 31st of July 2022

I have had Thuja Green Ginats for several years now, and they have mostly been healthy. However, a couple of years ago, in the middle of one of my lines, I lost two of them-side by side. They just turned yellow, then brown, then dark red to dead. We pulled them up and planted new in its place, now they are healthy looking. We never did figure out what happened. Now on another line, the same thing is happening to 3 in a row, in a week's time they have changed dramatically. They are next to a Black Walnut tree, could they be fighting for nutrients? (The other time, there was no competing tree). Also, we have moles everywhere on our acreage, could they be killing the trees at the root level? Are they savable, if this is the case? Please advise. Thank you.


Monday 1st of August 2022

Hello, It's possible that moles could cause some damage to the roots while tunneling, but they wouldn't eat the roots and probably wouldn't kill the arborvitae. However, I would check for damage to the trunk (from other animals or digging, etc) or signs of pests. Other causes of a dying arborvitae are things like strong winds, heat, too little water, or root rot.

Best of luck! Lisa