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6 Clear Ways to Tell If Your Arborvitae Is Dying

6 Clear Ways to Tell If Your Arborvitae Is Dying

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Oh no, is your arborvitae tree looking droopy and sad? Have its once lush green needles started to turn brown? Don’t panic; your arborvitae may just need some TLC.

In this quick guide, I’ll be highlighting a few signs that will help you diagnose whether or not your arborvitae is dying so that you can take appropriate action. 

Let’s jump right into it! 

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 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, even though 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 carpenter ants prefer to live in trees.

However, healthy trees can 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 over 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 tree 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.

Tips for Caring for an Ailing Arborvitae

If, in fact, your arborvitae is dying, there are a few things you can do to try and bring it back it back to life, namely: 

  • Consult an Arborist: The first thing you want to do is reach out to an arborist for professional advice. They’ll inspect your tree, diagnose the problem, and provide insights on how to deal with it.
  • Improve Drainage: Arborvitae prefer well-drained soil. If the soil is soggy, it can lead to root rot. Installing drainage pipes or trenches to pull excess moisture away from the root zone will help. Raising the soil level around the trunk will also help. 
  • Eliminate Pests: Use an appropriate insecticide to eliminate pests such as spider mites, bagworms, carpenter ants, and bark beetles. 
  • Water Slowly and Deeply: Drought stress is a leading killer of arborvitae. To prevent it, you need to water slowly and deeply around the root zone during dry periods. 
  • Prune Carefully: Damaged, diseased, or dead branches should be pruned back to healthy wood. Avoid heavy pruning, as it can stress the tree even further. 

Final Thoughts

Arborvitae can suffer from various diseases and environmental stresses that may cause them to decline or die. Major signs to watch out for include brittle, brown, and cracking bark, fungus and pests, a lack of healthy leaves, and excessive deadwood. 

Regardless of the cause, the best course of action is to refer to an arborist. They’ll diagnose the tree and tell you exactly what needs to be done to bring it back to life.

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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