Is my red dog wood tree dead ?

Asked September 27, 2020, 7:17 PM EDT

Is my red dog wood tree dead ? It lost all of its leaves and the branches seam to be dead but new leaves are growing on the main trunk can you please tell me if it is dead or if it is still alive and what to do please and thank you

Jefferson County West Virginia

1 Response

Your tree is not dead, but suffering greatly. With this much dieback I suspect a problem with the root system. From the image I do not see a root flare which suggests it was either planted too deeply or the soil around it was disturbed.

It is not common knowledge that most tree roots live in the top 6-8 inches of soil. Tree roots compete with nutrients, water, and space with lawns and flowers. Often annual flowering borders around trees do significant harm to root systems and should be avoided. This is especially true if tillers are used to prepare the area. I advise flower lovers to choose perennials that require small soil disturbances (such as bulbs or very small starts).

Additionally, pull the mulch away from the trunk so you can see where the tree connects to the soil. While mulch is excellent at managing soil moisture, it also keeps the bark of trees moist making them soft and vulnerable to attack from insects, pathogens, and rodents. Keep at least 6 inches of open area around the stem of the tree.

Also, dig down around the trunk to see if you can find where the roots attach. If it is more than 1 inch below the soil level and the tree was planted recently (in the past year or two) it will help the tree to gently dig it out (after the leaves have changed and fallen) and raise it up higher. The root flare should be just above the soil surface. If you take this step, while you have the tree out of the soil, make sure there are no roots curling back around themselves. If there are prune them off like you would a twig before replanting. Also be sure all planting materials have been removed (burlap, twine, etc.). The tree should then be watered weekly (if no rain) until the soil freezes.

This site has a great publication called the tree owners manual that I recommend downloading.