How To Save A Dying Oak Tree?

Oak trees are some of the most common trees found growing in yards and parks, and for good reason. They are very strong, tolerant trees that can withstand a variety of conditions. But what if your oak tree begins to die? Is there anything you can do to revive it? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll talk about how to save a dying oak tree. 

How Can You Tell If Your Oak Tree is Dying?

How Can You Tell If Your Oak Tree is Dying

Even if your oak tree is in trouble, you may not notice at first unless you know what symptoms to look for. Let’s discuss some of the common signs that your oak tree may be on the decline.

  • Dead branches: This is one of the most obvious signs of tree death, not only in oaks but in other trees as well. Unfortunately, it’s usually one of the last symptoms to appear, and it may be challenging to save the tree if many of the branches have died.

Though it is normal for trees to have some dead branches from time to time, these should be removed in case they are caused by rot or disease that could spread to the rest of the tree.

  • Dead patches of bark: You may notice dead or decayed areas of bark on the tree, or places where the bark has fallen off, leaving bare spots on the trunk. These are known as cankers, and they occur when a bacterium or fungus gets into the tree through open wounds.

If cankers are not treated, they will stress the tree and allow the bacterium or fungus to spread, eventually taking over the tree.

  • Structural issues: If the tree was not properly pruned from the time it was young, or if it was damaged by ice storms or severe weather, it may have a poor structure. Trees with structural issues will be much weaker than those that have the proper structure, and they will be more prone to disease, damage, and decay.

Another type of structural issue is weak or loose joints, where two branches fuse together but are weak because of the bark in between them. These weak joints could easily fall in a storm or strong wind, causing damage or injury and leaving the tree vulnerable to pests or decay.

  • Decay: You may not notice decay in your tree until it’s too late to save it; this is because decay often starts inside the tree and works its way out. Once visible signs of decay present themselves, the inside of the tree may be entirely rotted out.

Still, you may notice decay on individual branches, or you may be able to spot external signs of decay before it completely takes over your tree. Some of these signs can present as mushroom-like growths on the tree, soft spots in the trunk, or soft branches.

  • Mushrooms: There are many types of mushrooms that feed off dead or decaying trees. If you see mushrooms growing from the base of your tree, crawling along some of the branches, or protruding from the trunk, this is a sure sign that your tree is nearing the end of its life.

These are some of the main things to look for if you suspect your oak may be dying. But there can be more acute symptoms as well, such as stem bleeds and signs of insect infestation; these are discussed in the video below.

Tips to Save a Dying Oak Tree

So, now that you know what to look for, what can you do if you spot signs of death in your tree? Is there anything you can do to keep it from dying and restore its health?

Luckily, there are many things you can do. Let’s take a look at some of the best options.

Remove Decay and Dead Branches

It’s important to prune away any dead branches you find as soon as possible. Not only do they pose a threat if they break and fall, but they can spread weakness and disease to the rest of your tree.

Removing dead branches will strengthen the tree and improve its overall health. Removing areas of decay, such as soft rotting branches, will do the same.

Make sure you know and understand proper pruning techniques before beginning, and clean all your pruning instruments when you’re done so you don’t spread disease or infection the next time you use them.

Prune Living Branches Regularly

Especially when your tree is young, it’s important to make sure it grows properly to prevent structural issues later on. Even if your tree is already mature and has structural issues, proper pruning may be able to compensate for these problems and strengthen the tree.

Again, understanding proper pruning methods is important–you can’t just start lopping off random branches. Make sure and research how to prune an oak tree before you get started.

Water and Mulch, But Not Too Much

Oak trees, especially young ones, need water. At the same time, too much water can cause root rot, which may spread to the base of the tree.

The same is true of mulch. Oak trees may benefit from the use of mulch, but if you use too much of it, the mulch will suffocate the roots and hold too much water in the soil, causing the roots and the trunk base to rot.

If you get a fair amount of rain in your region, there’s no need to water your oak tree. If it is growing in a low area and water tends to run off toward the tree, you may need to put a drainage system in place to divert the water around the tree.

If you use mulch, spread only a thin layer, and make sure it is several inches away from the base of the trunk.

Use Fertilizer

A good-quality all-purpose or nitrogen fertilizer can help bring your tree back to life if it is suffering from a lack of nutrients in the soil.

You can spread the fertilizer generously beneath the canopy of the tree. Apply it directly to the ground; some fertilizers will instruct you to water it in, but this may not always be necessary. 

The best time to fertilize your tree is in the spring and fall, when higher rainfall amounts will help to disperse the fertilizer and take it down to some of the tree’s deepest roots. 

Use Fungicides or Insecticides

If fungus or insects are responsible for the damage to your tree, you can use a fungicide or insecticide spray to treat the problem at its source. 

Always follow the label on the spray, paying particular attention to the safety warnings. Use the product only as directed.

Call a Professional

A professional tree company will provide many services, including diagnostics, branch removal, and fungicide application. If you feel comfortable doing these things yourself, then there is no need to call a tree company; otherwise, leaving your tree care in the hands of professionals can save you time and hassle and may prove more effective for your tree in the long run.


There are many signs of oak tree death, including dead branches, areas of decay, and poor tree structure. Luckily, there are many things you can do to save your tree, such as removing the dead branches, applying a fungicide or insecticide, and making sure it receives the proper care.

Here are our guides on how to save / revive a maple, birch and pine tree.

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