Understanding Tree Decay: Identification, Prevention, and Treatment

Trees are towering giants of resilience, capable of withstanding prolonged droughts, storms, and other natural calamities—but they’re not invincible.

As one of the go-to tree removal experts in Santa Rosa, we have seen numerous cases of tree decay and its disastrous effects. Keep reading to learn how to spot, halt, and even reverse the damage in your precious trees.

tree decay

What is Tree Decay?

Fungi, bacteria, and other harmful microorganisms can breach a tree’s protective barriers and reach its vulnerable interior. They wreak havoc on healthy cells, disrupt the uptake of nutrients, and ultimately promote rotting. 

Visible signs of decay include the following:

  • Fruiting fungal bodies growing on the tree
  • Damaged or missing bark
  • Sunken looking spots
  • Leaning trunk
  • Branch or foliage dieback
  • Changes in leaf appearance
  • Breaking or splitting branches
  • Musty odors
  • Frass or sawdust-like material near the tree

Decay Prevention in Trees

Unfortunately, tree decay is a sneaky and silent killer. That’s why the old adage “Prevention is better than cure” rings especially true in the case of your trees. 

Consider implementing the following strategies to save your trees a lot of suffering:

Regular Inspections

Occasionally, stroll around your landscape to familiarize yourself with the natural state of your trees. This allows you to easily notice deviations from the norm and nip potential problems in the bud. You’d be amazed at what you can spot with a keen eye and a basic understanding of tree health.


While trees can generally thrive without human intervention, the occasional boost doesn’t hurt. Consider fertilizing your trees to ramp up their nutrient intake, bolster their immune system, and increase their resistance to decay. Start with organic options, like compost or manure, before exploring stronger chemical alternatives. 


Supplemental watering can help during prolonged periods of drought or hot weather. Water deeply up to the drip line—the outer edge of the tree’s canopy—to give the roots adequate hydration.

Avoid Damaging the Bark

A tree’s hardy outer shell can generally ward off invasions, but a wound serves as a doorway for decay-causing pathogens. From overzealous pruning to accidental machinery damage, serious injuries could compromise the tree’s defenses. Always treat your trees with a gentle hand and caution.

Bonus Fact: The Power of Compartmentalization

Just as we have an immune system that springs into action in the face of disease, trees have their own defense mechanism—compartmentalization. It’s a fascinating process where a plant isolates the damaged or decayed section to prevent the spread of disease. 

Severe cases of decay can overwhelm this natural defense, but actions like cutting off diseased branches can seal off the problem and save the tree!

Seek an Arborist Evaluation Today for Healthier Trees!

Do you suspect decay has infiltrated one of your trees? Don’t play the guessing game; the veteran crew at Empire Tree Experts can give you definitive answers about tree decay prevention. We can provide everything from an internal tree decay investigation to emergency removals for structurally compromised cases. 

Call Empire Tree Experts at (707) 521-2151 today. Otherwise, explore our blog for answers and tips, such as the signs of a falling tree.

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