Fungus growths root sponge on a tree stump.

Hunting for Zombie Trees!

The trees in your neighborhood may be taking on the colors of autumn, and little ghosts and goblins may be preparing to ring your doorbell. But, hopefully, one ghoulish creature will not be making any appearances at your home—the dreaded zombie tree!

Sure, the trees in your yard may not seem particularly scary, but a single zombie tree can have a frightening impact on your life and your property. They may appear alive and well, but they can pose a severe risk of falling on your home, your car, or your family!

What’s a Zombie Tree?

At a casual glance, a zombie tree looks normal. But it may be secretly suffering and slowly dying inside.

Sick or ailing trees can lose their secure grip under the soil's surface, where the root structure may be deteriorating. Or, a tree’s internal vascular system may be struggling. But, in general, trees are reasonably resilient, and it may be months or even years before the damage becomes apparent.

For example, a tree that suffered winter damage may show the first signs of trouble near the end of a hot summer season, particularly in July and August.

Zombie trees can happen anywhere and for several reasons. Common causes of tree damage include:

  • Severe weather—lightning strikes, heavy winds, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.
  • Diseases, such as root rot, oak wilt, and anthracnose.
  • Watering extremes—drought, flooding, or too much rain
  • Insect infestation or damage, including bark and pine beetles, cankerworms, and wood borers
  • Severe winter freezes that damage the vascular system
  • Heavily packed soil around the roots, potentially caused by heavy equipment

Is There a Zombie Tree on Your Property?

Don’t ignore a potential zombie tree. Early identification of a threatening situation could make a difference in revitalizing your tree. An excellent first step is to perform a seasonal check of all the trees in your yard.

Look for any signs of a struggling or distressed tree, including:

  • Breaking or falling branches
  • Splits and deep cracks in large branches
  • Fungi growing on the bark or around the roots
  • A dead or wilting tree crown (a typical result of drought stress)
  • Wilted leaves, discolored leaf edges, or leaves falling prematurely on some or all branches
  • Patches of missing or peeling bark
  • Unbalanced growth (one side growing faster than the other)
  • The trunk starts leaning in one direction
  • Holes, splits, or cracks in the trunk
  • Mushrooms surrounding the base of the tree
  • Woodpeckers suddenly love your tree (because it’s filled with insects and has become a valuable food source)

Got Zombies? Get Professional Help!

Suppose you suspect that you have a zombie tree. In that case, a tree expert may be able to offer recommendations to help save it, including eliminating an infestation, careful pruning, fertilizing, or mulching.

Contact your local forestry agent, an arborist, or your local extension office for guidance on any suspect trees. They may recommend a professional inspection. If treated early, you might be able to bring a zombie tree back to a long, healthy life!

If you are planning to plant or replace trees on your property, the same tree experts can offer assistance in selecting the best options for your geographic area, your property, and the type of soil in your intended planting area.

Choosing the best trees and taking good care of them will pay big dividends and prevent future problems.

What if You Are Buying a Home?

If you are in the market for a new home, the value of the trees on the property is an important consideration. Rather than take chances on inheriting a zombie tree, ask your Accredited Buyer’s Representative about potentially including a tree inspection in your purchase contract. Since it’s not always apparent that a tree is ailing, an inspection may help you avoid any “scary” surprises in your future!