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Talking Trees Live: What are Zombie Trees with Davey Arborist Tim Jackson

 Arborist Tim Jackson explains what zombie trees are and how to identify issues early to help prevent damage before it happens.

What are Zombie Trees

“Zombie trees are basically trees that are standing there, and do not know it is dead yet.” (00:03:14)

Essentially, they may look alive on the outside, but they are really dying on the inside.

What are Signs to Look Out For

The top of the trees will start to fade, and the leaves will begin to fall off prematurely. (00:03:47)

When the tree is declining from the top, this typically means there is a root issue. It could have a disease or decay problem within the tree.

Jackson provides a nice demonstration to visually explain how signs of decline at the top of the tree usually mean there are root issues. (00:04:30)

Homeowners can also check the base of the tree and look for: (00:05:13)

  • Fungus
  • Insects (like borers)
  • Decay

What Causes Zombie Trees

There are many reasons why your tree could be dying from the inside out. Here are a few common ones:

Severe Storms

Your tree may appear to have ‘weathered’ the storm, but it could be suffering from damages high up in the canopy, which can’t easily be seen.

It could be years later until you notice the tree’s health has been negatively affected.

Trees are fighters, so they will do what they can to keep standing.

Are any trees more susceptible to becoming a ‘Zombie’?

No, any tree can be susceptible to having problems from a storm. (00:07:39)


Look for these signs on your tree: (00:08:14)

  • Out-of-season foliage discoloration
  • Scorch on leaf margins
  • Leaf dropping

Here are some additional signs of underwatering trees.


A stressed tree attracts pests (insects). Here are some signs to tell if your tree is stressed.

Woodpeckers can be a sign if there is an internal pest issue because they aren’t going to peck where insects are not present. (00:13:27)

Can Zombie Trees be Saved

Often, they can! (00:10:45)

If the tree has become hazardous, then tree removal may be necessary for safety purposes.

But most of the time, we can diagnose it and prescribe deep root fertilization to help generate growth.

Proactively, pruning (trimming) is highly recommended to help your trees become susceptible to becoming a Zombie.

Pruning helps:

  • Remove extra weight from the top of the tree
  • Thins the tree to help during severe storms and high winds
  • Remove deadwood to prevent branches from falling and causing serious damage

Fall and winter pruning is the best times for pruning. You want to have your trees pruned before the growing season in spring.

Viewers Questions

Are River Birch trees more susceptible to ‘zombie-ism’? [Midwest Resident]

River Birch is a tree that gets stressed because there are certain micronutrients it likes to have that aren’t always present. (00:13:59)

When the tree starts to become stressed it invites pests (insects). River Birches are very common for borers, so borers are a pre-zombie sign.

Here are signs of tree boring insects.

Should Mycorrhiza Be Added to Deep Root Fertilization?

It is a great supplement to fertilizer. (00:16:24)

We [Davey] use it if the tree is really declining.

Upcoming Talking Trees Live Series

Tune in for the next Talking Trees Live event! Each series will explore various tree care topics from damaging tree insects and diseases to landscape best practices and seasonal tree care tips. 

Have all your questions and concerns ready! You can ask them all live during the streaming interview. 

Be sure to ‘like’ Davey’s Facebook page to access the Talking Trees series live.

Don’t have Facebook? No worries, you can access all the past videos here.

>>> Check out the schedule here for upcoming Talking Trees Live topics!

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