What’s Eating my Tree?

There are many potential culprits to declining tree health. Identifying what’s wrong is key.

The trees around your property bring a lot of value. They provide shade, a place of respite, and aesthetic appeal. That’s why, when something is wrong with one or more of your trees, you want to know about it.

The common assumption when a tree begins to decline in health is that there are tree insects that are eating it. But the truth is, there are a variety of concerns that might be causing your tree to decline in health. It could be an issue of various types of tree disease or even just poor health. In fact, there may even be more than one problem your tree is dealing with.

Identifying what might be wrong with your tree is important in taking steps toward improving your tree health.

Damage from Tree Insects

Ash Borer

If you’re noticing chewed foliage (leaves with small holes or jagged insects), then there is a good chance your tree does, in fact, have an insect problem. Some common insects that cause chewed foliage include beetles, ants, and earwigs.

While chewed foliage is the most obvious sign of an insect problem, it’s not the only sign. In fact, insects that have piercing-sucking mouthparts (such as aphids, scale insects, and mealybugs) cause an entirely different type of damage. Sap-feeding insects will cause a decline in tree health such as distorted foliage, stunted growth, or even the ultimate death of the tree.

Holes in the bark are another telltale sign that you have tree insects. Wood-boring insects cause damage by tunneling their way through the outer layer of the tree.

The appearance of a sticky substance called “honeydew,” which is excreted from sap-feeding insects, is another sign to watch for. Honeydew can also attract additional insects to your tree—such as ants or wasps. If you see a sudden influx of these types of insects, you might have a bigger problem at hand.

Signs of Tree Disease


Of course, tree damage is not always the result of an insect problem. There are also a number of tree diseases that could be the culprit of a decline in tree health. Yellow, orange, black or brown leaf spots on tree leaves or needles is a telltale sign that your tree may have some type of fungal disease. While some forms of fungal disease only result in cosmetic issues, others can lead to a serious decline in overall tree health.

Severed roots, signs of decay, or changes to the bark are also all signs that your tree may have a disease. Because there are so many different types of tree disease out there, getting a proper diagnosis from a professional will be the key to ensuring your tree receives the proper treatment.

Unexplained Decline in Tree Health

Sometimes a decline in tree health is not due to an insect or a disease but to another problem. Yellowing of the foliage, for instance, could actually be a sign of too much—or too little—water. It could also be a sign that your soil health is poor and your tree is in need of nutrients.

While a lot of people assume their trees are self-sustaining, the truth is, in suburban and urban environments, trees are under a lot of stress that they do not have to deal with in their natural forest habitat. They are competing for sunlight, water, and nutrients with all of the surrounding turfgrass and plants that are found in your landscape—and sometimes that means they could use a little bit of extra help.

Even tree trimming services, which help your trees’ lower branches to get more sunlight, can make a world of difference in overall tree health. In nature, trees don’t develop the giant and dense canopies that they tend to produce in urban and suburban environments.

While tree problems can often be corrected if caught early enough, there are some cases where a tree is too far gone to even try a remedy. In these cases, tree removal might be warranted. After all, the last thing that you’d want is to have to worry about the liability of a tree falling door to poor health. A professional will be able to tell you if a tree is beyond repair.

In general, having a professional eye on your landscape will go a long way in preventing many of these common tree problems in the first place. Oftentimes tree health problems are difficult to spot until the damage is severe. But with a landscape professional on your property, overseeing your landscape, you’ll be a step ahead of most serious tree issues. In the end, that’s a protection of your investment.