No Leaves on Tree? How To Tell if a Tree Is Dead vs Trees That Look Dead But Aren’t

Woman looks at a tree without any leaves and wonders why there are no leaves on tree species that usually have leaves.

Worried about having no leaves on tree?

Sometimes a tree could have no leaves on its branches, without necessarily being dead or dying.

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Some trees enter stages during the life and growth that can look like it’s in trouble. The key to knowing when there’s an issue with your tree is to understand the species growing habits.

This way, you can easily discern whether your tree is being threatened by disease or pests…or if it’s just recruiting it’s strength to grow even more next year.

This complete guide can help you identify what to do if you notice no leaves on tree.

How To Tell if a Tree Is Dead: Identifying a Dead Tree

Some trees lose their leaves during different seasons, which could make the trees look dead. It is important to know how to differentiate between a dead tree and one that is just shedding its leaves due to seasonal changes.

Also, leaf loss happens differently on different tree species, making it hard to know which trees are dying and which ones are not.

Sometimes a loss of leaves is an indicator of a problem. A tree unnaturally losing its leaves can be caused by aging, excess water problems, starvation, insects and diseases, or a catastrophic event.

Fortunately, the symptoms of a dying tree are easy to identify, but only when you know what to look for.

Examine the Leaves: Why Are There No Leaves on My Tree? (No Leaves on Tree)

Using the leaves is the easiest way to identify whether the tree is dying or not.

Deciduous trees are different from evergreen ones, and even if looking at leaves to identify a dying tree is straightforward, you need a little expertise on the type of tree.

Photo of a tree with no leaves in the middle of a desert.

(Image: Gary Ellis6)

Deciduous trees shed their leaves at the end of the growing season (usually in fall), while evergreen ones remain green all year.1 The shedding of leaves is to prepare for the cold winter season, where the tree seals in the water to preserve itself throughout the winter.

Due to such characteristics, it might not be easy to tell whether a plant is losing its leaves as part of its growth process or for other reasons.

However, if a tree’s leaves start drying or reducing in number before the end of its growing season, then that is an indicator of a potential problem. Trees that shed off their leaves at the end of their growing season naturally will have a self-healing process that seals the parts where the leaves were to keep the tree safe.

You can also check for weak branches or rotted areas on the tree.

To identify issues with an evergreen tree, typically these will show brown needles or branches drying out at the top.

Examine the Branches (Tree Branch No Leaves)

It is common to find a dead branch on huge trees as they shed off some of their branches along the way. However, having multiple dying branches could mean the tree is in distress. One way to determine whether a branch is dying is to test its flexibility by trying to bend it.

If the branch is alive, you can even use your fingers, and the branch will easily bend. If you try the test and find that the branch is brittle, that could be a sign that the branch is already dead.

A single dead branch is not something to be alarmed about, but multiple dried out, dead branches can mean there’s a problem.

Photo of a tree with no leaves at the top of a foggy mountain.

(Image: Adarsh Kummur7)

If more than two of the big branches on a tree are brittle, then that tree could be dying from the inside. Do follow-up checks on other crucial parts of the tree to confirm the diagnosis. Also, it is pretty obvious that if a branch is already dried up, it will definitely not have any leaves on it.

Note that older trees tend to shed off their branches at one point in their lifecycle.

Therefore, the dead branches tip would work best on smaller trees and shrubs. If a tree is about 100 years old, it might have more than one dead branch without necessarily being in its last stages of life.

Examine the Trunk

The trunk is a significant part of the tree, and if the tree is in trouble, the trunk may show signs.

Very often, a dying tree of any species will have peeling bark, and most of the trunk will be exposed. However, that is not as straightforward in some trees like the Crape Myrtle. The tree has a naturally peeling bark and would therefore not be an accurate diagnosis of the tree.

Another way to identify a dying tree using the trunk is to look for signs of decay on the tree. A dying tree can often have a ring of decay around the entire trunk.

If you see the ring and notice that the bark is also peeling, this could be confirmation that the tree’s health is declining. In this case, you can contact an arborist to get their professional opinion on the tree’s overall health.

Image of a dying Oak tree with its bark peeling off exposing its tree trunk in a meadow.

(Image: Jacek Ulinski8)

Dying trees also tend to die from the inside before any significant signs appear on the outside. For example, some older White Oak trees decay from the inside.

If the tree’s bark is still intact, scratching it off could help you tell whether it is dead or just looks dead. A live tree will be green on the inside, even when the outside looks all dried up and brittle.

Inspect the Roots

Roots form the base of the tree, which forms the support system of the entire tree. If the roots have a problem, then the tree is dying. The first sign of a dying tree on the roots will be root decay.

How do you identify root decay? A tree with a rotting root system will have multiple mushrooms growing around the tree’s base.

Another sign of tree death in the roots is detached roots. If the roots are separating from the ground and lifting up, then that tree is already dead. Such a tree could fall any minute, and if it is in a place where it could cause damage, it should be removed.

A tree with dead roots will also be shaky and unstable because the roots are not holding it firmly to the ground.

Trees That Look Dead But Aren’t (Common Species That Lose Leaves)

Deciduous trees will have no leaves at all during the winter, but they glow up in the fall with very beautiful foliage. However, some trees might take a while to generate some leaves, which could worry the owners.

It is, therefore, possible for a tree to look dead while it is still alive. Some of the tree species with such characteristics are listed below.

Oak Tree: Oak Tree Without Leaves

There are different types of oak trees where some are deciduous, and others are evergreen. However, even the evergreen ones are not fully evergreen. By using oak tree leaf identification chart, you can identify the type of oak tree to know what to expect when growing it in your landscape.

Another way to know the type of Oak tree you are dealing with is through an Oak tree leaf identification chart. Trees like the Live oak tree will shed their leaves in the Spring as others emerge. That should not make you think that your tree is dying.

However, you can do a few tests to determine whether your tree is still alive. One of them is the close examination of the branches where the old leaves were. If the oak tree is still alive, the branches will have little buds where the new leaves will emerge.

You could also do the scratch test, where you scratch the bark of the tree to see whether the inside is still green.1 Oak trees are huge trees that live for a long time. There could be other signs that can be mistaken for dying symptoms while they are not. Those include a few dead branches on the tree.

Also, you should not be worried if the oak tree is not leafing out. The tree is probably taking longer than expected, but eventually, it will. However, it is important to check for other sickness signs if the leafing out takes too long.

Willow Tree: No Leaves

Willow tree leaf out quite early but is the last to drop their leaves. That makes them quite easy to tell when they are dying. However, sometimes the trees could take longer to leaf out. That should not worry you much because the growing conditions of each specific tree also affect how fast the tree grows.

Rowan Tree No Leaves

Rowan trees lose their leaves in Autumn as part of their growth cycle. However, there are certain times in the year when you could think the tree is dying. When the leaves on the tree start turning red in July, the tree is under stress but not necessarily dying. The color change could be due to excessive heat or other growing conditions that are not conducive for the tree.

Birch Tree: Why Are My Birch Tree Leaves Falling?

Birch trees are deciduous, so they lose their leaves seasonally. However, excess heat and water loss could also lead to leaf loss.

Image of a Birch tree loosing its leaves in a meadow.

(Image: Miikka Luotio10)

Even though those are risky conditions that could affect the plant, losing its leaves does not mean the tree is dying. Birch tree leaves fall mostly in July when the weather is very hot.

Cottonwood Tree: Is Cottonwood Tree Leaf Shedding OK?

Another species likely to lose its leaves and not be dead is the cottonwood tree.

Like most other deciduous trees, cottonwood tree leaf falls between May and July. Therefore, having no leaves should not be a worrying factor for cottonwood tree.

How To Look for Disease Symptoms on a Tree That’s Not Leafing Out

Deciduous trees transition from winter to spring through the emergence of leaves all over the tree which is known as leafing out. The trees are usually dormant in winter, which happens to protect the trees’ water resources during extremely cold months.

The trees lose all their leaves and remain that way until later when the weather is warmer and conducive for leaf growth. However, all tree species do not leaf out at the same time. Some do it early in Spring, while others delay a bit.

Knowing how tree species behave when leafing out is important in helping you determine whether the tree is sick or it is just one of those trees that look dead but aren’t. Below is what to look for on a tree that is taking too long to leaf out to determine its health status.

  1. Leaf Discoloration
  2. Crumbly Wood
  3. Defoliation
  4. Dead Branches
  5. Root Decay
  6. Fungus Spores
  7. Bark Abnormalities3

Can I Learn How To Get a Tree To Grow Leaves?

Not leafing out is caused by distress on a tree. If your tree takes too long to leaf out, it is probably because of the lack of good care and maintenance. Therefore, the best way to get a tree to grow leaves is to maintain a good watering, pruning, and feeding schedule.

Image of dying tree with green leaves starting to grow back from its bark.

(Image: nuzree9)

You should also ensure that the tree gets enough sunlight and that irrigation is done correctly. When all the growing conditions necessary for that specific tree’s growth are observed, the tree will be healthy enough to follow the right growth patterns and timelines.

Having no leaves on tree does not always mean that a tree is dying. The tree could be undergoing its seasonal transition and taking a while to leaf out. However, it could also be a sign of a dying tree, which is why you should be keen to observe the rest of the tree.

Also, understanding how tree species behave when leafing out or shedding leaves will help you determine whether a tree is dead or just dormant.

No leaves on tree can sometimes be a dormant phase for the tree, so it’s not always an indicator of a problem…it could easily be a sign of growth.

Frequently Asked Questions About No Leaves on Tree

Can a Tree Survive Without Leaves?

Tree branch no leaves is not a worrying factor if the tree is going through its transition from winter to spring. However, that could be a sign of trouble if the tree is past that season and has not started leafing out. Look for disease signs to ensure that the tree is still alive.

If a Tree Has No Leaves Is It Dead?

Not necessarily. No leaves on tree could mean that the tree is dormant to protect itself from drought and other harsh conditions like extremely cold weather. However, in other cases, it could be a symptom of the disease.

What Would Cause My Tree To Stop Growing Leaves in Spring?

Your tree could be taking longer than expected to leaf out due to various unhealthy growing conditions. You can improve these conditions by giving the tree what it needs to thrive and see whether the leaves will start coming out.

Is There a Tree With No Leaves?

Yes. Trees like Hydnora Africana, Riccia, Cuscuta, Marchantia polymorpha, Opuntia, Anthoceros, and Saguaro do not have leaves. They make their food through other means, like the stem. These trees belong to the Bryophytes, parasitic, or cactus plant families.4

What Is the Latest Time of Year a Tree Leaf’s In?

Leaf out happens in the spring on most trees, but could change with various species. Also, climate change is affecting the leafing out process and causing delays on various ecological processes like that one.5

When Should I Be Worried if My Tree Branches Have No Leaves?

When all the other dead tree symptoms like dry bark and damaged roots are visible.

Why Is My Tree Not Leafing Out Like Normal?

That could be a sign of disease if the tree is way past its leafing period. However, a tree could remain dormant much longer due to various factors, including climate change and bad growing conditions. You can try to speed up the process by improving the trees growing conditions.

Is My Tree Dead or Dormant?

That depends on the signs that the tree is showing. You can use the scratch test to check whether the tree is dead. If you find that it still has a green bark on the inside, the tree is probably one of those trees that look dead but aren’t and will start leafing out soon.

Can a Tree Survive With No Leaves?

Yes. Many trees do not have any leaves but still survive. However, in some cases, the tree will die if it takes too long to bear leaves. Check for sickness signs to avoid having a dead tree on your landscape.

What Is the Scratch Test?

The scratch test determines whether a tree is dead or dormant. You use a sharp object to for scratching part of the bark and exposinge inside of it. If the bark is still green on the inside, then the tree is still alive.

What if Half the Tree Has No Leaves?

No leaves on tree is tricky for most tree species, especially when it’s not in its transition period. Having no leaves on half the tree could be an indication that your tree is slowly dying. Check for other disease signs to help you determine how healthy your tree is.

When Is a Tree Considered Dead?

A tree is considered dead when the roots are dead, the bark is brittle, and the branches have no leaves. However, having no leaves on tree alone cannot be a sign that can conclusively mean the tree is dead.

Why Won’t My Tree Leaf Out?

The tree is probably still in its dormant stage to try and protect itself from harsh conditions. If its leafing-out period has already passed, you should improve its maintenance and care to speed up the recovery process of the tree.

Can a Tree With Lots of Branches Die?

Yes. Any tree can die if exposed to harsh conditions like drought, overwatering, and other human interference like construction. Diseases could also attack the tree and leave it in a bad condition, eventually leading to death.

What If My Tree’s Not Leafing Out Late in Spring?

Poor maintenance and care is one of the main reasons why your tree could be running late on leafing out. Improve its growing conditions and help it grow at the right pace.

Why Isn't My Ornamental or Maple Tree Not Leaf Out?

If you are wondering why your ornamental or maple tree did not leaf out, it is probably because the process is just delayed due to various issues you can take care of. Find a perfect balance of the watering, pruning, and feeding process to help the tree grow at the required rate. It could also be under attack from pests and diseases.

Is Your Elm or Oak Tree Not Leafing Out?

Do not panic. First, perform a test to check whether the tree is dead or just dormant. If the tree is still alive, it will leaf out eventually. You can speed up that process by ensuring it has the best growing conditions.

Should I Be Worried if Half of Tree Has No Leaves?

Yes and no. If other signs indicate that the tree is still alive, then there is no need to worry. However, if the roots are rotting and the bark has started drying out, your tree is probably dying, and you should be worried.

What Can I Do if My Tree Not Growing Leaves in Spring?

If your tree isn’t leafing out in late spring, check to see what the tree lacks (water, nutrients, etc) and try to give it to the tree.

How Many Leaves Are on a Tree?

That highly depends on the tree species, but most mature trees will have about 200,000 leaves at optimal health.

Why Do Dogwood Tree Leaves Curl? What Does It Mean if My Dogwood Tree Leaves Curling Up?

It is a protective measure for when the tree feels stressed. Curling up reduces the leaf’s surface area and protects the tree from the effects of hot weather or any other stressful conditions. The identification dogwood tree leaves charts will help you know how different dogwood tree leaves behave in different seasons.

Why Is My Oak Tree Not Leafing Out?

The tree could be stressed or dying.

Is a Tree No Leaves on Top Dying?

Sometimes yes, and other times it is just in the process of shedding its leaves.

Can You Tell Types of Oak Trees by Leaf?

Yes, you can tell the type of Oak tree by the shape of its leaf.

Read More About No Leaves on Tree


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2Stark Bro’s. (2022). How to Do a Scratch Test on Trees & Plants. Stark Bro’s. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from <>

3Indigo Surveys. (2022). Tree Disease Symptoms. Indigo Surveys. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from <>

4Homes Pursuit. (2020, October 11). 7 Amazing Plants without Leaves (+Pictures). Homes Pursuit. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from <>

5Polgar, C., & Primack, R. (2022). Leaf-out Dates Highlight a Changing Climate – The arrival of spring is heralded each year. National Phenology Network. Retrieved December 19, 2022, from <>

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