My Tree Is Dying From The Top Down

Canopy Decline

Canopy Decline On Trees In Different Stages

If Your Tree Is Dying From The Top Down And You Want To Know Why You’ve Come To The Right Place

The top of your tree, also known as the crown, should be the healthiest part of your tree. If your tree is dying from the top down it is experiencing a common but serious tree symptom call crown decline. Crown decline can be caused by many issues including, root stress or damage, insects, drought, and bad soil composition.

Root Stress or Damage:

If the roots are damaged by recent construction, are suffering from soil compaction, or suffering from girdling root syndrome the tree may exhibit symptoms of crown decline. Roots stress is typically the main cause of crown decline. Tree preservation plans during construction, watering, bio-stimulants, and soil de-compaction are all important steps to keep your tree’s roots from experiencing stress.

Exit hole from the Emerald Ash Borer

Exit hole from the Emerald Ash Borer


There are certain types of insects that will begin to kill your tree from the top down. For example many bark beetles, including the bronze birch borers and emerald ash borers, cause crown decline symptoms. If you think insects may be an issue on your tree check for entry and exit holes in the trunk and branches of your tree. Woodpecker activity is another indicator of beetles as well. If your tree is suffering from an insect infestation it will most likely need a properly applied insecticide treatment.


Trees that suffer from drought typically die from the top down and from the outer branches in. Other drought symptoms include wilting and yellowing of leaves and twig dieback. You can combat drought by thoroughly watering trees and mulching to retain moisture. To find out how much water your tree needs check out our watering article.

soil compositionBad Soil Composition:

Soil composition is an important part of managing a tree’s nutrients. Soil is made up of minerals, organic matter, water, and air. When these levels get out of balance they can stop the tree from absorbing the nutrients it needs to survive. This can lead to crown decline, yellowing of leaves, and other common tree symptoms. If soil makeup may be causing your issue a Certified Arborist can test a soil sample and perform treatments to adjust your soil back to a healthy composition.

It’s important that your tree get the right diagnosis if it is dying from the top down. The wrong diagnosis and treatment can further damage your fragile tree. If you want to save your tree, make sure to get a Certified Arborist to properly diagnose the root cause of your tree’s symptoms and implement a treatment plan.

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Samantha Huff

Samantha Huff is the marketing coordinator at RTEC Treecare. She enjoys learning about the technical aspects of trees and the insects and diseases that prey on them. She hopes that these articles can help homeowners gain control of their tree and shrub maintenance by being aware of the signs and symptoms of unhealthy trees.

4 thoughts on “My Tree Is Dying From The Top Down”

  1. Gloria Jorgenson says:

    My Linden tree has been dying from the top down. It started with the top last summer and leafed out from about a foot down from the top this spring. The leaves have been turning yellow and brown and moving down the tree at least another twelve to fourteen inches. The tree I would normally be about 7-8 feet tall. The rest of the tree is beautiful and blooming. I had a rubber mat around the tree to keep weeds under control and when I lifted it there were ants and a huge amount of eggs under it. Could the ants be killing the tree roots? How do I get rid of then under the soil. Should I spray the tree with sygon or diazinon ?

    1. Rtectree says:

      Gloria, ants typically do not harm trees; however, they can be a warning sign of decline or other health issues your tree may be dealing with. Your tree may be suffering from root stress, construction damage, drought, borers, or simply bad soil composition. Treatments for each issue vary and without proper diagnosis you could do more harm than good applying chemicals to your tree. We suggest having a Certified Arborist come out to correctly diagnose the tree and provide you with a treatment plan.

  2. Lily says:

    I have a relatively large white oak near my home-approx. 40′ tall, I have notice the crown of the tree is missing 75-85% of it’s leaves. I do not see any boring holes or insects. What to do!!!

    1. Rtectree says:


      I would suggest having a certified arborist come out and take a look to diagnose the issue with the tree. 75-85% canopy loss is a serious symptom of decline and could indicate root issues, heat stress, insects, or disease. A certified arborist will let you know the appropriate steps that need to be taken to save the tree or if the tree is too far gone and needs to be removed. If you’re in our service area give us a call 703-573-3029 or book an appointment online if you’re outside of our service area you can find an accredited tree care company and certified arborist through the TCIA site:

      -Samantha H.

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