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I live in Illinois, and have a new construction home (I moved in April 2016). This tree was left and original to the land. Not sure what kind it is. The first year I moved in it was fine through fall.

Winter, I hung some Christmas lights, and large shaped Christmas light bulb ornaments. It gets windy, so I'm not sure if this area was damaged from stringing lights and possibly cracking branches while blowing in the wind.. but it seems to be limited to one area, like a damaged root.

Should I cut off this dead area? If so how far back?

I will say, last year was first i noticed this, and it seemed the leaves were not as full last year, as the year before, and also last year had this area of no leaves. But this year, the leaves seem fuller. Like the first season i moved in. But just this area of no leaves.

What could be happening with this tree?

enter image description here enter image description here

Update Here are some additional images: Picture of first summer after home construction. enter image description here

Picture of trunk area. enter image description here

Picture of (possibly) dead branch coming from lower trunk going to top. enter image description here

  • 1
    Can you get a closeup of the trunk in good light - a straight section, not near the bottom - and maybe a closeup of the leaves? The damage is similar to that caused by Emerald Ash Borer. The form doesn't look like an ash at all, but it may have been cut when young and regrew from the stump. One issue with EAB is the apparent age of the tree - it may be too young. It's definitely NOT a honey locust (the form of the branches is wrong). – Jurp May 24 at 2:35
  • @Jurp Hello, I added some additional pictures to help. Two of the current state of the tree I took yesterday evening, and one of when I first moved in to get an idea of the difference. I was skimming through some pictures, and it looks like that branch was having issues by the first fall (of me living at the house). So I am wondering if the heavy equipment used when building the house, grading.. etc compacting the soil and cracked/damaged some roots. – eaglei22 May 24 at 11:51
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Thanks for those pictures, worth a thousand words and more. Here is what I see:

  • The pictures show heavy damage to the bark to the extent that there are foot long areas where it is likely the bark was bumped or damaged by construction or a bad winter. These injuries must have occurred several years ago as new bark growth is evident around the edges.
  • This looks like a Black Locust or Robinia pseudoacacia. It is native to North America but often considered invasive in North America and around the world due to tough, fast growing nature. Identification is the paired leaves along the stem and can be confirmed by the presence of spines on the growth closer to the ground and the creamy white flowers in May or June
  • Another reason this could be a black locust is the smaller stem coming from the ground near the main trunk. Wikipedia notes

The roots may grow suckers after damage (by being hit with a lawn mower or otherwise damaged)

This tree would be a good choice for a new housing area if it was not for the root suckers and seeding. This tree wants to grow into a dense thicket and even cutting it down would just cause more root suckers.

I recommend you get an arborist to determine if it is a black locust. It may have heart rot which would account for the dead main stem.

Then your choices are:

  • get the dead wood trimmed out and keep mowing any suckers or seedlings that appear
  • OR
  • get it cut down and the root ball chipped out and choose a tree that is less weedy and more appropriate to your area. Maples, Oaks, Hackberry are usually good choices but get some recommendations for your area or look at trees that are doing well nearby
  • Thank you! I am planning on cutting back the dead limb, but I don't want to cut it too far back. What is the best way to know where the dead wood stops, and at what point to cut. I see scratching the bark and looking for green. The examples I've seen look like the trees have soft bark. The areas I've investigated the bark seems pretty stiff and hard. Should the area be easy to scratch if it's alive and healthy? – eaglei22 May 24 at 13:33
  • @eaglei22 You need to find out if it has heart rot otherwise you will be cutting it back again next spring. Aleksandar M is correct that by raising the grade around the tree this has prevented the roots from absorbing oxygen which will cause die back. Go the extra mile and get an arborist in for an opinion – kevinsky May 24 at 13:40
  • Okay, thank you. – eaglei22 May 24 at 13:42
  • Definitely seek a certified arborist's opinion. It is definitely NOT an ash, and everything posted above is correct, but I personally like black locusts because of the flowers. To each his or her own... :) – Jurp May 24 at 15:24
  • I tried contacting a few places by me to no returned calls as of yet. I decided to cut the dead limb for now, while i had time off. At the base, the bark was peeling away, exposing a colony of ants. Would the next steps be to put some ant killer down if i can't get anyone to come out, or if it will be awhile anyway. – eaglei22 May 26 at 18:22
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Just a couple of guesses before giving advice:

It looks that the soil level round the tree used to be lower (years ago). This is clearly visible at the photo showing the lowest part of the tree: the trunk “abruptly”, without any sign of slight widening, going into ground, which never happens naturally. If one does this to the tree, this is harmful, because the parts that uset to be above, and now are below the ground level, are now prone to entering bacteria, insects, and all kinds of harmful micro and macro pests. The tree is struggling with the invider, and it look the invider won in parts of the tree that now seem dead.

But, regardless of what really happened, my advice is as follows:

  • whatever kind the tree is, keep it, it has a nice natural shape, and it looks is recovering

  • cut the dead parts as low as you can, without damaging other parts; cuts should be as clean and smooth as possible, and under 45° slope so that rain water flows over the cuts towards exterior of the whole trunk, not towards interior

  • do not do anything to remaining branches; the tree may temporarily look a bit ugly, however the Nature will do its job in coming years, and the crown will be back to a beautiful shape, possibly even more interesting than two years ago, by itself.

Good luck, and a lot of patience!

  • Thank you! I hope it does return to its previous state. During construction I was hoping they would have left the tree, and was very happy when they did. It's very disappointing to see it damaged. Btw, I did add some mulch a few weeks ago, the grass was sunk in a little but you're right about the grade coming up higher than what was natural. About 5 inches of black dirt was added for the sod. Other than pulling back the mulch from the trunk, at this point is it okay to leave the grade as is? – eaglei22 May 24 at 13:31
  • well, some people would likely say that you should now dig a small conical hole around the trunk, to uncover the burried part, but honestly, after all this time, I doubt it could have much positive effect - and I would leave the level as is now, and hope the tree would naturally fight off all problems. The very good thing is, if the tree is locust, it won't easily give up, it known to be an unusually enduring kind of tree. – Aleksandar M May 24 at 16:12
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Hard to tell, looks like a Honey Locust with a dead branch...

you can cut out the dead wood and look for signs of disease or insects, but it is probably just water stress, or damage from winter, or other injury.

  • Further looking at it, it looks like the whole limb going down to the lower trunk has no leaves. Where would i cut the branches starting? When do you make a decision to cut the whole tree down? – eaglei22 May 24 at 1:06

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