Hurricane Ian Response: We are responding to post-storm requests where we can do so safely. Please visit the American Red Cross to assist families impacted by Ian.

Seeing sun-kissed leaves flutter at the tippy top of our trees is one of the joys of summer!

Spotting leafless twigs is quite the opposite, and trees with no leaves on top are not just unattractive, they are likely in trouble.

Find out why trees of all kinds, including maple, birch, and ash, experience this and what you should do next.

Is my tree dead if it has no leaves on top?

If your tree has no leaves at the top, its life may be at stake. But, depending on the issue, you may be able help your tree live longer.

For most tree species, there are two common reasons why this happens. 

1. Verticillium wilt: This soil fungus causes leaves to drop, starting at the top of the tree. Upper leaves will wither, curl and turn brown while the rest of the tree appears perfectly healthy. Verticillium wilt affects maple trees most often but can also impact ash, elm, linden and redbud trees.

Next step: Have an arborist confirm. Unfortunately, fungicides and pruning only ease tree stress temporarily. It’s typically best to remove the tree, so the fungus doesn’t spread.

2. Girdling roots: These wrap around the trunk and essentially choke the tree by cutting off water flow to the top. In addition to tangled roots and leaf loss, you’ll see leaves with early fall color. Maples commonly get girdling roots, but many tree species can be affected as well.

Next step: Pruning girdled roots can relieve trees, but it’s a delicate process. If you remove an essential root, you can harm the tree. Because it’s such a tricky job, it’s best left to professionals

Why does my birch or ash tree not have leaves on top?

If you have a birch or ash tree, look for these symptoms in addition the above possibilities.

Birch tree with no leaves on top

Ash tree with no leaves on top

  • Most Common Cause: Emerald ash borer or EAB, a pest that exclusively affects ash trees
  • Symptoms: Chewed leaf tips, D-shaped holes in tree bark and S-shaped tunnels beneath bark
  • Treatment: If your tree is a good candidate for preservation, try one of these emerald ash borer treatment options.

Do your trees need an expert’s opinion? Click here to request a free tree inspection.

Related Blog Posts

Roots Of Gumbo Limbo
Tree Selection Guide

Right Tree, Right Place: Tree Roots

Here are trees with invasive roots and what you can do to best manage them if you have them in your yard.
Read More
Ash Tree Bark Plus Canopy Davey Tree
Tree Identification

Ash Tree Identification: Do I Have An Ash Tree?

What does an Ash tree look like? Learn how to identify an Ash tree by these common characteristics: ash tree leaves, bark, and common types of ash trees.
Read More

Sign Up For Free Tree & Landscaping Tips! 

Subscribe to the "The Sapling," the Davey Blog's email newsletter, for the latest tips to keep your outdoor space in tip-top shape throughout the year.

Plus, receive a free instant download of our landscape seasonal checklists when you sign up!

Get In Touch With Us!

We pride ourselves at Davey Tree on providing prompt, professional and personalized service from certified arborists that live, work and engage in your community. Contact one of our Davey Tree specialists for your residential, commercial, utility, or environmental needs.

Let's Find What
You're Looking For!

Davey uses cookies to make your experience a great one by providing us analytics so we can offer you the most relevant content. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies. View our Privacy Policy for more information.