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Repairing Damaged Tree Bark

Sometimes Trees Get Damaged

Repairing dmaged tree bark

This Oak tree was struck by a piece of equipment.  The tree is relatively young so, even though the damaged area is a bit large, it should recover quite well.

Maybe it’s a careless maneuver with the new lawn mower, or maybe it’s your neighbor  who was busy making a phone call while backing out  of his driveway. Whatever the cause might be, sometimes our trees can incur trunk damage. Damaged tree bark   is not just an aesthetic problem but it can be a pretty serious health issue for your tree.

The Function of Tree Bark

Bark is essentially the skin of the tree. The corky outer layer of a trees bark protect the tree from insects and diseases. When this layer gets knocked off it opens the tree to possible infection and decay  that will weaken the main stem and cause significant decline in the trees overall health. Also a very important layer of tissue called  Phloem is protected by the tree’s bark. Phloem is part of the tree’s circulatory system and is essential for the trees survival.  The Phloem carries the energy rich sugars, produced during photosynthesis, throughout the whole tree. Obviously, when the bark is removed this flow of food is stopped and the damaged part of the tree begins to dry out and decay will soon set in .So…what can you do?

First, Determine the Extent of the Damage

If the damaged bark is less than 25% of the trees total diameter (as with the above photo) then the tree should recover from the damage just fine as long as the tree is porperly cared for and remains ,otherwise, healthy. With 25% – 50% of the trees diameter damaged, the tree should still survive but with some serious detriments to the  trees health. Even with prompt care you should expect to see some die back in the tree’s canopy. If the damage encompasses more than 50% of the tree’s diameter, there is still a slight chance that the tree could survive but this will require a process called bridge grafting. Grafting is not rocket science but does require some  skill and knowledge. In this case you should call a tree care processional to help you assess the trees condition and determine if the tree is savable.

Reattaching Fallen  Bark

If  the piece of bark that has been knocked off of the stem is still relatively intact, then you may be able to reattach it. Place the damaged bark, or bark pieces,  back in the same direction and in the same  location they were in before they fell off. You will have to fasten these pieces in place using a strap or some other material wrapped around the trunk. Burlap or even Duct tape will work just fine. This wrap will have to stay in place for at least 3 months so make sure you tie it on securely. This approach will only work if you still have the pieces of bark mostly intact and if you do this very soon after the damage was inflicted.  The cambium layer below the bark should continue to grow and fuse the damaged Phloem back together within a few months.

Bark Tracing – or Cutting Away Damaged Tree Bark

Cutting away lose and torn bark.

Using a clean, sharp chisel, cut away any jagged and lose edges from the wound.

If the bark is crushed or broken into pieces that are smaller than can be reattached then you will have to help the wound to heal as cleanly as possible. Jagged edges around the wound will hinder the tree’s ability to grow the  callus wood needed to cover over the exposed wood. Also jagged and torn edges can potentially continue to rip, causing more damage to the tree’s trunk.

You will need a clean, sharp chisel and a hammer for this job. Begin cutting a clean, straight edge aground the wound. Do not leave any sharp angled corners but rather trace out a rounded and even shaped edge around the wound. Make sure your lines are straight. Of coarse, you should be careful to not cut any deeper than the bark. You should not drive your chisel into the wood of the tree and so this will take an easy touch with the hammer.

Bark tracing like this gives the tree a much needed advantage. New callus wood tends to grow much easier and more evenly from a clean cut wound than from a jagged wound. In this way, trees are similar to us.

Again, make sure your corners are clean and rounded, not leaving any lose and torn bark behind.

Clean cut on  tree trunk

Keep your lines straight and continue cutting all the way around the wounded section of trunk.

Bark tracing

Notice the clean rounded edges of the wound. This will help the new callus wood to grow more efficiently.

Repaired tree

Do Not Use Tree Paint

For years, arborists had a practice of painting a tar based paint on tree wounds. This was thought to keep insects and diseases out and moister in. Many studies over the past years have shown these products to not be useful. Tree paint does not, in fact, keep insects or other pathogens out of the tree. Tree paint does not help the callus wood to grow. Ironically, it has actually been proven that many of the tree paint and tar products on the market actually detract from tree health by introducing harmful chemicals into the tree’s biology. It is best to let the tree’s natural defense mechanisms wall off any decay that might try to set into the wound.  Arborists have discontinued the practice of using tree paint, but oddly enough it is still sold in many garden centers and hardware stores. So, again; DO NOT USE TREE PAINT!

 

 

 

33 Comments
  1. Great post and education! It’s good to know what can be done when damage has occurred. My problem is antler rub — the bucks do so much damage because they rub the bark off on all sides, circling right around the whole trunk, damaging all sides. There is never a clean break or any intact bark to put back on, and they pretty much girdle the whole trunk. I lost a beautiful linden to that.

    They particularly like smooth or thin barked trees. Of course a protective cage is the answer, but they still find the trees I didn’t manage to protect, or trees they left alone previously. Grrr. (I did know enough not to paint wounds, I’m glad you point it out here.)

  2. This is such an informative post! On of my friends works for an Aberdeen tree service company and I was asking him what I could do to fix an old, damaged tree of mine and he said nothing. I had no idea you could do this! I’m excited to give it a try and see if it works. Thanks for sharing! http://www.matts–tree–service.com

  3. Hi Forest Keeper
    We have a huge pine that is leaning into an oak since the big storm a few weeks ago. any advice on what we can do? Do we need to cut the tree down?

    • Hi Leah. If the tree is leaning but it wasn’t previously, you might need to consider removing the tree. It could very likely be a hazard. In some cases you can upright and stabilize a wind-thrown tree, but it depends on many variables.
      I can stop by and take a look at it if you would like.

  4. While having some work done around our property a skid loader hit what I think is a live oak tree about 18″ in diameter knocking a large piece of bark off leaving the core bare. The bark was broken into 4 or 5 pieces. It’s about 12″ by 18″. How do we repair/save this tree?
    Thanks

  5. We tried to piece the bark back together and place it in the hole as best we could, then duck taped around it. Should we spray the trunk with insecticide?

  6. Hi ~ I live in the Midwest and have had some damage done by Box Bugs and it is pretty extensive. We sprayed the tree with insecticide that says it was OK for maples. All the bark on one side of the tree for about 18″ long, 4″ wide is gone and the inside of the tree is visible. Should we wrap the tree, or is it better to leave it open? I do see some holes in the tree as well, but no bugs.

  7. Hi,

    I live in Puerto Rico and on the beach, near where I live, is a nice Casuarina Pine that is at the tip of the beach so its roots are very frequently in the sea. Some i… burned the tree several years back and the tree trunk has a huge interior hole and bark missing in several extensive areas. The tree bark is growing back but very slowly. You mentioned grafting, can you give me a reference? I don’t know that we have any tree experts localy but $’s would be a problem. Also, I remember as a child in Mexico seeing the holes inside the tree trunk filled with cement. Any ideas on this? The tree has a sister tree about 1 feet away that is fine. Thanks for your help.

    • Well, on old wounds it is not possible to do any sort of grating as far as I know. Many years ago Arborists did alot of cavity work with cement. It does in some cases help give the tree more structure but over the years a problem has been realized with this. Eventually trees do die, especially if they have trunk injuries. THen you have a tree full of cement that to remove which is VERY difficult to say the least. In most cases cavity filling is not recommendable.

  8. hi , i have a hungry porcupine that last night chewed off quite a bit of bark off my little leaf linden. the damage doesnt go all the way around, but the gashes are significant especially up one main branch. the wet cool summer we’ve been having here in quebec has caused many fungi to attack the trees and plants…..and my linden is not exempt… it is missing alot of leaves compared to past years due to this. will the combination of these two “attacks” be too much for my tree? and what should i do? if anything…. i made a paste of slippery elm bark and applied it to cover the largest of the wounds that i could reach….but i fear i may lose the most attacked branch in the end anyway.
    thanks for any help!

  9. Forest Keeper,

    Do you think a tree can survive if this method (bark tracing) is done to a supporting root?

    Thanks!

    • Bark tracing would only need to be performed if there is already damage to the bark of the tree. If the root is damaged the tree will be able to respond to that damage much more efficiently if the wound is traced properly. If the damage is to such a great extent that the tree may not survive then the decline of the tree will not be because of any measures taken to help the tree recover.

  10. Hi Forest Keeper, I’m in the desert SW at a park that has some lovely and very old Sycamore trees. There is one 300 year old tree that has been the recipient of much carved graffiti. In an effort to discourage this, one of our rangers had gently filed and sanded the bark and then applied appropriate colored paint over the wound. This has worked for a long while but that ranger has left and the carvers are at it again. Can you suggest a way to fill in the carvings and treat this tree so as to minimize and/or obliterate the “art work”, while maintaining its health and integrity?

  11. Dear Forest Keeper, Please help, I have a Swamp Cypress about 10 Years old, its beautiful. My goat got to it and stripped lengths of bark of it from the groundto the first branch about 1.7m high. It looks terrible, at the bottom the amount bare 40% of the radius and at the top 30% all gone and bare. It is autumn here in New Zealand. I am a tree lover and it is so hard to see it by more front door like that. It was done a few days ago. Kind Regards Christine

  12. Thanks Forest Keeper! I,too, was about to rush to the store and buy tree paint;
    I do appreciate your advice. Christine

  13. What about a branch that broke very close to the trunk leaving jagged edges of wood, not bark. I cut the branch off and would have left enough for a.collor, but the split is too close to allow that. Is leaving jagged wood better than cutting smooth but really too close?

  14. Those are some pretty sweet tips! Thanks for sharing.

  15. our Sycamore was losing lots of bark on the side where it was attacked by beetles and ants. It even had mushrooms growing up higher to the top of the trunk before the limbs and branches began. It is 75 years old. I pulled off the bark that was about to fall off to only reveal what looked like ants crawling around and what appeared as saw dust. I found 3 large beetles and killed them. I sprayed dish soap mixed with water from a spray water bottle. I also sprayed raid ant and roach spray.

    The trouble began a few years ago when a lightening strike killed two main branches of the tree. This may be the cause of it’s initial demise.

    The side of the healthy limb has good bark on the trunk’s surface, but on the opposite side it looks pretty bad.

  16. I forgot to mention I saw pencil sized round holes in the secondary layer that was exposed from the exterior bark being removed.

  17. I have a maple tree that is loosing back from a fire we had from my neighbor last year. It’s stil has leaves and whirling twirling but I’m worried I’m going to loose it. Damage is probably around 30%. Is there hope for my tree?

  18. We have a huge old maple that has been healthy for the 40 yrs we’ve lived here, close to the coast in southern Rhode Island……..suddenly this summer, we noticed there are huge chunks of bark that are missing from one trunk and it looks like something has been gouging out the inside of the trunk as well…..big gages, several fret high and a foot wide, also large holes….all higher than a deer….prolly 15 feet up…suggestions? the canopy for that trunk is dying. we think the damage took place over the winter/spring. TANKS!

  19. My dog was chasing squirrels in the tree by chance he stripped the whole tree all the way around up to 6 feet from the ground the bark gone what do I do it has no bark on the tree no more all the way around 8 inch tree do not want to lose tree is it going to be ok or what do I do

  20. After doing some small damage to my small pine trees with the weed eater I placed wood glue on the cuts. Works great. Keeps the bugs away too.

    • I’ve never thought of doing that, but it sounds like an interesting idea. I think I will experiment with that and see how it goes with different trees..

  21. Hello Forrest Keepers 🙂 I have a dogwood that the woodpeckers have peeled an area of bark off. What can I do to keep the woodpeckers off the tree so it will heal?
    Thanks so much!

    • Hello Daphne. One thing that you could try is to wrap burlap around the trunk where the birds are affecting the tree. A few wraps around tied off with some twine should do. Most of the time this simple measure is enough to discourage the birds. Don’t leave the wrapping on the trunk for more than a season though as it will eventually cause rot and become a haven for bugs.

  22. Hi I had a eucalyptus tree branch fall on my young guava tree, and it split the top off. The rest of the tree is still doing well but where it broke is very jagged and I can’t make a clean cut without taking off more limbs. I live in Arizona and it is extremely hot and dry right now. Should I cover the wound with grafting tape to keep moisture in and bugs out or leave it?

  23. We have a hornbeam which is about20yrs old and have just noticed squirrel damage which appears on branches and trunk….the trunk has lost about 75percent of it’s bark. The damage is very recent and fresh. We live in Cornwall. Is there ANYTHING we can do?

  24. We have a 20yr old Hornbeam and have just notice considerable squirrel damage to branches and trunk…the latter showing about 75 percent damage. Is there anything we can do?

  25. I have a large 7ft potted coral bark maple with a 2 inch diameter trunk. Tonight I came home to a large swath of bark having been removed. A section approx 1in wide by 2in long. It doesn’t girdle the tree.
    It’s squirrels.
    Since it’s thin barked I have no idea what to do to repair or treat the wound.
    And, I have no idea how to keep the squirrels away…
    Should I cover the stripped area?
    What about putting stakes around tree and then wrapping chicken wire around that?

  26. I have new little skinny trunk aspens. The bucks have rubbed the bark off of one side which would be 50% or more I have blocked them from the deer. But how do I heal my trees?

  27. I live in NE Ohio, and one night a large whitetail buck was looking for love in all the wrong places and used a young maple tree in my yard, about 10 years old, as his rub. In the morning, when I saw the tree it was practically destroyed. I called the local gardening center, which is a large company, (not just a mom and pop kind of place) and the young man told me to buy a can of tar paint, spray it on and wrap it in a special paper wrap, used for this purpose, that they also sold there. Thinking that I was getting expert advice from a knowledgeable person,I did as he said and thought I was going to save my tree. It has been a couple of months now and the tree seems to be doing fine, but I still have the wrap on it. After reading several on-line blogs that keep telling me that the tree has absolutely no chance, I came across your article that pretty much just told me that I did everything absolutely wrong. Should I remove the wrap from the tree as the weather is beginning to change? Is there anything else I can do to try to help it survive a NE OH winter? Please advise….I grew that tree from a little seed that landed in our garden. I will feel pretty bad if it doesn’t survive. If there is a way to post a photo, I will show you the before and after. Thank you for any assistance that you can provide.

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