Sometimes Trees Get Damaged
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 properly 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
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.
Keep your lines straight and continue cutting all the way around the wounded section of trunk.
Notice the clean rounded edges of the wound. This will help the new callus wood to grow more efficiently.
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!
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.)
I can cure the bucks rubing your trees with my bow no problem love to!
LOL, that’s what I was thinking!
Ive had the same problem year after year….you can buy ribbed black plastic drain pipe for sewer lines and cut a lengthwise slit in the thin walled polypipe to open it and place over the trunk….comes in 10′ lengths so you can make 2 5′ pieces for 2 trees…..works like a charm….get the pipe with holes in it for breathability…?????
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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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.
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!
Do you think a tree can survive if this method (bark tracing) is done to a supporting root?
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.
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?
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
Thanks Forest Keeper! I,too, was about to rush to the store and buy tree paint;
I do appreciate your advice. Christine
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?
Those are some pretty sweet tips! Thanks for sharing.
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.
I forgot to mention I saw pencil sized round holes in the secondary layer that was exposed from the exterior bark being removed.
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?
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!
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
Did the tree survive?? I have a similar issue from my dog…
I have the same issue, dogs stripped tree trunk. What can I do?
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..
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
I have a few trees that have damaged bark like this. I have been wondering what to do about it. I like that you explained that you need to keep lines straight when removing the bark. It seems like a good idea to have to have tree expert do this for me.
Hi I have a apple tree in my garden about 2 years old but my rabbits run free in my garden and today for some reason they have chewed all the bark off the tree from bottom to about 2 foot up what could I do to help and repair?
Hi Stuart. I am sorry to hear about your apple tree. A few years ago one of our goats did the same thing to an newly planted apple tree. I know that this response is getting back out a bit late but maybe since the tree is in it’s winter dormancy it’s not too late. What I would do is get some peat moss and wrap it around the damaged portion of trunk. You could fasten it by wrapping some burlap around it or I’ve even seen people use tin foil. Then do what you can to keep the peat moss moist. This can help the tree as it tries to grow new tissue to replace the damaged bark. If your rabbit ate thru the cambium layer or if it completely girdled the trunk, then it may be too much for the tree to recover from but try this and see if it will help.
This is one of the best and informative sites on repairing tree bark that I have found. Thank you for your knowledgeable information. Knowing that the trees will replace the bark recover is an added relief.
Hi – I live on a creek and have a beaver(s) that are taking the bark off some larger trees, and taking down smaller trees. I was able to stop a larger tree from being completed stripped of its bark, but approximately 50% is gone. I sprayed a deer spray and cardboard to cover the wound and the remaining part of the tree. Sounds like i should cover tree in some type of fencing to allow it to heal. Any other suggestions? Thank you
I have the same problem here in Texas — what should I do?
Hello, my son started chopping away at the bark on an oak tree, it’s been getting worse as time goes by. The exposed trunk is getting soft and will just fall right off if needed with… is it too late to save the tree?
Hello Amanda. Unfortunately, it sounds like it may be too late to do anything for that tree. How large is the Oak tree? If it is large and close to your home or some other high risk areas you may want to look into removing that tree before the decay in the trunk gets too advanced and becomes unsafe.
Thank you for this helpful post! We just had the exterior of our house painted and without me noticing the painters sanded off paint of the bark of our camelias, which had just been aggressively pruned to prepare for the paint. Now some bark has been removed, and many branches broken (that I expected). Anything I should do to help the trees recover or just let them be? Thanks!
Hello. I would suggest fertilizing the trees and shrubs that were affected as well as pruning out any damaged limbs.
I have HUGE sweetgum trees in my yard. Two roots are above ground roots that have damaged areas that have indentions that collect water. I really am afraid these large roots will continue to rot and be a danger to the trees’ health. Is there a filler out there for this issue? (I’m assuming I’d have to chisel-out the rot, first.)
Depending on how far above grade the roots are you may want to consider bringing the grade up a little to cover them. If you do, be careful not to raise the grade too much as to cover the trunk at all. You do not want the trunk (even an inch or 2) buried. Yes chiseling out the rot will help. I have used expanding foam like “great stuff” at times to fill voids in trees. Use a marine grade product as it will be outside in the elements. In years past arborists would use cement to fill voids, and while it is still useful in SOME cases, it is not commonly practiced or recommended these days.
Hi, we have a beautiful old bottle tree at our business that somwone has decided to cut into it in several places and maybe going in as far as 4 cm(passed bark and into the soft part of the tree) in 1 place and marked it in several others. Could you please help us to save the tree. We have many people stop to take photos of it as it is quite big.
If the cuts are that deep, there is not too much you can do. The tree will eventually try to grow some callous wood to cover the wound (that’s a tree’s version of scare tissue). Many years ago people used to use tree paint to “seal” wounds in trees, however further study has proven that to be fairly ineffective. Some folks still use it for aesthetic reasons.
I have two mature white oaks that were damaged when our wood pile caught fire several years ago. Both sustained burns up 6 to 7 feet from base. One seems to be doing ok after losing less than 25% of bark on one size. The other tree however seems to have gone on opposite direction. On the damaged side the bark is full of insect holes and just looks almost like driftwood. There are two holes big enough to put my hand inside. It has lost some limbs about halfway up but yet there are still small limbs growing and producing leaves. Should we take it down or wait longer to see if it will recover? I’d send pictures if there was a way too attach them. Thank you in advance! Bill
Hello Bill. From the sounds of your description I would recommend taking the tree down. Trees rarely recover when the decay has advanced that much.
Very good information. Lucky me I came across your
website by chance (stumbleupon). I’ve bookmarked it for later!
Hi Forest Keeper, I have a Japanese Maple (supposed to be a sun tolerant one) I’ve had it for 6years was doing very well was only 3ft tall 1/2inch diameter when planted it. Now its over 8ft tall the diameter is 4 3/4 inches. But this year i noticed it has sun-scald on the south west side. The bark is all cracked an coming loose. Its about 2 inched wide and 10 inches long. Should I remove the loose back & maybe cover it with burlap until fall. Also should I cover it every summer to prevent it from happening again/more. Need your help…love my tree.
I have a very large Pine tree that is probably 150 years old. It look like a gigantic bonsai tree. Last week we had a storm in Indiana and a large branch broke off (about 30 feet long and about 18 inches around). There is a wound in the tree that is about a two feet in diameter. It is a beautiful tree and I don’t want to loose it. Should we treat it or leave it alone or use wood glue??? It would take a lift to get to it.
Hello we have a cherry blossom free don’t know the proper name for it but my mum had it planted as a baby tree back in January 1990 in memory of our dad. Up till now it’s been getting better every year but we have noticed recently it’s losing bark and today I saw cracks going right up through the tree?? Very worried as we have lost mum as well and she had a brass plaque made and I look after that is there anything we can do is the tree damaged forever??
I have several large trees in my back yard. Someone deliberately cut about 12 inch rings around peeling the bark off. I noticed the leaves are falling. Is the tree dying, can I save the tree, please help.Thank you.
Painting may be useful when a branch is cut off, as this will seal the wood, and stop water soaking into the [dead] endgrain, core of the branch. Wet wood is a haven for bugs and fungi.
Hi, I am from india. I have around 100 sandalwood trees but smugglers cuts the chest part of the tree (trunk) with a heavy axe and the damage is around 50%.
Is there any way to protect them with great natural resources.
Thanks for explaining that it would be smart to try to remove part of the broken or damaged tree. it is good to know that it will grow back healthier if you do that. It might be smart to have a professional remove the whole tree if there is a lot of damage to the tree.
A young man fell asleep and ran into my ray wood ash tree damaging the bank on a tree that is 22 years in the ground and very healthy. He totaled his car and also uprooted a Xylosma bush that was in the ground 44 years and had 8 to 10 inch roots. I was told to wait a year and then paint the damaged section. Thanks for great advise. I want to save the tree because it is a critical part of my landscaping. I have two more like trees just south of the damaged tree. The Xylosma has to be removed and a 15 gal planted. The 4 other Xylosma’s are trimmed to be 15 ft tall and form a screen across the front of my fence.
Some really good tips here. Thanks for the pro tips.
I just purchased a small cypress tree, maybe 1inch in diameter/4ft tall, my goat found a way to eat some of the bark, maybe 6 to 8 inch long on about 1/2 of the tree diameter..
The tree is still in a pot until I can keep the goats away from it and plant it in the ground. Is there anything I can do to help the tree heal, will this cause the tree to die?
Well you can wrap the damaged park of the trunk with peat moss then burlap then keep it moist. If the tree is young and healthy enough the cambium will grow new callus wood and fuse together over that damaged portion within a few months.
Neighbor children peeled the bark off of a lower branch of my Crimson maple tree so that it is down to the bare smooth wood. What can I expect as a result?
Catherine in Lisbon, ME
Hi Forest Keeper, I have a young Red Bud that got hit by a riding lawn mower by my neighbor. Without knowing the information about the tree paint, it was suggested by a local garden center to apply the paint and we did. Now what should I do? I’m so upset about my tree injury. My son got me the tree a couple of years ago for Mother’s Day and I really cherish the tree and have tried to take such good care of. Thank you for your response.
Hugh Maple rammed by truck. White gooey sap running down from wounds. Accident was end of April, sap is still running very messy afraid for health of tree. Supplies loads of protection from sun damage on house. Summer shade, would like to fix. Wendy in the desert
Very informative post, trees are similar to people in many ways. When people get wounded they have to have the wound stitched back together so it can heal quicker, same with a tree. Thank you for sharing, would love to see how the tree recovered!
I live in West central area of Indiana. We have rather dramatic seasons and my dear dad taught me a trick years ago that I have found very useful. Certainly not to the dispute of what is told by the professional, but I have found using a beeswax toilet bowl ring, with ample amount rubbed on either of the wound or the barked off area of the tree trunk or major limb, works wonders. Especially in the spring when sap is on it’s way to the branch tips. And it lasts for at least two seasons or better, to allow the tree to heal over. The remainder of the toilet bowl ring that you do not use, has an indefinite shelf life for a future accidents.
Hi, I have a small tree that one of the branches is being damaged by squirrels. I will try to apply this technique and figure out how to protect the bark from the squirrels and so that the bark can heal(any suggestions on what to use).I love squirrels so removing or repelling them wont be an option.
I was looking for this information relating to repairing damaged tree bark . You have really eased my work by posting this article, loved your writing skill as well. Please keep sharing more, would love to read more from you!
Thanks for your nice article. I love gardening. That is why I am here to read your informative article. Here you mention “Do Not Use Tree Paint”. I really support this point. Thanks again.
I have a young tulip tree that was squarely backed into by a skid steer. The tree is about 8” in diameter. The bark is thin and the damaged area is about 24” long and appears to be a crack about 3/4” deep. The bark and growing stem (cambium) separated from the trunk about 1/2 way around. The skid steer crushed the bark at two locations 18” apart and 2” wide. Is this tree salvageable or do I cut my losses?
Excellent informative forestkeepers!! I had a quick question, hopefully abit relative! There are black ants crawling up & down an older black oak tree, & have sprayed about a 6 inch ring around the trunk a few times in the past year… the only reason I had to keep applying was because after rain, etc, (bark soaking it up!?), they ants just keep comin’!… I know that the bark is most importantly critical on the inside of the tree… so would it be feasibly possible to spray a 6 inch band of clear coat spray paint all around the trunk to keep the outside more hardened (& less porous!) to not only prevent the pesticide from soaking in, but to rather keep it there for the ants to crawl across for a longer period of time. Not only would I believe that killing the ants would help the tree, (by also preventing any more damage from them, on the inside), but also prevent them from attacking the bark on the outside! Looking forward to your innate knowledge on a reply to hopefully help others increase the overall health of their trees by taking these buggers out for good!! Thank you so much in advance!
-DC from MI