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Tree Bark Repair Guide: How to Repair Tree Bark Damage

Under perfect conditions, trees can live for thousands of years and withstand many seasonal and cultural changes. So surely a poor frisbee throw or a fender bump can’t take down such a stalwart, right?

Not so fast! Significant damage to the tree’s bark can set off a chain reaction that can cause the tree to crumble. If your trees are attempting to recover from bark damage and aren’t sure how to treat it, you’ve come to the right place.

For a complete guide to tree bark repair, keep reading!

tree bark repair

Tree Bark Damage: Causes and Aftermath

Causes of Tree Bark Loss

True, trees are strong and resilient. But unfortunately, many different things can damage tree bark, especially trees used for landscaping or in densely populated areas.

A run-in with a lawnmower or other kinds of equipment is a big catalyst for the need for tree bark repair. Even a smack from a football or a hit from a tennis racket can do some damage. But not all causes of tree bark loss, and thus, tree bark repair, are man-made.

A severe storm with high winds can tear the bark right off of a tree. Small animals like woodpeckers, squirrels, or rabbits love to chew on tree bark, and adult male deer habitually rub their antlers on it.

Regardless of the cause, injuries to your tree’s bark can add up and require a fair bit of tree bark repair. So why is repairing the tree bark damage so important?

Why Damaging the Bark Damages the Tree

To understand the key to effective tree bark repair, it’s essential to understand how bark works. The bark of a tree is akin to the tree’s skin. It protects against external threats to the tree’s health, including pests and disease.

The bark also contains the tree’s phloem layer, the tree’s connective tissue and circulatory system. The phloem layer moves nutrients and energy around the tree.

Like our skin, the bark is an important tree organ that protects vital parts that help the tree thrive. When this layer is broken, the precious parts of the tree are now exposed to the elements.

Why Tree Bark Won’t Grow Back

Like our skin, tree bark won’t grow back, and they will grow their own scars or calluses around the wound. This doesn’t repair the bark, it protects the vulnerable layers underneath.

Once the tree bark wound scars, new wood will grow around it.

The majority of the function of the lost bark won’t come back as the tree bark seals itself over, similar to how areas of scar tissue on humans can lose feeling and function.

If less than 25% of the tree bark is damaged, the tree should easily survive with minimal maintenance.

If the damage to the bark is greater than 25% but less than 50%, the tree will suffer some damage, most notably in fruit, flower, or leaf production. However, with proper care, the tree will probably survive.

But, if more than 50% of the tree bark is damaged, the tree is at high risk. If you don’t feel confident treating the wound yourself, this would be the time to call in a tree care professional.

Best Methods for Tree Bark Repair

Live cuttings at grafting apple tree in cleft with growing buds, young leaves and flowers. Closeup.

Bark Tracing or Clean Cutting

Bark tracing is the most simple method of tree bark repair and is particularly useful when treating minor wounds or breakages.

The first step to successfully bark tracing is to clean the wound carefully. Broken pieces of bark still attached may have rough edges that further damage the delicate tissue.

Additionally, damaged and dying bark exposed to the tree underneath can cause further damage.

Removing the torn bark around the wound is called bark tracing, or occasionally called clean cutting.

Using a knife or a hammer and chisel, carefully and shallowly even out the bark and cut away any jagged edges. But use extra care – cutting into the wound by accident can do a lot of damage!

After you’ve cleaned up the wound, be sure to dispose of any broken pieces of bark lying around.

Keep a close eye on the damaged bark! If the wound is small enough, it should start to callous over and heal independently.

Bridge Grafting

If the damage is more severe and requires a more advanced level of tree bark repair, the next method you can try is bridge grafting.

After bark tracing using the steps above, identify some healthy twigs or small branches slightly longer than the wound to create a bridge graft.

Trim the edges of the branches at a slant to create a wedge shape. Then, carefully cut a small, shallow flap above and below the wound.

Insert the branches underneath the flaps (without removing the bark from the tree) to create a bridge of healthy bark over the wound. Finally, cover the ends with grafting wax.

Bridge grafting aims to create a pathway for nutrients and energy to flow around the area using healthy branches as conductors overtop of the barkless wound. The tree bark repair process can’t begin if the area isn’t receiving the necessary food, water, and sap to fuel the processes.

While there is no guarantee that the bridge graft will work or keep the tree from dying, it will give it more time to attempt to save itself.

Bridge grafting is a slow tree bark repair process, but you’ll know it’s working when the tree starts showing signs of life again, such as sprouting new leaves or scions.

Reattaching Bark

If there’s been some light weather damage to your tree where some pieces of bark have just been scaled, there is potential to successfully reattach the bark without callusing.

Before attempting to attach the bark, clean the wound gently with water to remove any critters or bits of debris from the area you’re going to recover.

Like a puzzle, try and fit the bark pieces exactly where they came from and in the proper direction for growth. Lightly secure the bark with tape or rope wrapped around the tree trunk.

You don’t want to smother the area and keep it from naturally healing. You just want to secure the bark pieces in place gently.

After three months, remove the brace and see if the damaged area has been fused back together. If not, this process won’t likely work, and you should resort to bark tracing.

Final Steps for Tree Bark Repair

Regardless of your chosen method, giving your injured tree some extra love and care is important after the tree bark repair process.

Fertilizing your tree after injury is a great way to encourage growth. Different trees prefer different NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) ratios, so make sure you’ve researched the best fertilizer choice for your tree.

Apply your choice of fertilizer to cover the whole root zone. When finished, irrigate the soil around the tree well to help the nutrients from the fertilizer soak into the ground.

If the need for tree bark repair was due to natural causes, it’s important to address those issues to prevent a repeat. Preventative measures and cultural control can do wonders against pests and diseases that like to eat away at your tree bark.

Tree Bark Repair: Do’s and Don’ts

Fallen tree, broken and dangerous, danger

When preparing for tree bark repair, there are some steadfast do’s and don’ts.

  • Don’t use any type of sealant to seal off the wound. The area needs to air out while it heals, just like wounds on your skin.
  • Don’t attempt to clean the inside of a cavity wound or hole in the tree. Doing so can further damage the cambium layer.
  • Don’t cut any sharp lines or corners when bark tracing. Keep the shape rounded and shallow for the best tree bark repair.
  • Do be sure to tidy up the area around the wound neatly.
  • Do remove loose bark around the wound area.

How to Prevent Tree Bark Loss

If you’re feeling intimidated by any of the steps in tree bark repair, you can certainly take some preventative measures to try and avoid damage altogether.

Critters that damage bark can usually be easily deterred from your trees using netting or wire. Instead of growing grass around the base of your tree, try mulching the root area instead. This will help retain water around the roots and ensure that lawnmowers and weed whackers don’t come close to the tree.

And finally, keeping your tree healthy and hydrated will help prevent stress, injury, or disease altogether.

Tree Bark Repair: FAQ

Gardener grafting fruit tree with grafting tape.

Can I use a sealant for tree bark repair?

Some guides to tree bark repair suggest dressing the wound by sealing it off using tree paint or even tar. However, this is usually not the best practice as it cuts off oxygen flow to the wound and allows diseases or pests to fester.

How do I know if my tree has been girdled?

A girdled tree has a ring of bark missing from the entire circumference of the tree. This is the most serious wound regarding tree bark repair and often happens at the hands (and teeth) of beavers.

Nutrients and minerals travel from the roots up the trunk into the rest of the tree. Girdling cuts this path off entirely, halting growth and photosynthesis altogether. You can attempt to bridge graft a girdled tree, but it’s a severe wound to address.

Call a tree care professional to address your girdled tree for the best tree repair results.

Wrapping Up the Guide to Tree Bark Repair

No need to cower in the face of tree bark damage any longer! Using these tips and tricks, you’re well-equipped to take some productive steps towards tree bark repair and save your trees from various wounds.

Learn more about the beauty and uses of tree bark.

Doug Clark

Saturday 3rd of June 2023

Thank you for all the information.

Any advice for Fire Blight? I have 8 apple trees and about 4 have it. I’ve been trimming infected branches but it keeps coming back. Doug Huntsville Alabama


Monday 12th of June 2023

Fire blight is a common and destructive bacterial disease that affects apple trees and other members of the Rosaceae family. Here are some recommendations to manage and prevent the spread of fire blight:

Pruning: Pruning infected branches is a crucial step in managing fire blight. Trim infected branches at least 12 to 18 inches below visible symptoms, making sure to sanitize pruning tools between cuts to prevent further contamination. Remove pruned branches from the area and dispose of them properly, away from the orchard.

Timing of pruning: Prune during dry weather conditions when the bacteria are less likely to spread. Avoid pruning during wet periods or when the trees are actively growing, as this can increase the chances of bacterial spread.

Disinfecting tools: Clean your pruning tools with a disinfectant, such as a 10% bleach solution or rubbing alcohol, between each cut to prevent bacterial transfer from one branch to another.

Cultural practices: Implement good orchard management practices to minimize the risk of fire blight. These include avoiding excessive nitrogen fertilization, promoting good air circulation by proper tree spacing and pruning, and providing adequate irrigation to prevent water stress.

Antibacterial sprays: In severe cases or when cultural practices alone are not sufficient, antibacterial sprays may be used. Streptomycin is an effective antibiotic for fire blight control, but its use is regulated in some regions. Consult with a local agricultural extension service or professional arborist to determine the appropriate spray options and follow the recommended application guidelines.

Resistant varieties: Consider planting apple tree varieties that are more resistant to fire blight, as they can be less susceptible to the disease. Consult with a local nursery or agricultural expert for recommendations on resistant apple tree varieties suitable for your region.

Remember that fire blight management is an ongoing process, and multiple years of consistent effort may be needed to effectively control the disease. Regular monitoring, prompt pruning of infected branches, and a combination of cultural practices and, if necessary, antibacterial sprays can help reduce the impact of fire blight and protect your apple trees.

Heidi Wood

Thursday 1st of June 2023

My 8 yr old grandsons were bored and decided to use a small axe to my Aspen trees to entertain themselves. These trees provide much needed shade. I used tree sealer spray and it helped but 3 years later the trunks are peeling away and I’m afraid I’ll lose them. Can I trim around all the wounds and then exactly what can I use to heal them?


Monday 12th of June 2023

I'm sorry to hear about the damage to your aspen trees. Trees, just like us, heal their wounds over time, but it's a slow process. Unfortunately, they don't regenerate lost tissues, instead, they compartmentalize the wounded area to prevent the spread of disease.

Here's what you can do to help:

Remove Loose Bark: Gently remove any loose bark from around the wounded area. Do this carefully so as not to cause additional damage.

Pruning: If there are branches that were damaged, prune those back to the next healthy junction. Make sure you use clean, sharp tools to avoid introducing disease or causing additional damage.

Avoid Sealants: Recent research suggests that it's best not to use a sealant or paint on tree wounds. While these products were once recommended to prevent disease, they can sometimes interfere with the tree's natural healing process. Trees have their own defenses and can often heal better if the wound is left open to the air.

Monitor for Disease and Pests: Keep an eye on the tree for signs of disease or pests. Fungi or insects can sometimes take advantage of a tree's wounds. If you notice any issues, consult with a local arborist or your local extension service.

Proper Care: Ensure the tree is well cared for otherwise. This means adequate watering (but not overwatering), and providing nutrients as necessary. A healthy tree will be better able to recover from damage.

Protection: If possible, put some kind of barrier around the trees to prevent future damage. This could be a physical barrier like a small fence, or a deterrent spray that's safe for trees but discourages activity around them.

If you're worried about the trees, it might be worth having an arborist take a look. They can assess the health of the tree and give you advice based on the specific situation. Remember that trees can take years to fully recover from damage, so the key is patience. Continue to provide the best care you can, and with time, your trees may still thrive.