When it comes to tree care, your main aim will likely be aesthetic upkeep. As a focal point of many yards and landscaping projects, keeping your trees looking beautiful and shapely is certainly important.
Proper tree maintenance involves more than keeping up appearances. An unhealthy tree is an unsafe tree! If your tree’s health is compromised, it can pose many risks. Identifying injuries to your trees is crucial.
Keep reading for tips and tricks for effective tree wound repair and prevention!
All About Tree Wounds
What Is a Tree Wound
A tree wound is an injury to the tree, typically located on the trunk, that breaks through the bark and cambium layer. In doing so, the tree’s interior is exposed, leaving vital tissues open to the elements.
When those tissues, called the phloem and xylem, are ruptured, the tree cannot circulate nutrients correctly. Additionally, wounds to the wood leave it susceptible to insects, bacteria, fungi, small animals, and harsh weather, leading to further damage and eventually decay.
Chemicals in the exposed tissue draw certain pests, who will feed on the already damaged wood and bark. If the wound isn’t adequately treated, either with or without help, depending on the severity of the wound, the decay will spread, eventually weakening the whole tree.
How to Identify a Tree Wound
Due to how trees address their wounds, it’s easy to identify when it needs some tree wound repair. Ultimately, trees cannot heal their wounds fully; instead, they seal them. This naturally occurring tree wound repair process is compartmentalization.
To compartmentalize the wound, the tree will cover the wound with wound wood, sometimes referred to as a callus, as a boundary between the injured and healthy tissue. In turn, this isolates the wound and the potential decay that comes with it from the rest of the tree.
After compartmentalization, the wound wood releases certain chemical compounds to stop the spread of decay-causing bacteria. However, any decay that existed before the wound compartmentalized cannot be cured or reversed.
As such, the tree wound will stand out from the rest of the healthy wood on the tree. The area will be slightly discolored and look like a scar.
Tree Wound Causes
Unfortunately, considering all the long-term damage that tree wounds can do, trees are commonly injured by many different culprits.
Broken branches, scrapes, animals, insects, storms, fires, cars, construction equipment, and lawnmowers are just a few agents that create a need for tree wound repair.
Because of all the man-made threats, tree wound repair is necessary for urban settings much more often than in the wild. Minor injuries are usually easily treated by the tree itself. However, some may need a little help, especially more severe wounds.
But, just as there are many causes of tree wounds, there are many methods for tree wound repair and prevention.
Best Methods for Tree Wound Repair
Scribing is the simplest and most commonly used method for tree wound repair.
After a tree has suffered a minor injury, the surrounding bark and cambium layer are often left distorted and jagged. Not only does this look unappealing, but it can also damage the tree further and encourage the spread of rot, disease, and infestation.
To help repair this kind of tree wound, use a knife to remove dead and injured bark from the wound’s perimeter. When scribing a tree wound, take care not to deepen the wound further or cut off any healthy wood.
Avoid creating sharp edges while cleaning up the wound; instead, try to create an elliptical shape around the injury. Removing the dead-weight wood will encourage faster self-repair, reduce the risk of rot, and allow calluses to form over the injury.
Concerning tree care, it’s common to see pruning associated with fruit trees or berry bushes. This is because the pruning process encourages new growth, thus ensuring a more bountiful harvest in the coming season.
For tree wound repair, pruning works similarly. The wound wood needs to grow over the injury to seal it off and stop the spread of decay.
As such, it’s crucial to ensure the tree isn’t wasting energy on unnecessary, broken, or dead branches and instead focuses on the injury.
But, improper pruning can also create more damage, working against both you and the tree in the tree wound repair process. When you prune an injured tree, make clean cuts that keep the main branch collar intact.
The best practice is to prune the tree as soon after the injury as possible so it can begin to focus its healing energy entirely on the wound. If properly pruned, the wound should begin to seal much faster than if left to its own devices.
Sometimes, healed tree injuries leave deep holes in the wood called cavities. The knee-jerk reaction to seeing a big cavity in your tree is probably to fill it with a neutral substance, like dirt or cement.
However, aside from cosmetic concerns, there is not much evidence to support that this benefits the tree in healing itself or preventing decay. Potentially, it can keep the callus from forming unevenly. But cleaning out the cavity often results in more damage to the newly wounded wood.
If you choose to fill a cavity during the tree wound repair process, be extremely careful not to damage the new, vulnerable wood!
Tree Wound Dressing
Similar to the reaction to cavities, your instinct may tell you to cover or dress the tree wound to protect it from external threats and further damage. However, this has been proven actually to slow the natural healing process.
Oxygen is extremely important to tree wound repair. Dressing the wound will close it off to receive the proper aeration it needs to heal. A wound dressing can also trap water and fungi between itself and the open tissue, allowing the wound to fester and rot.
All in all, wound dressings not only fail to prevent the spread of decay, but they also hinder the tree wound repair process and escalate the problem.
The only exception is if the tree wound is caused by oak wilt disease. It’s been observed that tree paint may stop the spread of that specific pathogen.
How to Keep Your Tree Healthy
Avoiding Tree Wounds
The greatest step you can take to avoid tree wound repair is to avoid tree wounds altogether. Easier said than done, of course. But, there are a few tricks you can take onboard to decrease the risk of tree wounds in your yard.
You can future-proof your yard and tree health by planting trees as far as possible from buildings, streets, power lines, fire hydrants, and driveways.
Another tip to help you avoid tree wound repair is to mulch the entire root spread area around your tree. Mulch can act as a forcefield for your tree. If the area doesn’t grow grass, your lawn mower or weed whacker won’t get close enough to cause injury.
But, the best preventative measure you can take to keep your trees safe is to improve the vigor of your trees.
Improving Overall Tree Health
It’s a no-brainer that healthy trees will heal themselves much faster than weak ones in unfavorable conditions. It’s important to provide your trees with a home in your yard that supports their growth and healing.
This calls for well-researched, well-drained, high-quality soil full of nutrients, adequate shade or sun, and measured fertilizer applications.
Tree Wound Repair: FAQ
Should I fill in or seal a tree wound?
On the whole, the answer to this question is no.
Some specific circumstances may call for manually sealing off or filling in a tree wound, such as the case of oak wilt disease. But in most situations, sealing or filling in a wound will only interfere with the natural tree wound repair.
How long does tree wound repair take?
Adult trees are slow growing and have lifespans that far exceed our own. As such, the length of time tree wound repair takes is proportionate.
The full external healing process can take up to 20 years. However, the chemical compartmentalization process works faster, averaging roughly three years.
Should I repair the tree wound myself?
If any part of the tree wound repair process makes you nervous or the wound is exceptionally severe, it’s best to call a tree care professional to do the job.
Wrapping up the Guide on Tree Wound Repair
The ways in which nature can heal itself are astounding!
However, that doesn’t mean our trees don’t need a little help from time to time to ensure they’re looking and feeling their best. With these steps, you can approach tree wound repair with knowledge and confidence.
For more help and information on tree care, visit our Guide to Tree Bark Repair.