How to Repair a Damaged Tree Trunk: 4 Tips & Tricks
Whether it’s because of storms, animals, or any other cause, a damaged tree trunk can be unsightly. And if the damage is severe, it can cause problems for the tree, too. Damage can range from lost leaves and poor growth to the death of the tree. Although trees are resilient and can recover from some trunk and bark damage, if it is particularly bad and you really want to save the tree, it may be beneficial to call a professional tree surgeon to help.
What Does Tree Bark Do?
Tree bark is essentially skin for the tree. It protects the trunk underneath and especially protects the phloem layer¹. The phloem helps spread nutrients around the whole tree, including leaves and foliage. It is this damage to the phloem that is a major concern if a tree has become damaged and its bark has splintered or torn off.
Effects of Tree Bark Damage
Because the phloem is responsible for spreading nutrients to the rest of the tree, damage can lead to a loss of leaves, and it may mean that the tree will not produce new growth. Over time, if a tree suffers minor damage, it will repair itself and phloem will form where it has been lost.
If the damage occurs on less than a quarter of the way around the trunk, it should be fine. If there is damage to between a quarter and a half of the trunk, it should survive but may endure a little damage. If around more than half of the trunk is damaged, it could cause the tree to die. If the tree has suffered damage around the trunk, you will most likely lose the tree.
The 4 Possible Repair Tips
Although minor damage can repair itself over time, more serious damage means that the tree will benefit from some kind of intervention on your part. The best option depends on the extent of the damage:
1. Clean the Damage
If the damage is minor, wash the area with soapy water and dispose of any splinters that might remain. This will help get rid of any bacteria and other pathogens in the wound, the same way it would in humans or animals. Once washed, wash again with plain water to allow the air to get to the cut.
2. Clean Cutting
The tree has the best chance of repairing itself and recovering from the damage if the affected area is clean and clear. This means that even jagged wounds can prevent proper recovery. Use a sharp knife and cut the bark away in an oval shape around the affected area. Cut out as little bark as possible and, once finished, wash the area as above before allowing it to air heal.
3. Bridge Grafting
If there is serious damage around more than 50% of the tree, a professional tree surgeon might use a technique called bridge grafting. Clear the area by cleanly cutting around the damage and let it dry. Use small, young twigs from the same tree and ensure that they will reach the full vertical length of the damage. Push the thicker end of the twig under the bark at the bottom of the damaged area and tuck the thinner end of the twig under the bark at the top.
By putting the thicker end at the bottom, you ensure that the twig is facing the same direction it was when it was growing, which is important, but if there is little difference in the thickness just make sure you note which is the bottom and which is the top.
Nutrients can only flow from the base to the tip, which is the same as the bottom of the tree to the top, and you need to match this orientation. If the damage is very extensive, you may need to use two or three of these bridges to give the tree the best chance of recovery.
4. Don’t Use Sealant
In all cases, the best bet is to let the tree try and heal itself. Some people have been known to fill the damaged area with sealant, but this will only likely exacerbate the problem, with toxins and potentially harmful chemicals getting inside the tree and causing it more damage.
Trees are robust, especially if they are well established, but bark and trunk damage can still occur. Although the tree may be able to repair itself over time, it can still benefit from your help. Clean the area, ensure there are no jagged areas, and allow it to heal from the air. If the damage is especially bad, create and add bridge grafts or have a professional tree surgeon do it for you. It will take time for a full recovery, regardless of the technique you use.
Featured Image Credit: P_Saranya, Shutterstock