Image by Bart Everson
By Heather Rhoades
Trees are often thought of as towering giant who are difficult to kill. Many people are often surprised to find out that removing tree bark can actually harm a tree. Tree bark damage is not only unsightly, but can be deadly to a tree.
Tree bark function
For all intents and purposes, tree bark is the skin of the tree. The main tree bark function is to protect the phloem layer. The phloem layer is like our own circulatory system. It brings the energy produced by the leaves to the rest of the tree.
How removing tree bark affects a tree
Because the tree bark function is to protect the layer that brings food, when tree bark is scratched or damaged, this tender phloem layer below is also damaged.
If the tree bark damage goes less than 25% of the way around the tree, the tree will be fine and will survive without a problem, provided that the wound is treated and is not left open to disease.
If the tree bark damage goes from 25% to 50%, the tree will suffer some damage but most likely will survive. Damage will appear in the form of lost leaves and dead branches. Wounds of this size need to be treated as soon as possible and should be watched carefully.
If the tree bark damage is greater than 50%, the life of the tree is at risk. You should call a tree care professional to help you with repairing the damage.
If the tree is damaged around 100% of the tree, this is called girdling. It is very difficult to save a tree with this much damage and the tree will most likely die. A tree care professional may try a method called repair grafting to bridge the gap in the bark and allow the tree to live long enough to repair itself.
Repairing tree bark scratched or damaged
No matter how much of the tree bark has been damaged, you will need to repair the wound.
If the tree is simply scratched, wash the wound out with plain soap and water to help reduce the amount of pathogens that may be in the scratch and that could cause further damage. Wash the wound thoroughly with plain water after this. Allow the scratch to heal in the open air. Do not use a sealant.
Method 1 – Reattaching lost tree bark
If the removed tree bark is still available after the tree bark damage, gather up as much as possible and reattach it to the tree. Use tape such as duct tape to secure the bark to the tree. Make sure that the bark is going in the right direction (the same direction it was on before it came of) on the tree as the phloem layer can only transport nutrients in one direction. Perform this act as quickly as possible so that the bark does not die.
Method 2 – Clean cutting the wound
If the bark cannot be retrieved, say because an animal ate the bark, you will need to make sure that the damage to the tree will heal cleanly. Jagged wounds will interfere with the tree’s ability to transport nutrients so you will need to clean cut the wound. You do this by removing tree bark by cutting an oval around the circumference of the damage. The top and bottom of the wound there will be for the points of the oval. Do this as shallowly and as close to the wound as possible. Let the wound air heal. Do not use sealant.