While trees can seem like stoic giants, unflappable in the face of adversity, they can be more vulnerable than many people realize. Damage to the trunk, no matter how small, can have a serious impact on the health of a tree if not handled properly. Trust us, as tree care professionals, we’ve seen how delicate even the mightiest of trees can be. That being said, if you have a favorite old tree in your yard that has a gash taken out of its bark, there’s no need to panic. The sooner you act, the better chance you have of helping the tree recover. Here are the basics of how you can repair tree trunk damage.
Why a Healthy Trunk Is Important
Like any living creature, a tree’s life depends on maintaining a delicate state of equilibrium. Without the right amount of light, water, and nutrients, it won’t be able to survive and grow tall. As you may remember from science class, a tree’s trunk is a vital part of its biological function. It draws nutrients and water up from the ground around it, distributing them throughout the rest of the body.
When a tree’s trunk is damaged, this process can be hampered. What may look like a minor amount of damage can negatively impact a tree’s health, so if you notice anything amiss with a tree on your property it’s important to repair tree trunk damage as soon as possible. Otherwise, the problem may develop into a much more serious one.
What Not to Do
When you need to repair tree trunk damage, the trick is to avoid interfering with its natural defense mechanisms. While trees can’t heal injuries to themselves like human beings, they do have ways of mitigating the damage. Through a process called compartmentalization, a tree can isolate damaged sections of itself with new wood growth. This helps prevent the spread of fungal or bacterial growth, isolating any decay to a smaller area and saving the rest of the tree from disease.
For this reason, it’s important that you don’t attempt to use any sealants or wound dressings to repair tree trunk damage. Not only can they inhibit the natural process of compartmentalization, but they can even encourage pathogens to thrive. For this reason, we recommend not attempting to patch a tree with new material and, if you feel you need to, only to wash the wound with clean water.
Clean Up the Wound as Best You Can
The first thing you should do to repair tree trunk damage is make the damage as clean as possible. That’s not to say you should get in there with soap and water, though. In this case, a clean cut means one with no rough edges. A ragged gash can cause problems with a tree’s ability to transport nutrients as well as impede new growth. The best thing you can do for a tree in this state is help it to do what it wants to do.
Using a sharp knife or chisel, cut out the jagged bark in an oval shape, with the longer ends of the oval directed vertically. Be careful not to cut any deeper into the wound, only just enough to remove the jagged bark and leave a clean line instead. This should be done as close to the wound as possible in order to avoid removing too much healthy wood. Leave it to heal in the open air but keep an eye on it to see how it progresses. If you notice new bark beginning to grow around the wound, it’s a good sign that the tree will make it.
For Serious Damage, Create a Bridge Graft
Sometimes, a tree will sustain serious enough damage that simply cleaning the wound isn’t enough to keep it alive. This can happen if a tree becomes girdled. That is, when a large portion of its bark is removed from around its circumference. The more area that’s exposed, the harder it is for a tree to transport nutrients from its roots to its leaves. If there is a significant portion of the bark removed, you may need to step in and create one or more bridge grafts.
First, find healthy branches or twigs on the tree and cut them loose. These should have some width to them, but nothing larger than your thumb. They should also be just a bit longer than the vertical length of the wound, maybe one or two inches. Be sure to mark which end is the top and bottom of the branch, as that information will be important later. Next, trim one side of the branch so that it can be laid flat against the trunk. These branches will serve as your grafts, acting as temporary connections from your tree’s root system to its branches.
After you have your grafts ready, you’ll need to create an opening to fit them into the tree. Cut into the edges of the wound, creating flaps where you can insert the ends of the grafts under the bark of the trunk. Finally, place the grafts in the flaps so that the top of the branch is pointing upward, away from the roots. Nutrients and water can only flow one way through it, so it’s crucial you get the direction correct. With the grafts in place, you’ll be able to restore the flow from the roots to the rest of the tree. It won’t solve the problem immediately, but it will hopefully give the tree enough time to recover on its own.
When You Don’t Know What To Do, Call for Help
If you’ve tried your best but your tree is still looking a little worse for wear, it may be time to call in the experts. Not everyone can be a trained arborist. That’s why we’re here to offer you our top-notch service when you need it. Our trained professionals will be able to come out to your home and assess the damage, determining the extent of the problem and what the best course of action is. So don’t worry about saying goodbye to your favorite yard feature just yet. We’ll be there to save the day in no time.