3 Tips for Treating Tree Trunk Wounds

A tree trunk

James O'Neil/Getty Images

It is obviously best to prevent tree trunk wounds in the first place. But this isn't always possible. Wounds from can occur from insect attacks, animals, fire or storm damage. Bacteria and fungi can attack a tree and damage it as well.

Once wood has been damaged there is no cure for decay. It is possible, however, to slow or stop more decay and damage.

If a tree trunk is wounded or suffering the loss of bark, there are some things you can do that may help to heal the injury and improve the wound's appearance.

Remember, though, that a tree does a great job of containing and compartmentalizing its own trunk wounds.

The following treatments are not embraced by all tree professionals. Landscape tree managers treat with both the tree's health and potential beauty in mind. Forest tree managers often treat a forest tree's wound to preserve its value as a timber product.

In most cases, these treatments can't do a lot of harm and will make the tree look attended to. Simply said, they can make a difference in the appearance of a tree as a specimen in the landscape but not necessarily in a forest setting.

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Scribe Around the Tree Wound

Tree trunk wound scribe
USFS Illustation, Publication AIB-387

Removing the dead and injured bark from around the wound with a sharp knife will encourage the healing process while making the tree more attractive in the landscape. "Scribing" a wound in the shape of a vertical ellipse will lessen rot and encourage the bark to form a callus.

Cutting or scribing the bark away from a wound will form an interface of healthy wood which starts the process of compartmentalization. Doing this may enlarge the size of the wound.

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Improving Tree's Vigor

Tree trunk wound before and after
USFS Illustation, Publication AIB-387

Improving a tree's health and vigor is a priority especially when the tree trunk is injured. Treating a tree wound and using a correct pruning method will support tree health by slowing the rotting process.

You might start by correctly pruning dead and dying branches to increase tree vigor and encourage a more attractive specimen. Remove dead, fallen, and pruned branches from the ground nearby. Doing this will sanitize the site and limit new attacks from pathogens and insect pests.

Existing dead wood may harbor wood-inhabiting microorganisms that could create new wounds. Thin out and remove less valuable trees nearby to reduce competition for nourishment in favor of the wounded higher valued specimen tree. Fertilize and water the tree properly to increase tree health.

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Wound Dressing

Tree trunk wound dressing
USFS Illustation, Publication AIB-387

This is a good illustration of "before and after" scribing a conifer without using a wound dressing like tree wound paint. Note that the area of trauma is enlarged but it looks good and will improve the damaged tree's appearance.

Most tree professionals agree that dressing a wound can be done for cosmetic effect but has no value as a treatment. Studies show that painting may actually inhibit the healing process. They may, according to the University of Tennessee Extension Service:

  • Prevent drying and encourage fungal growth
  • Interfere with formation of callus tissue
  • Inhibit compartmentalization
  • Serve as a possible food source for pathogens