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How Do I Treat a Tree Wound?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 16, 2024
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Tree wounds are classified into three general categories: trunk wounds, branch wounds and root wounds. How to care for the tree largely depends on its location and severity of the wound. Many smaller trunk wound openings, cracks and branch wounds usually heal without much treatment, but endangered trees and severe wounds need intervention. The most common tree wound treatment is trimming off any shredded or extraneous damage and cutting the damaged, jagged tree limb flush with the trunk of the tree. Fertilizing and watering the tree encourages vigorous growth and healing of the wound.

The best treatment for a tree wound is that which encourages the tree to grow over the wound with new bark. New bark growth, called a callus, may form very slowly in distressed or malnourished trees. To expedite the process, fertilize the tree and prune off diseased or tangled branches in the early spring. Water the tree, especially during periods of little rainfall or drought. Avoid mowing or weed trimming near the tree, as small cuts to the trunk hinder its healing process.

Most horticulturalists recommend the following treatment for severe tree wounds: clean the wound, bind the loose bark with clean strips of fabric, and cut away jagged portions of the bark that surround the wound. Old wounds that have formed a cavity in the trunk can be filled with a flexible asphalt or plastic putty material. This material will flex as the tree moves with the wind or with growth. Never fill a wound cavity with concrete or other inflexible material as the material will break away and become a depository for moisture or a haven for insects.

Some garden centers promote specialized tree wound dressing treatments, but the effectiveness of these treatments is contested and controversial among horticulturalists. Select tree dressings are petroleum-based, painted over the tree wound to repel insects and fungal spores. These dressings may unintentionally retain moisture in the wound, however, slowing the healing process and encouraging decay or rot.

A tree wound is any kind of break or opening in the bark of a tree where the inner bark or inner wood of the tree is exposed to the environment. Similar to the skin of living creatures, the tree's bark serves as a protective covering for the tender interior parts of a tree. When gashed or opened, the tree wound becomes susceptible to insect invasion, fungal infection, and rot.

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