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Question: Tree Bark Damage

May 13, 2021
Damage to tree by equipment

Photo from publication FNR-492-W, Mechanical Damage to Trees: Mowing and Maintenance Equipment

Question: I am actually a Master Gardner in Hamilton County and I need help with a tree bark damage question. We have a beautiful dogwood tree that is about 18’ tall and 6” in diameter. By accident my husband backed into the tree with his truck while unloading mulch – he did not see it! Now there is severe damage to the bark at the bumper height – about 3” wide and 14” long. All the way down the bark is gone.

What are the chances the tree will survive? What if anything should I do at this point?

My husband wanted to cover it with painter’s tape to protect it but I know that is not good for the tree. Please let me know your suggestions as I do hope to save the tree if possible.

Answer: Well, that is certainly an unfortunate accident for the tree! There may be a rescue treatment worth trying that research has shown promise in sealing the wound. The ability for the tree to seal and close off wounds is based on species, age and energy resources. Additionally, follow these instructions…

  1. Keep the tree healthy; mulch and supplemental watering during drought conditions.
  2. Trace the wound with a wood file and sharp knife, removing any loose bark to a clean wound.
  3. Take black plastic and attach it to the tree wound, just past the wound edge, using small, ¼” staples from a staple gun.
  4. Attach the plastic so that it forms a seal which will help to maintain a moist environment for parenchyma cells to do their work at compartmentalizing and creating wound wood on the perimeter of the damaged area.
  5. The plastic may need to be checked periodically to be sure it is attached well until removal.
  6. Leave the wound covered for about 12 months, then remove carefully.

This will not guarantee recovery, but research has indicated it does facilitate healing more quickly in many species. Continue to monitor for health and recovery.

Good luck!

Resources
Tree Wound and Healing, Got Nature? Blog, Purdue Extension - Forestry and Natural Resources
Equipment Damage to Trees, Got Nature? Blog
Tree Defect Identification, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center
Tree Pruning Essentials, Publication & Video, The Education Store
Tree Pruning: What Do Trees Think?, The Education Store
Mechanical Damage to Trees: Mowing and Maintenance Equipment, The Education Store
Tree Planting Part 1: Choosing a Tree, Video, Purdue Extension Channel
Tree Planting Part 2: Planting Your Tree, Purdue Extension Video

Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist
Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

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