7 Reasons Why A Tree Can (Or Can’t) Survive Without Its Bark

Brown tree trunk with bark stripped off or missing

While many trees have stripped bark, you may wonder whether this is a sign of something going very wrong. What causes the bark to be stripped in the first place and why can (or can’t) a tree survive in this scenario?

When a tree loses it’s bark, it hardly will ever grow it back. For minor bark damage, trees form callouses around the missing bark to isolate the inner part of the tree that’s exposed. When a tree has serious bark damage, too much of the actual tree can be exposed, making it less likely to survive.

Oftentimes, it depends on the nature of the stripped bark, combined with other environmental and internal factors. Stick with us to learn about the ways that a tree may or may not be able to survive once its bark has been stripped!

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1. A Small Amount Of Bark Was Stripped By A Small Animal (Minor Concern)

While it is ideal for no bark to be stripped from a tree at all, this is not always very realistic. 

Say a small animal, like a squirrel, has stripped away a bit of bark to get to the phloem layer underneath. They appreciate the sweetness of this part of your tree, but the tree certainly does not appreciate having its bark stripped away. 

However, since this is such a common practice and happens quite often thanks to squirrels and other small animals, you should not be too concerned about this one. 

Because squirrels are small, they do not strip away as much bark as some other occurrences, and will therefore not have as large an effect on the tree, its health, or its ability to survive. 

On that same note, we should mention that the phloem layer is a big part of why stripping bark is so problematic to a tree. This layer helps to regulate the tree and circulate energy throughout. So, damage to the phloem layer is a cause of great concern. 

Again, though, squirrels are small enough that they won’t likely do much harm to the tree as long as it is healthy overall. 

Say a hundred squirrels strip bark from the same tree, then you’ve got a very different scenario that will likely be fatal to your tree.

Often times, when a tree loses bark it won’t regrow it back and instead, it will develop callouses over the area. You can read more in our article about why tree bark doesn’t grow back!

2. A Larger Animal Strips Away Bark (Medium Concern)

Of course, a larger animal is going to have a larger impact when it comes to your tree and its viability. If more surface area has bark stripped away, the worse off your tree will be.

Say a deer uses its antlers to rub against the trunk of your tree, stripping away a great deal more of bark than a tiny squirrel peeling back some layers here and there. 

While this might not be the absolute biggest concern when compared to some other bark-stripping scenarios, it is quite significant. You should be prepared for the possibility of larger animals stripping your bark, especially if you live in an unfenced area or on a large piece of land that is open.

If you notice larger marks and larger pieces of bark that have been removed, it may be time to start thinking about what you can do to help restore that bark. At the least, you’d want to keep those larger animals away from your tree when possible. 

We’ll dive into those preventative measures a bit later, though.

3. A Tree Is Hit By A Car (High Concern)

This one, for obvious reasons, is the highest concern we’ve seen so far on this list. 

Say somebody is driving along and an animal jumps out into the road or cars stop quickly up ahead. They try to veer but end up running into the tree in your front yard. This is MUCH more common then you’d think.

This is not ideal for the driver, of course, nor is it for your tree and potentially other parts of your yard.

If a tree is hit by a car, the bark may be stripped off, but the tree as a whole is also going to go through the trauma of such a high impact. 

Most likely there is going to be more damage Ito the tree than just that semi-surface level trauma of stripped bark.

In a situation like this, you would want to have a professional come to evaluate the comprehensive damage to the tree to get a good idea of where you stand.

4. A Storm Has Caused Bark Loss (Varying Concern Based On Situation)

This occurrence depends on the severity of the storm, how close your tree was to a lighting strike or if it was directly hit, the speed and intensity of any wind or hail, and other environmental factors.

This is another one of those situations that will need evaluation by either you or a professional to determine what action can be taken and if your tree is still viable.

5. Bark Loss Due To External Issue (Medium Concern)

When the bark is falling from your tree, likely a result of a fungus, malnourishment, or some other form of strain, the concern level may be hard to gauge. 

You’ll want to first take a look at how much bark is falling off to help you initially determine the concern you should feel in this situation.

Next, if you can evaluate the cause on your own, you can proceed from there. If not, you’ll want to reach out to a professional who can help you figure out your next step.

6. Poor Pruning Of A Tree Leading To Bark Loss (Minor Concern)

Unless you happen to cut a huge chunk of the bark off of your tree, this one is likely going to be a very low level of concern.

Realistically, there is no huge reason to get concerned when you accidentally nick your tree with some pruners or shears. As long as the missing bark area is tiny, as one would expect, your tree should be alright!

Take a look at our guide on how to properly prune large trees for some tips!

7. Bark Loss Due To Extreme Temperatures (Medium Concern)

This is another one of those things that is so much a part of the natural process a tree goes through in an area that has extreme weather, but it can still cause a great deal of stress on the tree.

You may have read about how there are many ways that trees survive the winter but what if they don’t? Or what if the temperatures get too hot in the summer?

Both of these extremes can lead to trees cracking and bark may appear to do so much as crack off the tree.

Depending on the temperature, extremity of the region, and damage to a tree, this one tends to be a medium-level concern.

What To Do If Your Tree Is Stripped Of Bark

Trunk of pine tree with peeled bark

When you realize that your tree has been stripped of its bark, in any way, shape, or form, you’ll need to decide what sort of action to take. 

How much bark is lost, and how healthy does the tree appear otherwise?

Essentially, is it worth it to put time, money, and effort into saving a tree, or is it time to go ahead and take it down altogether?

Ultimately, that decision is up to you.

How To Save A Tree With Stripped Bark

A close up of a pine trunk, eaten by bark beetles, moscow region

Now that you are aware of seven reasons why a tree can (or can’t) survive without its bark, let’s talk about ways to save those trees to save those trees that have a better chance of pulling through. 

What are some measures you can take to sustain your tree and nurture it back to it’s glory?

By the way, if you’d like these tips more in-depth, I encourage you to take a look at our full guide on how to save a tree with stripped bark. We’ll give you the high level of that below!

Keep Animals Of All Sizes Away From Your Tree

Let’s begin with prevention, as that is ultimately going to be the best way to save a tree before the bark is stripped. One preventative measure you can take is keeping animals away from your tree. 

You can try a product like the Deer Repel Deer Repellent to keep the larger animals away from your tree. Funnily enough, it keeps other, smaller animals away even though it is branded as ‘deer repellent.’

You can count on this to keep rabbits and rodents out of your tree, as well. 

Repair Damaged Tree Bark

Now, let’s talk about repairs once your tree bark is damaged.

According to New Mexico State University, girdling, when the bark is removed from part of the circumference of a tree, has varying consequences. 

For example, they noted that the removal of bark that was one-quarter of the circumference of the tree or lower wouldn’t do as much harm, while one-half of the circumference increased damages significantly and put the tree at higher risk of death. 

Complete girdling, when the bark is removed around the entire circumference of the tree, can be quite the game ender.

This will help to create a gauge of your damages, and what you can do to save your tree. 

Now, let’s talk about the methods you can use!

Help To Create A Clean Bark Wound On The Tree

Even in a situation like the first one we mentioned, where a small rodent-sized animal causes some damage to your tree, you can still take action to minimize damage. 

Jagged tears in the bark will heal less quickly than clean cuts. So, even when there is just a small bit of bark missing that will likely not cause any significant harm to the tree, there is the chance that you could make a small difference and help your tree bounce back more quickly.

Not to get into too much detail here, but jagged wounds actually affect the way that a tree can store, receive, and transport nutrients from part to part. Clean-cutting is a recommended method not only to help your tree heal but to ensure that it can remain properly nourished during that process.

If you’ve been reading our pieces for a while, you probably already know that sealant is not as effective as one might think. When you clean-cut a wound, you’ll want it to be a shallow cut that frames the wound but avoids going too far out. 

As long as you cut away all of the areas of the damaged bark, you should be in good standing. 

Bridge-Grafting In Response To Serious Tree Bark Damage

When methods of trying to keep animals away, like clean cutting, and repairing damaged bark have failed, you may need to resort to bridge-grafting to keep your tree alive. 

When the damage is too severe, like after a large animal has scraped bark away, a car has hit your tree, or a storm has impacted the bark, you’ll have to do some extra work to ensure that your tree is able to transport the nutrients it needs to keep on going.

Essentially, when areas that have lost bark become too large, the tree is unable to transport nutrients through that area. So, human intervention is necessary.

What does that look like, though?

According to the West Virginia University Extension, bridge grafting is a process of re-establishing interrupted sap flow.

First, the injured section of wood needs to be cleaned up and cut cleanly, as we detail above.

Instead of stopping there, you’ll next use some scion wood, a fancy way to say twigs used to propagate woody plants. These are going to be placed every few inches around the base of the tree to accommodate a new system of sap flow. 

You should cut about two inches into the bark near the damaged zone to stick the scion wood pieces underneath. Then, you’ll tack the wood down using a tack nail and cover it in a form of wax to prevent excess loss of moisture.

As an aside, this is really the only time we’ll tell you to tack anything or use a form of sealant on your tree. It is necessary for the grafting process but often there are other, better methods to use if a tree is not being grafted but needs support in some way.

If you’re looking for the materials to properly create a tree graft, you can try this MESTUDIO Grafting Tool Set to ensure you have the right equipment. This easy-to-use tool kit has durable materials, and allows you to know that you are using the right stuff!

With that, we’ll leave you for now.

That’s A Wrap!

Bark on tree that is damaged

Many people may see that their tree has lost some bark and think, “Well, that can’t be a big deal, right?”

On the flip side, many others may be immediately concerned for their trees and think it is a sure sign that the tree won’t make it.

Often, the result is somewhere in the middle. Taking steps to support your tree as well as to prevent any further loss of bark is an important way to sustain a healthy, safe tree that can go on for years to come.

Remember, there are varying levels of damages possible due to any of the seven situations listed above. So, consulting with a professional is always worthwhile when it comes to things you aren’t quite sure of.

As usual, we wish you the best as you continue along your Tree Journey. Cheers, friends!

References

Purohit, A., Maikhuri, R. K., Rao, K. S., & Nautiyal, S. (2001). Impact of bark removal on survival of Taxus baccata L.(Himalayan yew) in Nanda Devi biosphere reserve, Garhwal Himalaya, India. Current Science, 586-590.

Van Bel, A. J. (2003). The phloem, a miracle of ingenuity. Plant, Cell & Environment, 26(1), 125-149.

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