5 Simple Steps To Save A Tree With Stripped Bark

The trunk of a pine tree with a stripped bark in the forest.

As you are probably very aware, trees can require quite a bit of maintenance when they have sustained damage. If you are looking for some quick, simple steps to save a tree with stripped bark, you might be wondering what solutions are out there!

Here are five simple steps to save a tree with stripped bark:

  1. Assess the tree’s damage
  2. Determine its viability
  3. Clean up any torn bark on the tree
  4. Perform a bridge graft
  5. Fertilize and replenish the tree

When a tree has been damaged, quick action is important. That’s why it’s good to know what to do before it happens! Before we continue our discussion of what exactly these steps are, let’s dive into how bark becomes stripped and what that looks like when it happens to your tree.

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What is Stripped Tree Bark? 

Stripped bark refers to any bark that has been pulled off, stripped, from the trunk of a tree. This may manifest as a small strip or two of bark missing from a tree, but it could also show up in a larger capacity where there may barely be any bark left at all. 

What Strips Tree Bark To Begin With?

So, you know what stripped bark is, but how does it get that way in the first place? 

Well, several different factors can cause the bark to end up being stripped from a tree. The first of these reasons happens to be the most sudden and the most disastrous of them.

1. Storms

Tree in a windstorm

What may appear just to be a rainy evening can turn into an event that has dire consequences for your plant life, namely your trees. 

When there is a storm, including lighting, you’ve probably been told to avoid sitting under a tree. This is because trees act as a conductor for any energy coming its way, including the explosive power of lightning.

Essentially, if lightning strikes your tree, the energy will move through the tree and heat any water inside the tree. Almost simultaneously, there will be an explosive force caused by this heat and energy that will knock the bark off of the exterior of the tree. 

Storms aren’t the only natural occurrence that could cause the bark to be stripped off of a tree, though. Animals are also a common culprit, if less catastrophic than lighting.

You can check out our full list of the most common trees that get struck by lightning to see if one of these trees in in your yard.

2. Animals

Squirrel sitting in a tree

Squirrels do not eat the bark off of trees, but rather prefer the phloem layer of tissue just under the bark that we mentioned is so vital to the tree’s overall well-being. This tissue is sweeter than the external bark, and squirrels will tear away the outer layer to get to what they want. 

Typically, squirrels will opt for smaller trees as their bark may be more easily removed, but they are not the only animals that have a reason to go for the bark of trees. 

Critters as small as beetles and as big as elephants consume tree bark and small branches. While humans cannot extract nourishment from these materials, the animals that eat them have digestive systems that were designed to allow for just that.

Without the necessary enzymes in a creature’s digestive system, the bark wouldn’t do much good. This is where, for example, squirrels come in. While they don’t eat the bark-like beetles, termites, mice, and elephants do, they certainly strip it from the tree in search of what they do want to eat.

It isn’t just natural phenomena that cause the bark to be stripped from the tree, however. Manmade machinery like cars, tractors, and other vehicles can also cause some damage.

3. Vehicles

Car crash into a tree

While natural occurrences like storms and wildlife often tend to be the cause behind bark stripping, humans also play a sizeable role in damaging trees.

A vehicle either scraping against or hitting a tree head-on will likely lead to some damage. No matter how small, there is one result that is more likely than the rest. Most often, this damage will be seen in the form of bark splitting or being stripped away altogether. 

If the collision is more serious, of course, this may lead to even larger issues. For your sake, and the sake of your tree, we would hope that bark being stripped away is the biggest issue this sort of situation would create.

To learn more about natural processes that can strip trees of their bark, check out our article 4 Reasons Bark Is Falling Off Your Oak Tree: Cause & Solution.

5 Simple Steps To Save A Tree with Stripped Bark

Grafting tree

Okay, okay! The moment you’ve been waiting for is here. The simple steps to save a tree with stripped bark. You’ll appreciate them because they’re manageable, your tree will thank you for the proper care, and the rest will follow. 

Here are a few simple steps you can take to solve your stripped bark dilemma. Like anything else, this might depend a little on the situation and its severity, but we hope this helps provide a good starting point.

1. Assess The Tree’s Damage

Other than the storm damage (vehicular damage, etc.) is the tree healthy? Working to care for a tree with stripped bark will only do so much, especially if the tree itself is a safety hazard or on its way to dying anyway. 

Is there any other major damage to the tree that might need to be considered like branches that were torn away or are there a large gash into the trunk itself? 

Some things may not be able to be recovered from, and it is important to assess the damage to find out whether that is the case with your tree.

If, however, your tree still appears to be viable, inspect it for any safety concerns and then either take action or begin the process of monitoring the tree to see how it does over the next few months.

2. Make A Decision About The Tree’s Viability

Once you’ve taken the time to assess the damage, you’ll be able to decide how likely it is that your tree is going to be able to survive whatever incident caused the stripped bark in the first place. 

How likely is it that, with the proper support, your tree will be able to flourish once again? Does the problem appear to be pretty surface level or is there a deeper issue that is going to need to be addressed?

For example, the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension reminds us that a tree with less than half its branches remaining might not be able to survive another cycle of life because it will not be able to produce enough foliage to nourish it.

We know that small amounts of stripped bark don’t need as much attention, but that larger amounts may need a much more intensive solution. 

So, next, we are going to go over two of the solutions to stripped bark that you may choose to utilize:

3. Clean Up Torn Bark On The Tree

If the tree has only a small amount of stripped bark or girdling, you will be able to simply clean up the torn bark. Remove any harsh edges without cutting further into the live portion of the tree. 

This will ensure that these rough edges are tamed and do not have the chance to be accidentally fractured or broken by other wildlife, strong winds, or any other potential danger.

4. Perform A Bridge Graft To The Tree 

When the bark of a tree is stripped beyond just a little girdling and takes up a large amount of surface area on the trunk, it is time to consider some alternative methods that may be necessary. 

‘repair grafting’ and ‘bridge grafting’ are the generally the same technique, which provides a bridge over the afflicted area. 

The reason this technique works well is that it does not seal the open wound but still allows for some food and nutrients to be transported around the damaged area. 

This allows for the roots to receive nutrients from the tree, which then helps to sustain the healing process when the roots begin to send water and minerals back through the tissues of the tree. 

Allowing for this natural cycle to continue is the best way to support your tree while it heals through its natural processes.

Essentially, this technique is done by removing some healthy branches from the area of the wound and then adding some cuts to the end of the branches and the base of the tree so that both segments can fuse and help the cyclical process of the tree restart. 

We recommend that you ask an expert or do your research into the technique of bridge grafting so that no harm is caused to your tree by improperly making this graft type.

5. Fertilize And Replenish Your Tree

One of the best things that you can do after all of this is to fertilize your tree. 

You’ll want to choose the best fertilizer for your tree based on an NPK value, which stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. This value will be written based on the amount of each compound that the fertilizer has. 

For example, 20-10-10 would work best for a plant with a higher nitrogen need and less phosphorus and potassium need. These numbers will be based on the type of tree you have. 

You can find fertilizer like this Burpee Bone Meal Fertilizer which advertises what kind of plant it is for, tomatoes, peppers, and bulbs, as well as the fact that it is organic and offers a good source of phosphorus and calcium. 

There are many fertilizers out there, so once you learn what your tree needs you will undoubtedly find the right choice for you.

You can read our guide to the best oak tree fertilizers and maple tree fertilizers as well.

What Not To Do If A Tree Has Stripped Bark

When you hear about stripped bark, you may be thinking about how you need to seal that open wound right away. While you’ve got the right idea, certain things will simply not help you in this situation.

Here are a few of those well-intentioned but poor resulting tactics right now:

Do NOT: Use a Sealant

While it seems like putting a sealant over an open wound might very well be exactly what your tree needs to remain safe from the dangers of the outdoors, this is not the way to go. 

Putting a sealant over an open wound just works to slow the rate that the tree can go through its natural healing processes. 

Though bark being stripped can be a result of human interference, it has been happening in nature long before we were around. So, trees have processes that they go through when an animal or a storm strips their bark, and adding a sealant over the damaged area will cause more harm than good.

Though wound dressings are marketed as being intended for trees, the harm outweighs the impacts. The intention of avoiding disease or decay can be avoided when the tree is allowed to go through the processes it has naturally evolved to follow.

Do NOT: Use Tree Paint, Tar, Or Cement

On a very similar note, other products that are typically branded as ‘for trees’ often fall into the same category as products that are very much not meant for trees

Aside from not always being intended to go onto living organisms, many of these types of products catalyze decay in trees by trapping moisture into an open wound. 

Trees need to be able to form callouses, which is part of their natural healing process when the bark is stripped away or a wound is created. By painting on tree paint, tar, or cement, the only possible thing that is being helped is the outward aesthetic appearance of the tree. 

There is no benefit here regarding the healing process because only by callousing and then forming a new layer of bark will a tree damaged in this way be able to survive and thrive once more.

Specifically, if you’re wondering about peeling bark of a tree like a paper birch, you can read our guide on why you shouldn’t peel bark of birch trees here.

Caring For A Tree With Stripped Bark In The Long Term

Woman watering a tree with bark

Those solutions are simple and reliable, but how should you care for your tree before the bark has been stripped away, or after the tree has healed from having bark stripped away? 

It is important to know how to manage scenarios when they come up, but general tree maintenance is also a crucial part of keeping your tree healthy, strong, and hopefully giving it a long lifespan. 

You might get lucky and never have to use the steps to save a tree with stripped bark. You also might need them more than once (which is normal and okay!). 

Whichever one applies to you, we’ve got you covered with the defensive and the offensive when it comes to caring for a tree. 

Here are some ways you can work to keep your tree healthy and stable in any situation. 

1. Water Your Tree 

Perhaps the biggest yet easiest thing you can do to support your tree is to make sure it’s getting enough water. People often make sure to water their hanging plants, flowers, and herbs around their yard but may overlook the tree in the corner. 

Without proper watering, your tree will not be able to properly grow and maintain its appearance. The leaves will wilt and turn a yellow or brown color, the fruit may shrink, and the dryness may even result in radial cracks in the trunk. 

So, as we talk about how to save a tree after the bark is stripped, it is worth mentioning that these general maintenance tactics will help act as preventative measures, too. 

2. Trim Your Tree As Needed 

Trimming your tree as needed will help ensure that your tree’s energy can go to growing bigger and remaining healthy, as opposed to filling out in areas of the plant that is already not doing too well.

Be careful when trimming bigger branches, as more is involved in the technique with those versus the low consideration of trimming away smaller branches and twigs on the exterior of the canopy.

3. Fertilize Your Trees Regularly

Okay, well, not all the time. You can, however, fertilize your tree to give it the nutrients that it needs to remain strong and healthy. 

While fertilizer is not plant food, as commonly thought, it is a great medium to help your tree absorb the nutrients that it can provide. 

This doesn’t need to be a step that follows damage or disease. Fertilizing from the start is a great way to keep any tree healthy!

You can read our guide on how to fertilize an oak tree here if you aren’t familiar with fertilizing trees.

That’s All For Now!

Alrighty, that’s a wrap for today folks. 

For what it’s worth, this could be a more difficult problem. Though some stripped bark scenarios can turn quite life-threatening, it isn’t likely that your tree will be one to fall into that category.

Remember these 5 simple steps to take action right away when you notice stripped bark on your tree, whether it is the result of an animal, a storm, or even your neighbor’s car:

●  Assess the situation: You’ll want to make sure that you have a good understanding of the nature of the damage before moving on. This applies to any scenario, really.

●  Make a decision about its viability: You’ll have to decide how viable the tree seems. Is the damage surface level or is there a bigger issue that needs to be addressed? Is your tree likely to survive with the proper support?

●  Clean up Torn Bark: If the bark is only slightly stripped, you’ll be able to get away with cleaning up the area of the wound and monitoring the situation as follows.

●  Perform a Bridge Graft: Create a bridge over the affliction and help your tree to cycle through the processes that it naturally uses to heal.

●  Fertilize and Replenish: Fertilizing your tree is a great way to ensure that nutrients are being received and that there is enough support for it to continue its journey back to full health.

Thank you for reading this article!

I hope this piece helps you keep your tree healthy while giving you the confidence to handle any situation that comes up, even stripped bark, storm damage, and girdling. 

As always, good luck as you continue along your personal tree journey. 

Cheers to you, friend!

References

Goren, R., Huberman, M., & Goldschmidt, E. E. (2003). Girdling: physiological and horticultural aspects. Horticultural reviews, 30, 1-36.

Van Wyk, A. S. (2017). Exploring bridge-grafting as technique te restore growth in girdled Ocotea bullata and Curtisia dentata in the Southern Cape forest area (Doctoral dissertation).

Chaney, W. R. (2015). Why Do Animals Eat the Bark and Wood of Trees and Shrubs? (Purdue University.)

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