When healthy, oak trees are sure to stand tall and strong. With beautiful foliage blooming in all directions, oak trees are known for their stability and sturdy barks. But sometimes, things happen, and there may be some bark falling off of your oak tree.
Generally, peeling bark is a sign of an unhealthy oak tree. However, if healthy wood is present under the peeling bark, your oak tree may just be shedding old bark. If the bark is peeling off a branch with unhealthy wood underneath, trim it back 8-12 inches to remove the affected branch.
There are a bunch of reasons why the bark may be falling off of your tree, and there are some solutions that you can do to solve it – keep on reading to find out what they are and what you can do!
What is an Oak Tree?
First things first, what exactly is an oak tree? An oak tree is part of the Quercus family of trees and is one of the most universally known and acquired trees. An oak tree is symbolic to many cultures and provides abundance, in all forms, to humanity and wildlife.
Oak trees are considered mast trees as they produce fruit – the acorn. Producing up to 1,000 a month and 1,000,000 in the lifetime of the tree – acorns can provide nutrition to both wildlife and humans alike.
Oak trees have a lobed leaf that easily allows you to identify the tree. With different variations from oak tree to oak tree – lobed leaves almost look like human hands, where they have rounded or pointed projections coming from a middle area on the leaf.
Along with the leaves, the bark of an oak tree is also used to identify what type of oak tree it is, either a Red Oak Tree or White Oak Tree.
Red Oak Tree
A Red Oak Tree, also called Quercus Ruba, is a type of oak tree whose leaves are more pointed than rounded. A Red Oak Tree has bitter acorns that take up to two years to mature, and their barks typically have a smoother appearance.
White Oak Tree
A White Oak Tree, also called Quercus Alba, is a type of oak tree whose leaves are more rounded than pointed. A White Oak Tree has a sweeter tasting acorn that only takes up to one year to mature. The bark of a White Oak Tree has a more rigid and tougher appearance.
How to Tell If Bark is From an Oak Tree
The barks of oak trees are known for their strength and durability. The barks are what make oak trees some of the most stable trees in the world.
Just by looking at the bark, you can easily differentiate which type of oak tree that it is. A White Oak Tree has a light gray bark, and a Red Oak Tree has a much darker, almost black in color, bark.
A Black Oak Tree, a variation of a Red Oak Tree, also has a special feature when it comes to its bark. Sometimes considered an unofficial third category of oak because of its different bark, a Black Oak Tree’s bark is yellow/orange inside, as opposed to the red color you see inside a Red Oak Tree.
All oak tree barks have a distinct fissure or ridged look when compared to other trees. Think scales or think grooves – an oak tree’s bark appears smoother at a young age and becomes rougher as it ages.
Further, there are hundreds of variations of oak trees out there, all that can be divided into one of these two categories – Red Oak Tree or White Oak Tree, however, apart from their category, they all have one thing in common – an Oak Tree’s bark can be used in many different ways.
If you’re struggling to tell apart from other common trees (like maple), you can read our guide on how to determine oak trees from Maple Trees here.
Why is Bark Falling off Your Oak Tree?
The question of the hour is – why is bark falling off of your oak tree?
There are a few reasons why you may see bark peeling off of your oak tree, and the truth of the matter is – although it can be a normal scenario – it most likely can be that something not-so-great is going on with your tree.
1. Falling Bark Can Mean an Unhealthy Oak Tree
A bark falling off of an oak tree can indicate that the oak tree is unhealthy. When barks fall from a tree, it can signal disease, or a fungus called Hypoxylon canker, that affects our hardwood trees.
If the wood that appears under the bark has fungus all over it and looks generally unhealthy – there is a good chance that the tree can be suffering from Hypoxlyon canker.
In general, hypoxlyon canker is an affliction that causes peeling bark, back to the natural wood of the tree.
If your oak tree has peeling bark, the next thing to do is to check its leaves. If the leaves are turning yellow prematurely, or if the leaves and branches look wilted and brittle. It’s time to take action.
If you’re interested, you can read our full guide to the most common oak tree diseases here.
What Should I Do If My Oak Tree is Unhealthy?
If you notice the peeling bark on the branches with an unhealthy appearance under the bark, the first thing to do is to prune those branches to limit the spread. Cut the branch 8-12 inches below the infected area for optimal results.
Another thing to do would be to call a professional and look into vertical mulching.
Vertical mulching is when holes are dug in a vertical pattern 20-26 inches deep and along the width of the entire tree. Vertical mulching will help with gaseous exchange. Adding a mulch mix of gravel, mulch, sand, and compost, can help with irrigation and help form feeder roots.
Basically, the goal is to reduce stress on the tree ASAP.
Unfortunately, if more than 15% of the oak tree is affected by disease – you may need to remove the tree altogether.
And although it may be upsetting to do, if you keep a tree that is dying, there is a risk of it falling and causing damage to your nearby properties, and the disease can spread to other nearby trees.
I recommend that you read a bit more about oak tree afflictions before digging up a tree. You can read our prevention guide to the early symptoms of a dying oak tree here.
2. Falling Bark May Indicate a Wounded Oak Tree
Another reason for peeling bark is that the oak tree is wounded.
In periods of extreme frost or extreme heat, oak trees can actually crack under pressure because of it all. Oak trees, although very resilient, do their best in stable environments – and if there are great frosts and heatwaves, especially with drought – the bark of an oak tree can crack.
Insects and other predators can wound an oak tree and make its bark peel. Some insects, like bark beetles, can eat at the bark and cause wounds.
What to Do if My Oak Tree is Wounded?
The thing is, if the wounds are from environmental factors, the way to get around it is by prevention. If you live in an extreme temperature area and have an oak that’s planted, you can use tree wrappings in times of great extremes.
Using something like ZELARMAN 2 Pack Tree Protector Wraps, you can wrap the trunks and branches to help it maintain its health during these times.
If the tree does crack, and the cracks are very narrow and few and far between, there’s a good chance your oak tree will survive, and you may not have to do anything about it – however, prevention is always a good idea.
If your tree is wounded by bark beetles, there is a good chance the tree may need to be removed. Bark beetles live underneath the bark, and you can try insecticides to get rid of them; however, they are very hard to get rid of.
If your tree is wounded in other ways and the wood underneath has not been affected, you can purchase wound paint to help seal the wounds, like a band-aid, so it can regrow its bark.
Wound paint can also be used for proliferative purposes, to keep insects and destructive animals at bay, and to help with extreme environmental factors.
You can try out this IV Organic Wound Paint that will help wounds, environmental damages and protect against insects and rodents.
3. Falling Bark May Indicate Oak Tree Shedding
So, the good news is, if your oak tree doesn’t have any other problems other than peeling bark, there is a good chance that your oak tree can just be shedding.
Oak trees shed their bark because they grow from the inside and out. Sometimes, the bark is peeling just to make room for growth and new bark, and if the exposed wood looks to be thriving, let the tree do its thing for a while.
If you notice any other signs of distress, then you should take action; however, if the tree has a full canopy, is budding, is green, and looks generally strong – then your oak tree is most likely okay.
4. Falling Bark May Indicate a Dead Oak Tree
On the contrary, the worst-case scenario of peeling bark is that there’s a chance that your oak tree may already be dead. It’s gruesome to admit, but we are not all tree experts, and we may not notice the signs until it’s too late.
If you notice peeling bark – look up! Do you see any leaves, are there any buds coming from the branches? If not, your tree is no longer alive, and it should be removed or used for firewood.
Ideally, you want to get rid of these trees as they can cause structural damage if close to a building.
If you’re interested, you can read more about how long oak trees should live here.
What to Do if Your Oak Tree is Dead?
If your oak tree is dead – remove the tree immediately. Calling a professional, as dead trees are not easy to remove on your own (unless you’re good with a chainsaw!)
The bigger the tree, the harder it is, and you will need someone to take the tree away and take care of the dead roots.
The good news is, you can generally use these trees for firewood!
Why You Should Keep Your Oak Tree’s Bark Healthy
Apart from trees, we just love animals here at Tree Journey, so knowing that our beautiful oak trees help animals – is a wholesome feeling.
Besides animals creating nests in their canopies and branches, sometimes, the bark of an oak tree hollows out in spots, and animals will cozy up and make their home in those hollowed-out spaces.
With an oak tree’s ample supply of acorns and with its amazing shelter capacities, animals like squirrels, birds, chipmunks, turkeys, crows, rabbits, raccoons, wood ducks, and even deer are attracted to these oak trees, and the oak trees will provide them with abundance for years to come. We love a tree that helps our wildlife!
But the real problem occurs though when oak tree bark starts to peel, as not only can our favorite trees start to become unhealthy since an oak tree can host many life cycles and wildlife, an unhealthy oak tree can be detrimental for them.
That’s a Wrap!
The truth of the matter is if your oak tree has bark falling off, many of the reasons can lead to hazardous conditions.
Remember, dying and unhealthy oak trees lose their stability and strength. If an oak tree loses its strength, it can fall and cause harm to any nearby structures, houses and can affect the wildlife living in the tree.
If your oak tree is peeling bark, it can be as simple as shedding – which will not harm the tree or its surroundings, or it can be because of a bigger problem like disease, insect infestation, generally unhealthy, or wounded – and may need immediate action.
If your oak tree does have a disease, the disease can also spread to nearby trees and can cause an even bigger problem that you will need to deal with.
When oak trees begin to peel their bark, it’s always best to take action immediately because these larger-than-life trees can directly impact their surroundings, wildlife, and, most importantly, you and your property.
“Hypoxylon Canker of Oaks – What Is Hypoxylon Canker?” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, 4 Mar. 2019.
Visser, P. D. (1992). The relations between chemical composition of oak tree rings, leaf, bark, and soil solution in a partly mixed stand. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 22(12), 1824-1831.
Taib, Mehdi, et al. “Medicinal Uses, PHYTOCHEMISTRY, and Pharmacological Activities OF QUERCUS SPECIES.”