How to Save a Tree With Damaged Bark

We have three methods to help you save your tree, depending on your situation.

Updated March 27, 2024
Damaged Bark

Don't stress if you have a tree that's not looking its best in the bark department. You can save a tree with damaged bark by first assessing the type of damage. Once you know the severity, you have a few options when it comes to the tree bark repair method you use.

Does Tree Bark Grow Back?

Trees are unable to heal in the same way we do, but that doesn't mean they can't survive damage. Instead of rebuilding the old bark, they seal wounds with a "callus" tissue. This sealant grows around the edges of the wound. The tree produces new wood to grow around the damaged area. This isolates and protects the wound from further exposure and damage.

Fast Fact

In most cases, a tree can recover from bark damage if less than 25 percent of the bark has been injured. You can even watch the progress of a tree's recovery by looking carefully at the edges of the wound over time.

Use the Bark Tracing Method

One of the simplest and best ways to help a tree with minimal damage is to remove the ragged bark. Ragged bark from a wound can hamper even the healthiest tree in its attempt to recover. You can help the recovery process move faster by removing the ragged bark and dressing the wound. This is called bark tracing.

You'll remove the jagged bark around the wound and create a smooth rim to replace the uneven one. This uneven bark often continues to rip and cause further damage.

Bark Tracing Method


  • Sharp chisel
  • Hammer


  1. Carefully cut away the jagged bark using the chisel and hammer.
  2. Discard any torn bark and remove any loose bark surrounding the wound.
  3. Forest Keepers warns not to chisel into the wound, just around the edges.
  4. Keep an eye on the tree. Growth of new bark over the wound is a good indicator the tree will recover.

Repair a Tree With the Bridge Grafting Method

For more serious damage, the best way to help a tree is to give it the nutrients it needs while it recovers. Sometimes, a repair is about buying time and health for the tree so it has a chance to get stronger. Since the tree roots are the last to die, a repair graft (bridge graft) can often save the tree. This graft literally creates a bridge of life between the roots and leaves. Depending on the success of the bridge graft, the tree can recover. The bridge buys enough time for the tree undertake the sealing of the wound and grow new tissues around it.


This starts with the bark tracing method, so you'll need a hammer and chisel. In addition, you'll want to grab a knife and some branches/twigs.


  1. Clean the tree wound with the bark tracing method. Remove all uneven and sharp edges by rounding them out. This includes removing any loose bark.
  2. Select healthy branches, or if the tree is small, select healthy twigs. The ideal branches/twigs should be no larger than the diameter of your thumb. Make sure the branches/twigs (bridges) are longer (one to three inches) than the wound width. Also note which end of the twig is the bottom (near the trunk) and which is the top (away from the trunk). The tree's phloem, or vascular tissue, can only travel in one direction so it is important you mark the top of the bridges.
  3. Using a knife, trim one side of each of the branches (the end of the branch) until it can be flattened against the tree trunk.
  4. Then, trim the other side in order to create a wedge.
  5. Next you need to create flaps in the tree bark to receive the bridges. Using the knife, cut two parallel lines beginning at the wound. Be careful to leave the flap ends attached to the tree.
  6. Carefully insert the branches underneath the flap so as not to dislodge the bark from the tree. You should end up with the flap still attached to the trunk.
  7. Repeat with the lower edge of the wound, attaching the other end of the bridge in the same way. The goal is for the bridges and the phloem and cambium beneath the bark to grow together. The graft will then re-establish the exchange between the leaves and roots.
  8. Carefully tape around the edges of the repair.
Quick Tip

While there's no guarantee the bridges will save the tree, this technique gives it a chance to recover from the damage. You'll know the bridges are working when the tree sprouts new leaves and the canopy grows back

Reattach Bark to the Trunk

The simplest method of tree bark repair is reattaching bark to the trunk. If the bark has been scaled from the tree, you can possibly reattach it.

Reattaching Bark


  • Fresh water
  • Duct tape


  1. Clean the tree wound with water (nothing else).
  2. Gather the bark pieces and fit them back onto the tree. Check to be sure you place the bark so it's growing in the right direction.
  3. Secure the bark with duct table wrapped around the tree trunk.
  4. Remove the tape within a year if it is still secure. If the bark has reattached itself to the tree, then it'll remain attached.

Can You Repair a Girdled Tree?

If a ring of bark has been removed from the tree, the damaged tree has been girdled. This is a serious wound that can cause the tree to die. The risk depends on how severe the girdling is. In most cases, you cannot repair this damage on your own. For severely damaged trees, you may need to consult with a tree specialist.

 Repairing a Girdled Tree

Degrees of Girdled Damage

If the damage is more than 25%, it's difficult to save the tree, though not impossible.

  • A patch of missing bark that's one-fourth the circumference of the tree won't kill the tree, but it can weaken the overall tree health.
  • When the patch is 50% or more of the tree's circumference, the tree will have a very difficult time surviving.
  • No matter how wide the strip is, removing one band that encircles the tree will eventually kill the tree.

How Girdling Affects a Tree

When this first layer (phloem) is exposed by the removal of bark, it sets off a chain reaction. The phloem transfers the nutrients from the photosynthesis process generated by the leaves. Without the protection of the bark, the phloem can no longer send that energy to the roots. If the roots don't receive this energy, they can no longer transmit water and minerals up the tree to the leaves. Finally, the upper part of the tree will begin to die while the roots feed off the nutrients it has stored.

Related: How to Identify Maple Tree Varieties

Things You Should Never Do

There are a few things you should never do when treating a tree wound since they will interfere with the tree's natural response to a wound.

  • Never use a sealant.
  • Never clean debris found inside a cavity wound.
  • Never paint over the wound with tar, cement, or tree paint.
Things You Should Never Do

Save a Tree With Damaged Bark

Knowing how to save a young tree with damaged bark can help you give your new plantings a fair shot. Even though they're well-established, older trees sometimes need your help, too. Either way, you may be able to save a typical tree with damaged bark if you react quickly.

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How to Save a Tree With Damaged Bark