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Hort in the Home Landscape

A blog devoted to sharing timely horticulture topics and answering the questions of gardeners and homeowners.

Tree Wound Dressings: Helpful or Hindrance?

Many gardeners have experienced that awful moment when the lawn mower or weed wacker accidentally comes in contact with the bark of a valued tree in the landscape and a wound is created.

No matter how careful you are, sometimes accidents happen and then you're left wondering, what you can do to help the tree repair this wound. The answer is really to let the tree repair the wound on its own in most cases.

Upon being wounded, trees begin a natural process of callusing over the wounded area with new bark and wood. In the spring when trees are growing vigorously, this process with naturally occur quickly. In other times of the year when growth is not as vigorous, try to keep wounded trees growing as vigorously as possible. Trees should be fertilized properly and watered during droughts for example. Keeping the tree as health and happy as possible is really your best bet.

However, in the case of some trees, a wound made during the active growing season, may mean that insects or diseases could be more attracted to the wound and potentially pass on pathogens. Pruning wounds on oak and elms can attract borers and beetles that are carriers of diseases such as Dutch elm disease and oak wilt for instance.

In this case, some may recommend that a tree wound dressing be put on that wound. The effectiveness of this is debated though. A tree wound dressing is a petroleum-based product used to cover freshly cut wood to inhibit decay or insect infestation. According to research done by Washingston State University, wound dressings do not prevent entrance of decay organisms or stop rot from occurring. They do on the other hand, seal in moisture and decay, sometimes serve as a food source for pathogens, prevent wound wood from forming, inhibit compartmentalization, and eventually crack, exposing the tree to pathogens. All of which are a problem.

They state that if you must prune a disease-prone species when insects or fungi are active (i.e. during the warmer times of the year), a light coating of an insecticide or fungicide may be warranted. Other than that, avoiding wounds is the best practice. Mulch around trees and shrubs to avoid movers and weed wackers from coming close to trees, and prune during the dormant season when insects and pathogens are not active.

Here is more information from Washington State:

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