Everything You Need to Know About Tree Trunk Protection

Everything You Need to Know About Tree Trunk Protection

tree trunk

Protect the trunk of your young and vulnerable trees! 

The trunk transports minerals and moisture between the roots and the canopy, plus it is the main support for the branches. Beneath the bark (tree skin) is a thin green layer, called the cambium, which is the living vascular system of the tree (containing its xylem and phloem).

Young trees don’t have a thick bark layer (like calluses on our hands and feet) that has formed thick enough to protect the tree from the rigors of its environment.

It is very important this remains undamaged so this nutrient and moisture transport can take place uninterrupted and keep the tree healthy.

Read on to learn more about how to protect your trees during their first few years in your landscape and give them all the support they need for a long, beautiful life!

Trees can heal their bark, but it takes time, and any damage can cause excessive scarring and open wounds that insects or diseases can walk right into their system like an open door. 

smooth bark

If the bark is damaged only partially, it will heal and the tree will continue to grow, though you may see a branch or two that depended on that section die back. If the bark is damaged all the way around the trunks, they will eventually die. This is called girdling, or ring-barking, which cuts the canopy off from the roots.

What can you use to protect your tree trunks? Do tree trunk protectors work?

Here are the common ways that tree trunks can become damaged, and how you can prevent and treat each.

Common Issues & Solutions for Trunk Protection

It’s not just young trees, trees with thin bark also need protection!

Sunscorch and Frost Crack

damaged trunk that is healing nicely

Have you ever been walking or driving and noticed the trunks of trees painted white? This method is called whitewashing. The white paint or latex paint reflects the sunlight and keeps the bark cooler by protecting it from sudden temperature changes in late fall and winter. Extreme heat and sun can actually blister young tree stems and bark, called Sunscorch. This may be more commonly used in orchards in warmer climates.

Wrapping the trunks of young trees with white or light-colored reflective tape also stops Frost Crack which is caused by the sudden freezing at night after an especially warm day in the spring or fall. This can cause the tree to think it's time to grow, and begin moving fluids from the roots into the canopy, but then freeze at night when temps drop, causing the bark and trunk to split open as the liquid expands during freezes. Usually unsightly, sometimes damaging, rarely deadly, but completely avoidable if you are in an area where these temperature swings are a common occurrence.

Borers and Insect Damage

 frost crack on young Crabapple

Whitewashing is also an effective method of reducing re-infestation of borers and other insects. You can spray or mix pesticide into the whitewashing or simply spray it or a dormant oil onto your tree trunk to protect it from insect damage.

Setting out lures and traps for typical borers in your area (your County Extension Office can help with that) also helps prevent the bugs from getting into your tree in the first place! Especially in areas with Emerald Ash Borer and other issues in their areas.

Protecting Tree Trunks From Deer

Deer by tree

For most newly planted trees, deer is a nightmare. From torn tree bark to broken branches, deer damage is a common end to smaller trees that have yet to be established.

A common result of males scraping their antlers against the trunk of various trees, or all deer eating bark, leaves, and twigs. After some time, serious damage starts to occur. During mating season the number of trees damaged begins to increase. Male deer will use trees as a way to ‘mark their territory’ and to signal other males to stay away. You may also find the soil around your tree dug up slightly or a few branches that have been broken and then chewed on. All very damaging to your tree.

Deer Repellent

deer repellent

Spray young trees (and all new plants) with deer repellent from day one and reapply per product directions to train deer that this plant tastes bad. Unfortunately, deer repellent doesn’t stop the physical damage from antlers and marking territory. Use deer repellent to make trees smell and taste bad to the browsing deer. It's good practice to spray your tree before nightfall just to remind deer that they don’t like your new plant.

Physical Protection

tree guard

The best way to protect your trees is to prevent the deer from having close access to the tree trunk or low-hanging branches.

Protecting Trees Infographic

Surround tree trunks with a protective wrap or tree guards made from chicken wire or other metal screening. These cages should stand at least 6 feet tall and should be positioned a few feet away from the base of your young trees. Wooden or metal stakes will need to be placed in the ground with the cage for extra support. This is easy to set up and doesn’t take up space in the landscape.

Using a screen, paper or plastic tree wrap, or hardware cloth allows the bark to breathe and rain and snow to dry quickly.

Wrap starting at the bottom, just under the soil surface, and wrap up 2-3 feet up (or up to the first set of branches). You can leave it on the tree if the trunk is not being restricted from expanding so it may have to be loosened as the tree grows. Check each year to be sure it is loose enough.

Another method is to use Tree Guards which are widely available. The important thing to remember is to select light-colored guards (and not black drain tile) so that during the winter months, the trunks do not heat up (which can kill the tree).

Other Methods of Protection

  • Installing a deer-proof fence around your property (about 8 feet)
  • Install motion-detector sprinklers or noisemakers to scare deer away
  • There’s also a great selection of deer-resistant trees available at Nature Hills too

Protecting Trunks from Rabbits, Squirrels, and More

Rabbits, rodents, and squirrels that are desperate in the winter, plus beavers and occasionally other wildlife, can strip the bark off young trees to eat the inner bark.

Adding rabbit or rodent repellent to whitewashing paint, or using chicken wire, metal screening, hardware cloth, or other physical barriers around the trunk of your young tree, helps protect the tree from winter foraging.

squirrel tree

Be sure to use products that allow the tree trunks to dry quickly following the snow and rainfall. You will want to replace the wraps every few months. This ensures no moisture is building up or insects starting to infest. Using black drain tile pipes on the trunks of the trees is not a good idea as it can allow the trunks to heat up too much and does not always protect them from rodents getting inside.

Newly planted young trees, especially Fruit Trees, and Ornamental Cherries, and those more expensive grafted weeping ornamental specimen plants are easily damaged by rodents and rabbits during the winter months.

Protecting Trunks From Physical Damage

planting tree

Clipping your tree with a lawnmower or the weedwhacker, kids running into the tree with their toys, and other physical damage can wreak havoc on a young tree in many ways.

A classic way that you can protect the bark on young trees is to wrap the trunks with 2-3 inch wide strips of hardware cloth, burlap, or metal screening.

If the tree just needs protection from lawn maintenance damage, is a wide swath of mulch or other groundcover around its base to separate it from the turf. This helps two-fold since most flowering and fruiting trees do not like having excessive nitrogen from lawn fertilizer anyway! A ring of mulch extending out past the drip line (the zone where the branches reach out and the canopy casts shade) helps prevent these issues. Turf rarely likes to grow under dense shade anyway.

Protecting Tree Trunks from Storms and Weather

tree guards

It’s a good idea to use metal cages combined with a sturdy tree stake as a support system against harsh weather conditions. Take a thin rope or strong string and tie multiple pieces to the trunk of the tree then to the metal cage or stake in a balanced manner.

On windy days, this will help keep your new tree stable and straight during its first growing season. This also helps in the event of Hurricanes and strong storms.

Happy Healthy Tree Trunks!

Straight trunks and healthy bark, keep this essential portion of your tree free of damage and growing tall in just a few easy steps!

Check out our all-in-one Tree Starter Kits to keep your young tree growing strong in its first few years in your landscape! Protect your trees and shrubs with the help of Nature Hills and a bit of planning!

Happy Planting!

Shop Shade Trees Here

← Previous Next →