Frost cracks in trees

The trunk is the single most important natural structure of a tree. It’s responsible for providing stability, as well as absorbing much-needed water and nutrients.

As such, it’s discouraging when you discover a massive crack running straight down the middle of your tree’s trunk. Whether it’s from strong winds, ground erosion, stress or a combination thereof, split trunks can prove devastating for trees.

Before you go chopping the tree down, however, you should first attempt to fix it.

Inspect the Damage

The first thing you should do is inspect the tree to determine the location and extent of the damage.

  • Is the split going straight through the trunk or does it stop halfway through?
  • Is the split located in the dead-center of the trunk?
  • How deep is the split?
  • Is there any signs of pest infestation or decay in the split?

These are just a few of the questions that you should attempt to answer before proceeding.

Mending the Split

Assuming the split is straight down the middle, and it’s not too deep, you may be able to mend it. Before doing so, however, you should trim away some of the branches and excess growth so there’s less weight pushing against the trunk.

Next, apply tree pruning sealer to the damaged trunk, adding a thick coat as a barrier of protection. Most plant nurseries and even home improvement stores sell this stuff.

And in the event that you are unable to find it locally, you can always order a bottle over the Internet. Tree pruning sealer is ideal for situations such as this, so don’t skip this critical step.

Some green thumbs have also reported success when mending their trees with shellac. Basically, shellac is a naturally occurring wax-like resin that’s produced by insects.

You can apply it to the split trunk just like any traditional tree pruning sealer, after which the trunk will be sealed and protected from damage.

Of course, mending a tree using the aforementioned technique isn’t always an option. If your tree’s trunk is split significantly on one side rather than going straight down the middle, it may be best to simply cut away the damaged section.

Cutting away a small portion of the tree shouldn’t cause any permanent, lasting damage. The tree will likely heal itself and continue to grow as normal.

The Woodsman Company offers tree planting, tree pruning and shrub trimming, tree removal and stump grinding as well as a tree wellness program.

If we can help with any of your tree care needs give us a call at 512-846-2535 or 512-940-0799 or

How to fix a tree with a split trunk from wind damage

December 15th, 2009

Readers of this blog will know that my favorite tree is my forest pansy redbud, indeed the related posts you’ll find at the bottom of this missive will point to the other blog posts where I have mentioned it. I love this tree because it has spring interest, in the form of the standard pink redbud blossoms, but it also has a somewhat unique purple colored leaf that creates nice interest in the summer as well.

I wanted one of these probably for 2 years before finding and buying one, and then, back in early October, disaster struck! A wind storm heavily, heavily, damaged the tree. Splitting the trunk in two places.

In retrospect going out and looking at the damage, it was bound to happen, the tree had grown so well that some limbs obviously outweighed the strength of their junction with the trunk, it should have had some preventative pruning done, but I was busy being a new dad.

Some people, when a tree is damaged like that, would just cut it down. If they think it’ll never be perfectly shaped again, they don’t want it. I personally think a tree that survives damage will have more character and be more interesting, plus, I did say it was my favorite tree, so I decided to repair it.

When faced with this sort of damage you really have two options, you can try to mend the split, which is possible when it is a 50/50 split or close to and there is still substantial amounts in tact on both sides. Or, if one side is severely weaker, it may not be able to be saved and so you’ll have to trim it up and make it as clean as possible. I had to do both.

The picture above is of the upper trunk split, this one you’ll notice is really severe with no structural integrity left on the right side. Trees do all of their physiology in the thin green moist layer right beneath the bark (xylem, cambium, and phloem layers, sometimes just called cambium) so if there isn’t enough bark area left to sustain the split branch, it’ll die. If you’re a few hours or a day after the damage and the leaves are wilting, you’ll know there isn’t enough cambium left. You might be able to do some heavy pruning so that the remaining foliage is better matched to the remaining cambium, but chances are you just need to cut the limb off.

So, for the damage shown above, the leaves were already wilting and the structure was so obviously compromised, so I cut the limb off, as cleanly as I could.

The above picture is of the lower trunk split. This is the first branching point of the trunk, the first main scaffold branch split off. In this case though the prognosis was much better, the leaves had not wilted in the least (and I was easily 8-10 hours after the storm) there was still structure integrity to the branch (it was hanging parrallel to the ground, not drooping all the way) and the split was probably 40/60. So I decided to fix it.

The first thing I did was some severe pruning to reduce the weight load of the branch. This branch had grown significantly during the summer and really weighed too much, I probably took off 70% of it’s mass. Just so I could lift it back into place as much as anything else.

I temporarily tied the branch up with twine, temporarily for a few reasons, namely because if you tie a tree you choke it. People run into this all the time with birdhouses. They do not want to “hurt” the tree so they use rope, twine, or wire (the worst) to tie a bird house to a tree. Really, the better thing to do is just to nail it. A tree can survive a puncture wound no problem, but if the tree grows into a rope or wire it’ll impede the flow in the cambium layer and choke it.

After the tree was in place I got out my power drill and bored a hole through the tree at the site of the split. Then I went down into my basement and looked through my screw/nut/bolt/nail organizer. In a bin called “toilet parts” I found some large brass bolts, these were perfect. Brass doesn’t rust, and being an alloy of copper it may have some antifungal properties. I put a large bolt through the hole and secured it.

I then drilled another hole a few inches above the split and put a longer bolt through there. I made sure the hole was slightly smaller than the bolt so I really had to shove and pound it in (thus making sure there would be no gap) and then I used a wrench to tighten nuts on both.

My tree was now a cyborg, and the actions I took may seem severe, drilling two holes, but as I said, trees can survive puncture holes no problem. There was another flap of torn bark and I actually brought out my nail gun and put some brad nails into that, more wounds, but the tree doesn’t mind them.

Eventually the tree will grow over those metal rods, incorporating them into it’s structure, and being all the more stronger for it, with no adverse damage, because they go through the cambium layer, not around it.

So, weight removed, gash mechanically repaired, now I had to worry about insects and diseases. I had both a can of tree pruning sealer and a can of natural shellac wood sealer. I had just read an article saying shellac was better than the other stuff and so used it. Shellac is an all natural waxy resin made by insects and used in everything from wood products, to food, to pills. You probably eat a little bit every day, it is harmless, but it seals wood good. Insects and diseases love open wounds and so it was important to seal the tree with something.

That taken care of, the last thing I needed to worry about was water. Just like with concrete, water can get in a crack, freeze, and then widen and make the crack worse. Even with the shellac the force of water expanding as it freezes was a potential hazard. What I eventually did, though which is not shown in the picture, is just put a bead of silicone caulk around the top of the crack (but not the bottom) preventing any water from seeping in, but if any does, still allowing it to seep out. Silicone is a neutral and inert substance and the tree will probably grow around it fine, or, after healing has progressed, I can take it out. Another option would be to wrap the tree in some sort of plastic, but that can hold in moisture too close to the bark and promote rot, I think my caulk solution is best.

I’ll post an update next year to show how the tree is doing.

Should you repair every tree? No, you shouldn’t, if there is a safety issue where the tree overhangs a structure or is where people often sit, walk, or play, you should always err on the side of safety. If the tree limbs are too big for you to manage to put back into place, you may not have to cut the tree down, but you’ll need to remove the limb. But, if your tree is not yet too large to manage (mine was only about 10 feet tall) you can try to repair it. It doesn’t need to be a total loss.

Posted in: Gardening, Troubleshooting ”

  1. Sue B Says:
    February 16th, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    My beautiful Japanese fern tree split in storm today. Because the growth is perfectly ,naturally rounded should I cut this 20 ft tall down and start over or is there some way to save it?

  2. Mike V Says:
    April 3rd, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Snow load caused a 12 foot tall fruit tree to split 60/40 at the upper trunk. I cut off the large branch (40% side) above the split. What is best for the tree? Should I completely trim off the 40% flap exposing the heart of the tree or reattach the flap with screws or some other means to protect the interior?

  3. Administrator Says:
    April 23rd, 2016 at 4:40 am

    They make a spray, sort of like a liquid bandaid, to help protect open tree wounds like that. Find it here.

  4. Mark Cassell Says:
    May 8th, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    I have several 40 year old native Cottonwoods along a lake that have been well maintained. Two 45 mph gusts twisted the tree separating an 8″ wide, 8″ deep, 5′ tall wedge from just above the ground tapering upward. Likely the whole tree listed toward the lake on the other side of the separation. Should I try to force the wedge into the main with a “come-a-long”? Appreciate any suggestions.

  5. Tina Says:
    May 24th, 2016 at 11:55 am

    I have a baby beech tree it snapped wile I was taking it out of my car at the bottom…just above the soil what am I to do to save it. It’s cost me $200

  6. Administrator Says:
    September 29th, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I’m not sure you can save it if it broke that far down. Keep watering it and see if anything happens.

  7. David Says:
    July 15th, 2016 at 6:22 am

    Great information. This is the first site I clicked on when I googled for this problem.

    How is your tree holding up now? Forest Pansy is one of my favorites too. I have four that I planted somewhere between 2005-2008.

    I just noticed a split at the Y of one of mine. I had been planning to limb it up somewhat, so doing so is on my list for today.

    The main trunk is about 7″, and the two sides of the Y are about 5″. I would need a 3′ long rod to span at a point where the rod would be fairly horizontal and not enter the limbs at a severe angle. This would be to get the holes to align.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    Headed out now to trim.

  8. Administrator Says:
    September 22nd, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    It never recovered and I replaced it some years ago. My efforts kept it going the rest of that year, but the following Spring the damaged limb did not leaf out.

  9. David Says:
    July 15th, 2016 at 6:24 am

    This would be difficult to get the holes to align.

  10. bob kriesler Says:
    July 29th, 2016 at 11:55 am

    I have a Chestnut tree thats huge and beautiful. 1 large branch broke off due to weight and water leakage at the trunk, approx. 16 inches thick. The break goes into the trunk maybe 3 inches and 2 feet long. Can I svae this tree?

  11. Nicola Suzanne Says:
    August 4th, 2016 at 5:11 am

    Thank you for posting such detailed information. Hope your tree grows well for you.

  12. thomas byrer Says:
    August 8th, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    I have a peach tree that a large limb broke off of leaving very little of the main trunk about 10 feet up the tree can this be cut off and the tree live if I colt the top of the cut with roofing tar to keep out winter and bugs

  13. Debra H Says:
    August 20th, 2016 at 5:15 am

    We have a 7 yr old redbud that has an 8 – 10″ split in the trunk separating the two main branches. I just saw the damage. It’s been there for at least 6 months or more. Will it cause disease if I try to tie it together now? Would look very one sided if I cut of the right half. Leaves on the right side are healthy and fine.
    Thank you!

  14. Rick Says:
    September 16th, 2016 at 8:27 am

    We found 2 of the 3 limbs laying on the ground one morning after thunderstorms moved through. I lifted the fallen limbs and secured them to the remaining limb using rope. I then drilled 1/2 ” holes through the limbs. I used appropriate lengths threaded rods, 1″ washers and nuts. It’s only been weeks since the storm and the tree looks great.

  15. Jacquelynne Booth Says:
    October 9th, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I followed your instructions to hold a Red Bud tree together which I just planted in May when the trunk got snapped during storm Matthew. So far it is holding with the twine and stakes. It got snapped down the center of the trunk but is still attached. As my trunk is not as thick as yours in the picture how can I use a bolt that you suggest as I see that it may destroy the trunk when I try to bore a hole? Any other suggestions for a thinner trunk? I do want to save this tree.

  16. Administrator Says:
    November 3rd, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    You need a decent amount of thickness to use a bolt, but in general the bolt is better for the tree. Piercing beats choking.

  17. maureen simpson Says:
    December 11th, 2016 at 8:06 am

    I have a magnificent huge leopard tree that has split at the fork due to high winds. Can I rescue it by having the damage clamped with securing lines into the ground
    Tree in umkomaas kwazulu-natal

  18. Kristina K Bacon Says:
    May 3rd, 2017 at 4:31 am

    I have a cherry blossom that we planted last year mother’s day – almost exactly a year ago. Yesterday it snapped in half from the wind. My guy says it won’t survive but it’s so healthy and fone so well – it blossomed a couple of months ago. I have lots of hope for it. Is there something I can do to help protect it? There is no saving the part that broke off (the top) but can I save the tree?

  19. Administrator Says:
    May 8th, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Does it have foliage below the break? If it does yes, if not… maybe, give it a week or two and see if new growth starts. If not, ya, goner.

  20. Kenneth Whittaker Says:
    June 10th, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    I don’t know what kind of tree I have but it has storm damage that took off a large branch. I had to cut it off, so now I have a gaping exposed wound. How do I fix it?

  21. Diane Tuck Says:
    June 13th, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I have a red horse chestnut tree it’s old but only 6′ tall it broke in winds week ago. Below all it’s branches. I put splint on it and staked it, bandage it. Should I cut blossom ends off has not totally wilted yet looks like nuts are forming on it.

  22. Teri Says:
    September 15th, 2017 at 11:07 am

    A very large oak in our back yard split in the fork all the way through the roots. One half fell to the ground. The other is still standing. (And slightly leaning toward the house.) Is there a way to save it? Or should we take it out?

  23. Richard O’Connor Says:
    December 29th, 2017 at 11:41 am

    I have a ceanothus tree, which blew down in a gale yesterday.. it has split at the base of the trunk.. can it be saved?

  24. Cathi Newto Says:
    March 24th, 2018 at 7:55 am

    I repaired a new pear tree with medical grade cling wrap,and it worked. Now the trunk is shedding it’s bark, and looks funny. Should I put something on the trunk? Maybe an antifungal or something?

  25. Sevans Says:
    May 19th, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    I received a 4-5 ft cherry tree as a gift for mother’s day. It was shipped by fast growing trees dot com. When I opened the box I found a small branch was already broken off in shipping. I immediately but the tree outside in the shade next to a fence & watered/misted it. I barely bumped it at all with my arm when another branch snapped off. Two days later, before we could return home to plant it, we had a brief little storm blow past us with only a few sprinkles. When I went out to water my plants & new tree I found the main trunk was broken nearly in half. It was still standing, it hadn’t blown over. All the other plants (& trees) I had nearby in pots waiting for planting were fine-except it???? I have never seen a tree so fragile! Any idea what could be going on with it & any chance of saving the trunk?

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Bark splitting can occur in response to various environmental factors at different times of the year. Splits can occur on the trunk of the tree as well as on branches. Trees that are most susceptible to this type of injury are those with thin bark, such as certain fruit trees. Newly planted trees or young trees are more prone to bark splitting. Bark splits are not likely to be fatal to trees, although they will, in some cases, allow entry of disease organisms, which can cause decay.

Download the factsheet

During late winter and early spring, sharp temperature changes between day and night can freeze the water within the trunk causing it to explode or split open in a symptom referred to as “frost-cracks.” Frost cracks are also called southwest injury since this is the side of the tree most often affected. Frost cracks can also start from a wound inflicted earlier in the tree’s development. Sometimes the crack may remain in the internal wood, but frost can cause the crack to expand and split the bark. Excessively late growth in the fall stimulated by warm temperatures, high humidity, and high nitrogen levels can increase susceptibility of trees to frost cracking.

Fluctuating growth conditions may also cause splitting of bark. Dry weather (which slows growth) followed by wet growth conditions may cause an excessive or vigorous amount of growth leading to splits in the bark.

Sunscald, especially in winter months, can cause bark injury to thin barked or young trees. Although an exact split may not be seen immediately, the outer layer of bark will peel away from the affected area in the summer following winter damage. Sunscald injuries to tree limbs can be minimized by avoiding heavy pruning of trees which have dense canopies. Gradual thinning of limbs over a period of years is preferable, particularly on thin-barked trees.

Certain trees are more susceptible to splits than others, especially Kwanzan cherry, maple, and fruit trees. To avoid splitting on newly-planted trees, especially of a thin-barked species, be particularly careful to avoid fertilizing trees late in the growing season, as this may promote new growth and predispose the tissue to winter injuries (including bark splitting). Autumn fertilization following leaf drop and dormancy should not lead to this problem.

When a split occurs on a tree, what should you do? In recent years, quite a bit of research has been done on closure of tree wounds. These investigations have indicated that tree wound paints are of little value in helping a tree to callus over. For this reason, do not paint or try to seal a split with paint or tar.

Cleaning the edges of the wound, known as “tracing,” can be very helpful in aiding healing. Do not enlarge the wound any more than necessary to clean the edges! With a sharp knife, starting from one end of the split, trace around one side of the wound, no more than one-half to one-inch back from the split bark. Stop at the other end and do the same procedure on the opposite side of the split. Knives should be sterilized between cuts by dipping for several minutes in a 1:10, bleach: water solution or a 70 percent alcohol solution to avoid contaminating the cuts. Carefully remove the bark from inside the traced area.

You should now have a bare area with smooth edges. Remember to leave this untreated. A tree growing with good vigor usually calluses over quickest. Encourage vigor in the tree with spring fertilizer applications-but only if the tree exhibits signs of nutrient deficiencies-and be sure to provide adequate irrigation in hot, dry weather. Bark splits will often close over completely leaving a slight ridge in the trunk where callus tissue has been produced. Some trunk cracks may open and close for many years depending on weather conditions.

Excerpted from Chautaugua Living, Cornell Extension, by Thomas Kowalsick, Juliet Carroll, and Margery L. Daughtrey. Edited by: Greg Patchan, MSU Extension – Oakland County Horticultural Agent

July 2000

Oakland County

Distributed by MSU Extension-Oakland County, 1200 N. Telegraph Road, Pontiac, MI 48341, 248/858-0880,

Michigan State University Extension programs and materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, or family status.

MSU is an affirmative-action equal opportunity institution.

Peach Tree, bark darkening and peeling/cracking

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What Is Frost Crack: What To Do For Cracking Tree Trunks

During periods of cold winter nights followed by warm sunny days, you may discover frost cracks in trees. They can be several feet long and a few inches wide, and the colder the temperature, the wider the cracks. Frost cracks usually occur on the south to southwest side of the tree.

What is Frost Crack?

The term “frost crack” describes vertical cracks in trees caused by alternating freezing and thawing temperatures. When the bark alternately contracts with freezing temperatures and expands on warm days, a crack is likely to occur. A tree with a crack is in no immediate danger and may live for several years.

Reasons for Frost Crack in Trees

Frost is just one of the causes of tree bark cracking. You’ll also see cracking tree trunks from a condition called sunscald. In late winter or early spring, warm afternoon sun shining on the trunk can cause the tree tissue to break dormancy. When sunny afternoons are followed by freezing nights, the tissue dies. You may find strips of bark peeling off the tree. Dark-colored and smooth-barked trees are most susceptible to sunscald.

Cracking tree trunks also occur in trees grown in areas where they are marginally hardy. Hardiness zones reflect the lowest expected temperature in an area, but all areas experience unexpectedly low temperatures from time to time, and these low temperatures can damage trees growing on the edges of their hardiness zones.

How to Fix Frost Crack

If you’re wondering how to fix a frost crack, the answer is that you don’t. Sealants, wound paint and adhesives have no effect on the healing process or the health of the tree. Keep the crack clean to prevent infection and leave it open. In many cases, the tree will attempt to heal itself by forming a callus along the crack.

Once a crack occurs, it is very likely that another crack will form in the same location. You can help prevent a re-occurrence by wrapping the trunk of the tree in tree wrap for the winter. Remove the wrap as soon as temperatures warm in late winter or spring. Leaving the wrap on too long provides a secure hiding place for insects and disease organisms.

Another way to protect the tree is to plant evergreen shrubs around the trunk. Shrubs can insulate the trunk from extremes in temperatures and shield it from direct afternoon sunlight. You should prune the canopy of surrounding trees conservatively to avoid removing branches that shade the trunk.

Bark Splitting

The problem goes beyond the cosmetic damage of the bark splitting; glyphosate products actually deteriorate the bark structure and destroy the winter hardiness of young trees.

Mathers has been getting the word out to landscapers by traveling around the country to speak about not applying glyphosate products near or around trees. She said that many landscapers are unaware that they are inadvertently causing damage to young trees, but the problem can easily be remedied.


The reason glyphosate is problematic to young trees is because of the wetting agent used in many glyphosate herbicides. This wetting agent is what makes glyphosate easy to take up by the tree. Once the chemical enters the tree, it decreases the tree’s resistance to diseases and weakens the bark structure, making it susceptible to bark cracking and splitting.

“(The chemical) causes a double whammy … the tree can’t heal well, and it doesn’t have the hardiness it had before,” said Mathers. In addition to symptoms of split bark, glyphosate compound uptake in trees can cause other problems, such as witches’ broom (a cluster of twigs that grow on a branch), growth stunting and even death of the tree if it is applied in lethal doses.

“We are not sure how far the glyphosate moves once it gets into the trunk,” said Mathers. “Most applications are not lethal doses, but it does do damage and weakens the tree, and each time you spray there is the potential of the chemical accumulating and building up in the tree.”

Young trees

The most vulnerable to bark cracking are the young, thin-barked trees that are between 2 and 2.5 inch calipers in diameter.

“Once a tree gets older and has a thicker bark, the glyphosate uptake is not an issue,” said Mathers, since the older barks do not readily take up the chemical.

To determine if a tree can take up glyphosate into its bark (and cause damage to the tree), push the bark up with your thumbnail, if you see green bark, it will take up the herbicide. These are the trees that are most susceptible to damage from glyphosate use in the landscape.

“Bark splitting has always been thought of as cold injury,” said Mathers. Before conducting her research, her agency had received years of data about split bark in warmer areas of the country as well, including Georgia, the Carolinas and California. In these areas, any bark splitting had been blamed on sunscald, but research has shown that glyphosate uptake has also been the culprit.

Prevent glyphosate damage

“Glyphosate is a very environmentally sound product that breaks down quickly in the soil; but it does not break down if it gets into a plant,” said Mathers. Getting into an annual weed is different than the product making its way into a young tree, where the chemical lingers in the tree and causes damage. Research shows that a single, low dose of glyphosate stays in a young tree for one year.

How can you prevent glyphosate damage to young trees on your client’s property? Here are some steps to take:

  • Know what kind of glyphosate is safe to use around young trees. There are numerous brands of this herbicide, all with differing levels of adjuvant, or wetting agent. Make sure that you use a brand that does not have an adjuvant load.
  • Use correct amounts of herbicide; do not overspray, which can cause drift onto trees.
  • There should be a 30-foot buffer between the weeds you spray and young, woody plants. Glyphosate sprayed directly on, or alongside, young trees does the most damage.
  • Use shields if you spray glyphosate around young trees.
  • Rely more on preemergent herbicides to kill weed seedlings rather than postemergent glyphosate appli­cations to kill the entire weed plant later. Limit the use of postemergent herbicides for rescue treatments or only as the last resort. This will reduce the effect on young trees.
  • Adopt an integrated weed management program to reduce reliance on glyphosate.
  • Do not use glyphosate for sucker removal. The suckers will take up the glyphosate and transfer it into the tree. Instead, use stump treatments that are registered for sucker removal, such as Scythe (perlargonic acid). Mathers suggests using a sprout inhibitor, such as Tre-Hold Sprout Inhibitor A-112 or Tre-Hold RTU, painted or sprayed on pruning cuts after the sprout is removed. Herbicides that contain glyphosate should be sprayed in the landscape before sucker removal, not after.
  • Reduce your use of glyphosate. Research has shown that many tree growers, nursery and landscape professionals are using glyphosate indiscriminately, as much as eight times per season.

Woody Plants Most Susceptible to Bark Splitting

  • Pyrus species (especially Callery pears)
  • Prunus species (especially Yoshino cherry and Kwanzan cherry)
  • Crab apples
  • Sycamore
  • Serviceberry
  • Hawthorn
  • Mountain ash
  • Black gum
  • Paper bark maple
  • Japanese maples (especially variety dissectum)
  • Norway maple (especially Emerald Queen)
  • Red maples
  • Dogwood (especially Kousa dogwood)
  • Magnolia (especially Magnolia Elizabeth)
  • Yellow magnolia (especially Butterflies, Sawada’s Cream, Yellow Bird and Yellow Lantern)

Registered Glyphosate Products

There are currently 45 generic glyphosate products registered for ornamentals. Each has a different wetting agent formulation. To reduce the chances of causing damage to young trees in the treatment area, make sure you select an adjuvant load of “none.” While these products indicate you need to add an adjuvant, Mathers suggests that you use the product without adding an adjuvant.

Trade names with no adjuvant load and are safer to use around young trees include:

  • Backdraft (BASF)
  • Campaign (Monsanto)
  • Expert (Novartis)
  • Extreme (BASF)
  • Fallowmaster (Monsanto)
  • Fallow Star (Albaugh)
  • FieldMaster (Monsanto)
  • Landmaster BW (Monsanto)
  • Glypro (Dow)
  • Land Star (Albaugh)
  • ReadyMaster ATZ (Monsanto)
  • Rodeo (Monsanto)
  • Roundup Custom (Monsanto)
  • RU SoluGran (Monsanto)

The author is a freelance writer from Keene, N.H.

I recently received a picture of a maple tree from one of our franchisees whose customer was asking about some cracks that were developing in the trunk. Nothing can take the place of seeing something in person, but I can usually provide a fairly good estimate of what is happening to a lawn or landscape plant from a picture.

Even after 35 years in lawn care, I am still learning new things. I was visiting one of our franchisees, Kent Fisher, in Green wood, IN. We were out looking at lawns and landscapes in his area, and he told me that a branch that projects perpendicular from the trunk has more structural integrity than one that parallels the main trunk, often forming a V-shape. I remembered that comment when I received the picture shown to the right. In this picture, you can see the scarring begins at the crotch of the tree and moves downward.

I cannot be 100% positive unless I was actually looking at the tree, but I am fairly sure that at some time in the past, this tree was pulled apart or twisted in a wind storm. The callus you see forming is the result of the tree repairing the damage caused by the environmental stress.

The stress crack may not have been visible to the homeowner, but the scarring shows that the cause was from an external force.

In the next picture, you can see cracks running vertical up and down the tree. Again, it is impossible to say what caused the cracks in the bark or when they occurred. However, there are several reasonable possibilities. In the spring, if it warms up enough for the tree to start moving fluid up the xylem and then it freezes, the fluid inside those tubes can expand and rupture the outer bark. Lightning strikes can also fracture the bark, but that damage is usually more pronounced and easier to identify. If the tree is growing quickly, the growth can also cause the bark to split. In this case, I feel the cause for the cracking was due to the tree growing quickly, faster than the bark could keep up with the growth of the tree.

As long as the heartwood, the dense inner part of a tree’s trunk, is not showing through, there is nothing to worry about and the tree will be fine. If the heartwood is showing, than an easy access for wood decaying organisms has developed, which could lead to problems later on in the life of the tree. In this case, the crack that developed farther up is more of a concern than the lower bark splits. For either scenario, calling in a licensed arborist to assess the damage is the best plan. There are some things that are best left to tree care professionals.

Tree Recovery For Homeowners

Assess the Damage and Act Accordingly

The Keepers

If damage is relatively slight, prune any broken branches, repair torn bark or rough edges around wounds, and let the tree begin the process of wound repair.

Minor Damage

Although the tree has been damaged, enough strong limbs may remain on a basically healthy tree to make saving it possible.

An Easy Call

A mature shade tree can usually survive the loss of one major limb. The broken branch should be pruned back to the trunk.

Too Young to Die

Young trees recover quickly. If the leader and structure for branching is intact, remove the broken branches so the tree can recover.

Wait and See

If a tree appears to be a borderline case, don’t simply cut it down. It’s best to give the tree some time. A final decision can be made later.

Easy Does It

Resist the temptation to prune too heavily. The tree will need all the foliage it can produce in order to manufacture the food needed to get through to the next growing season.

Hold Off

A healthy, mature tree can recover even when several major limbs are damaged. A professional arborist should assess damage on a borderline tree to safely remove branches.

Say Goodbye

Some trees simply can’t be saved or are not worth saving. If the tree has already been weakened by disease, if the trunk is split, or more than 50 percent of the crown is gone, the tree has lost its survival edge.

Farewell to a Friend

A rotten inner core in the trunk or structural weakness in branching patterns can cause a split trunk. The wounds are too large to ever mend.

Hopeless Case

All that’s left is the trunk. The few remaining branches can’t provide enough foliage to enable the tree to survive through another growing season.

Tree Tragedy

This tree has lost too much of its leafy crown. It probably won’t grow enough new branches and leaves to provide nourishment and regain its former beautiful shape.

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