Trunk or Consequence

Young spruce dying from weed whacker damage in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Young spruce dying from weed whacker damage (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Although they look tough and rugged, tree trunks are actually quite sensitive and can easily be damaged to the point of no return.  Yet, what goes on under the thick cloak of bark is critical to a trees survival as well.  Different rings (or layers) under the bark’s surface work together to bring water and nutrients up to the leaves (or needles) and to transport sugars back down to the roots, while the bark itself serves to protect the inner layers from damaging elements. Although a tree is capable of healing a wound to a specific area, if the bark of a tree or shrub is removed from around the entire diameter of its trunk, the result is catastrophic.

Girdling occurs when the entire circumference of a trunk’s protective bark is removed, and the cause for this is often preventable.  The culprits I find most responsible for this deadly act are two legged and four legged creatures; humans and animals.  The first one is a little more controllable that the latter, but there are ways to protect your trees and shrubs from both.  And the benefits of gorgeous shade trees and lush shrubs will be worth the effort you put into place now to protect them.

Protective bark removed by weed whacker in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Protective bark removed by weed whacker (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I have lost a few shrubs and young trees to overzealous weed whackers, simply because the operators don’t understand how much damage they inflict when they run a weed whacker line around an entire trunk base.  In just a few seconds, a gas powered trimmer is capable of cutting right through the bark of a smaller tree.  Although using a battery powered trimmer myself, which is much less powerful and potentially less damaging, I have still nicked a limb on more occasions than I care to admit.

Ginko Trunk nibbled by deer in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Ginko trunk nibbled by deer (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The other threat to tender tree trunks are deer, who love to chew on the upper trunk areas, and dastardly field mice and voles, who loves to burrow around the base, chomping all the way.  Animals are a major source of damage to many young trees and shrubs, and although it takes more than the few seconds of a sharp trimmer line, you’d be surprised at how quickly a vole can make mince-meat out of a lovely shrub.

So, what can we do to protect our beloved trees and shrubs from man and beast?  First, fire the rambunctious yard person and hire someone that will exercise more common sense.  Or, do what I do, which is, do it myself.  You can also prevent close up trunk slashing by removing the grass from around the base (at least two feet in diameter) and putting a layer of mulch in place, keeping the mulch a few inches away from the bark to avoid creating a new habitat for voles.

Trunk damage caused by mice or voles in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Trunk damage caused by mice or voles (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

If animals munch on your trunks, they may still heal as long as the entire girth hasn’t been compromised.  When minor nibbles happen, I leave the tree to heal itself, and over time they usually do with no interference from me.  Larger trees are more tolerant, and also much more difficult to damage, so when it comes to protection, I focus on the little guys.  There are lots of products available: plastic tree guards, tree tubes and tree protectors, most that easily wrap or snap around the trunk, if you’re handy, you can wrap cage wire around the base and tie wrap the ends together, and there has been a lot of experimenting with paint as well.  Yes, water-base paint applied by brush or sprayer to the lower trunk is being used from Vermont to California, with promising results.

Fruit tree trunk protected with plastic guard in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Fruit tree trunk protected with plastic guard (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Ultimately, there are several ways to be proactive when it comes to keeping our trees safe from harm.  While I find the plastic wraps unsightly in the yard, they could be a great deterrent to critters and voracious whackers alike.  No matter which option you choose, remember that even though the season for trimming grass is coming to a close, the season for snow is looming ahead.  And with that comes the opportunity for an undercover trunk-feast for all the little critters lurking in your yard.  Be prepared~


  1. Hey Kathy, Thanks for the info-now I better save some trees!

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