Japanese Laceleaf Maple - Split in Trunk

Asked July 14, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT

I have a 13-year-old Japanese Laceleaf Maple that was grown in a container for 10 years. I planted it in my front yard spring of 2011. In April or May 2014, the bark split up the entire length of the trunk and hung loosely all around the trunk. After reading that insects might turn that space into a Motel 6 and damage the tree, I pulled the bark off. Last week I noticed that the trunk has now split. It doesn't appear to go all the way through the tree, but it is deep and runs the length of the trunk. The tree seems to be okay otherwise, but do I need to do anything to protect it from insects or another harsh winter? Or is this little guy just one more winter away from becoming kindling? Thank you for your help.

Boone County Kentucky

1 Response

This type of bark damage is often, but now always, on the southwest side of the trunk, where the afternoon sun bears down on the trunk in the winter, thawing the bark. Then at nightfall, the air temperature in Jan/Feb plummets below freezing (below zero this past winter), rupturing the bark cells as the ice crystals freeze before the water can exit the cells. This leads to sunscald, frost cracks, and killing of the vascular cambium, which normally would form the new wood (xylem, which carries water and nutrients upwards to the leaves) and the innermost part of the bark (the phloem, for conducting sugars downwards to the roots). When the bark is removed, you are pulling off the phloem tissue. You should never pull bark off a tree where it is attached. Bark is required for tree life.

Your tree will probably not survive long-term. It will probably need to be replaced. Future damage can be prevented by putting a loose cylinder of screen around the trunk of the new tree, from the ground up to the first branches to shade the bark from November through March, when the damage normally occurs.

Never apply tree paint or wound dressing or pruning seal to a tree. It has been known for decades to be harmful to trees. If you want to spray something on tree wounds, you can apply an insecticide or borer spray to the damaged area.