Young tree losing bark

Asked February 20, 2017, 10:47 AM EST

Hello, in October of 2013 we purchased and planted a Princeton elm tree in our yard. Some branches were damaged when a limb from a tree in our neighbor's yard fell on the tree in May 2016, but otherwise the tree has seemed healthy. In December 2016 I started to notice that the tree appeared to be losing bark. Since then it has continued to lose bark and on one side is nearly stripped. I looked online and see that it is normal for some trees to lose their bark, but I don't see anything about it being normal for an American elm. I'm wondering if this is a sign of disease or other problem with the tree. I've attached two pictures of the tree. Thank you for your help.

Prince George's County Maryland

3 Responses

No, elm bark should not look like that. Your tree is greatly stressed.

We see that your tree still has guy wires on it. We cannot see how the wire is attached to the tree but, if the wire is tight around the trunk, that would kill the tree. Guy wires are not necessary most of the time. Please read through this page from our website:

With that much bark damage, it may not leaf out this spring. If branches or twigs are brittle now, that is not a good sign. Lack of water is also a common cause of young tree failure.


Okay, thank you. The wires are relatively recent. An arborist put them on last summer after our tree had been damaged by the falling limb from our neighbor's tree. The limb broke branches and shifted the tree a bit, so the wires were an attempt to keep it straight. I was pretty religious about watering the tree, so my guess is that the falling limb may have damaged the tree more than we realized. Thanks again.

The falling branch should not have killed the tree unless it broke off the entire canopy of the tree.

The base of the tree does not show much flare (spreading roots where the trunk merges into the large anchor roots.) The trunk of a tree should never go straight down into the soil. The roots below the surface may be encircling the tree and have choked it to death. This is a slow death process known as girdling. Planting a tree too deeply will also bury the flare and slowly kill a tree.

Here is a fact sheet that give more about these and other conditions that kill trees: