Does Removing Bark Kill A Tree?

One of the most common methods that people use for killing trees is known as Girdling. This method involves removing a ring of bark from the tree, but is this method really effective and if yes, how does it work?

The bark of the tree consists of the phloem which is responsible for transporting essential sugar and amino acids from the leaves to other parts of the tree. Removing an entire ring of bark from the circumference of the tree will stop this flow of nutrients which will starve the roots and effectively kill the tree.

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Why Does Removing Bark Kill A Tree?

To understand why removing bark can lead to a tree dying, we have to understand how water and other nutrients travel within a tree.

Without getting into too many technical details, a tree has two major transportation systems, the xylem, and phloem. Both of these systems are composed out of tub-like structures, think of these systems like the vascular system of the human body.

The major difference between xylem and phloem is that the former is responsible for transporting water and other nutrients dissolved in the water.

Xylem transports water only in the upward direction, towards the leaves through osmosis.

Phloem on the other hand is responsible for transporting sugar and amino acids from the leaves to other areas of the tree.

Although different species of plants and trees have slightly differently arranged phloem and xylem, most of the time, the former is located close to the bark of the tree.

The soft tissue on the inner side of the bark is the phloem. interestingly, it is the dead phloem cells that make up the bark of a tree.

So why do trees need bark? If you remove the phloem layer, which will get removed along with the bark, then the lower part of the tree, which also consists of roots, will stop receiving nutrients made by the leaves. This will slowly starve the lower part of the tree to death, which will then affect the xylem’s ability to transport water and other nutrients to the foliage of the tree.

How Much Bark Damage Will Kill A Tree?

Phloem exists all around the tree, so if you remove a small part of the bark, it will not be enough to completely kill a tree. Another thing to note is that because phloem is responsible for transporting nutrients from the leaves, only the area below the removed bark will be affected.

This is why you should remove an entire ring of bark around the circumference of the tree to effectively kill it, as required under Girdling technique.

Removing an entire ring is effectively cutting off any supply of sugars and amino acids to the lower region of the tree. The cells of the lower half then cannot transport any water and other nutrients to the top part which then starves the leaves of the tree.

If only a small area of the bark has been damaged or removed, then most likely the tree will not die.

If the damage to the bark covers less than 25% of the circumference, then the tree will most likely survive as long as you clean the wound. If this damage is between 25-50% of the circumference, then there will be some damage to the tree including loss of branches, leaves, and fruits.

If the damage is more than 50%, then it is recommended that you call a professional to take a look at it. The life of the tree can be seriously at risk.

Can A Tree Survive Without Bark?

No, any tree will die rather quickly if all the bark is removed. The bark not only houses the phloem, which is responsible for transporting amino acids and sugar, it also protects the tree from infestations, diseases, infections, and other environmental stresses.

How Long Does Girdling Take to Kill A Tree?

Depending on the size of the tree, girdling can take anywhere from a couple of months to up to a year to completely kill a tree.

Girdling does not kill a tree immediately, most trees have some form of stored nutrition and resources which it starts using after bark removal to keep itself alive.

It is only after some time that a tree starts running out of resources like water, amino acids, sugar, nitrogen that the tree slowly starts dying.

How to Repair Any Accidental Girdling of a Tree?

Because girdling does not immediately end up killing the tree, you still have some breathing space to nurture your tree depending on the damage.

If only a small amount of bark has been removed, you should first clean the wound to prevent any infections. After this, make sure the wound is cut clean without any jagged edges. This will give the tree time to naturally heal the affected part without being exposed to infections and other environmental stress.

If an entire ring of the bark has been removed, this is where it becomes tricky to save the tree.

To save a tree after girdling, you will have to graft a ring of bark from a branch to the removed part to allow some amount of nutrients and water to be transported. That way the tree can start repairing itself.

The grafting process can be quite tricky, you have to make sure that the grafted bark and the existing layer align properly and that the new layer is not attached upside down.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What to do with a dead tree?

If your tree has been damaged with slim chances of recovering it, or perhaps it is already dead you should cut it down. For that, you can hire a professional tree removal service which will then take care of the entire process including recycling it.

Does tree bark grow back?

Trees have measures of healing that help prevent infection after the bark has been damaged or removed, but the bark itself will not grow back.

Can I use dead trees as firewood?

Depending on the species and moisture content within the dead tree, it can make exceptional firewood for both indoor and outdoor use.


Removing bark removes the phloem layer of the tree with it. Phloem is responsible for transporting sugar and amino acids from the leaves to other parts of the tree. Removing that layer from the entire circumference will kill a tree. This method is known as girdling.

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