Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

Treating Cut Tree Limbs with Wound Paint

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Wound paints and dressings claim to prevent rot and help trees heal from pruning wounds, but research suggests that they actually do more harm than good. When you cut off a tree limb, or the bark gets damaged, the tree never actually “heals.” Instead, it compartmentalizes the wounded area with a special type of calloused wood – like a scar – that keeps out bacteria and helps the rest of the tree recover.

Painting wound with wound paint or dressing can:

  • Prevent the tree from forming calloused wood, which can keep the tree weaker.
  • Seal in water, bacteria, fungi, and decay.
  • Attract disease causing organisms that feed on the wound paint.
  • Interfere with a natural recovery process that nature has taken eons to perfect!

To help keep your trees healthy when pruning:

  • Prune in late winter while trees are dormant.
  • Sterilize pruning shears and saws between cuts with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Target specific risks by treating wounds with an organic fungicide or insecticide.
  • Make careful, clean pruning cuts just outside the branch collar, where the tree can most quickly heal.

There are a few devastating diseases, such as oak wilt, that are introduced through insects feeding off pruning cuts, then spread from tree to tree via the roots. Wound paint can reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of these infections, so some tree experts feel that the downside of wound paint is better than the risk of spreading this disease throughout a neighborhood.

Check to see if diseases are a problem in your area. If they are, follow the guidelines from your local extension service regarding the use of wound paint when pruning. In general, however, only use wound paint when absolutely necessary to prevent specific diseases.

Further Information



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10 Comments on “Treating Cut Tree Limbs with Wound Paint”

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  1. Chris Francis Says:
    November 15th, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Great article on tree wound paint. I get that question all the time.

    CHRIS FRANCIS
    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor

    Chris Francis Landscapes

  2. JOSEPH L SEXTON Says:
    May 29th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    IF YOU CAN REPLY THAT WOULD BE GREAT. THIS ARTICLE LEAVES ME NOWHERE. I CUT A BRANCH THAT WAS NEARLY TOUCHING THE GROUND AFTER LAST YEARS OCTOBER WET SNOW SURPRISE. I WAITED TILL NOW HOPING THE SAP MIGHT STRAIGHTEN IT BUT IT DIDN’T, SO I CUT IT. I USED TO USE SPRAY TAR, NEVER HAD A PROBLEM BUT I REMEMBER SOMETHING I READ SIMILIAR TO YOUR ARTICLE ABOUT LEAVING IT ALONE. YOUR ARTICLE WAS NOT A DEFINITE APPROACH BUT RATHER DAMED IF I DO, DAMED IF I DON’T.

  3. Chris Francis Says:
    May 29th, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Is the limb on an oak tree? Do you have oak wilt in your area? Chances are you do not have oak wilt in your area. Even if you did, the wound paint is only effective if it is sprayed immediately. You waited too long. Do not use tar or paint. Your tree is better off without it. Do, however, make a good final cut OUTSIDE of the branch collar.

    CHRIS FRANCIS
    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor
    * Certified Landscape Professional

    Chris Francis Landscapes

    Tree Service & Landscaping

  4. John Gallivan Says:
    October 12th, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    I have had deer chew most of the bark off a young black walnut tree. the tre is about 2 inches in diameter. I sprayed tree wound paint over the debarked area. What is the best way to save a tree like this. It did leaf out the next year but I’m not sure how long it will survive.

  5. Chris Francis Says:
    October 14th, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    The wound paint will not help your young tree. At this point, take a soil sample so you can provide the nutrients your tree needs and possibly adjust the pH. If the damage was minor, it may make a decent recovery. The alternative is removal, so it is worth a shot to see if it will make it; but remember that those injuries will stay with your tree forever: keep an eye on it. The best plan is prevention: put fencing around small trees to protect them from wildlife.

    CHRIS FRANCIS

    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    - Tree Surgeon
    - Landscape Designer
    - Landscape Contractor
    - Pest Control Supervisor
    * Certified Landscape Professional

    CHRIS FRANCIS LANDSCAPES
    Tree Service & Landscaping

  6. Ray Kostanty Says:
    November 7th, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    What about bark damage due to branches being torn off by high winds, vs. nice clean saw cuts? The bark damage is very irregular, maybe a foot across and two feet top to bottom. I could send you a photo, but this form doesn’t allow that.

  7. Larry Host Says:
    December 20th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    We had a large branch (~12″) removed from our maple. After several years the wound has only healed about an inch and the center is rotting. I think the collar was cut into. It’s great to know what went wrong, but that doesn’t fix what’s already done. A tree person said I should scarify the doughnut to accelerate the wound sealing. I haven’t yet found a picture of what that should look like. I also don’t know if wound paint would stop the rot until the collar can close over the opening. Can you put up pictures or provide a web address that might help with how to remediate an improperly pruned limb?
    Thanks for your visuals for proper cutting.

  8. Chris Francis Says:
    December 21st, 2012 at 6:23 am

    Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to correct a pruning cut made too close. That is why it is uber important to make sure the pruning cuts are made professionally. Don’t kill the messenger.

    CHRIS FRANCIS

    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    - Tree Surgeon
    - Landscape Designer
    - Landscape Contractor
    - Pest Control Supervisor
    * Certified Landscape Professional

    CHRIS FRANCIS LANDSCAPES
    Tree Service & Landscaping

  9. mike Says:
    August 8th, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    hi , i’ve been an arborist for over 15 years and there has been a lot of talk about wound dressing trimmed limbs.
    in my experience i have seen insect entry through large wounds on trees.. i know that trees have evolved over millions of years but chainsaws are recent and trees havn’t adapted to large limbs removed by this method,
    i feel there is a place for large limbs to be coated with a water based paint to keep out air born fungi spores and other oportunist insects. trust me i’ve cut down many trees that have fallen victum to large limb removal. in my opinion people are followers of others opinions. when you work in the industry over many years you actually see the results of large wounds on trees and the effect of opportunist pathogens,, which have also evolved over millions of years to enter trees in this way. we are artificially interfearing with the natural process by cuttingt etc, why not use a wound paint under sertain cercunstances, in my opion allways keep an open mind,

  10. Janet Delaney Says:
    August 8th, 2014 at 7:09 am

    My neighbor has a very large black walnut tree that spreads over a large section on my yard. I am getting little light and wish to cut at least one limb out. My question is; can I put something on the cut limb near the trunk to keep it from re-growing back? My side neighbor did a big job on this tree and everything grew back and then some! Also, when is the best time to cut a black walnut? Black walnut 1- Neighbor 0

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