Treating Cut Tree Limbs with Wound Paint

By: Julie Day

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

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  • Ro Crumpler Says:
    August 20th, 2018 at 10:29 am

    Re: Previous Comments
    You list possible effects to the tree from applying wound paint. But your article does NOT show that this application WILL cause those effects. So now what? Seems like there’s no proven facts that those list of effects ARE probable. Just sayin…
    Please clarify. Thanks!

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    August 21st, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    Hi, Ro,

    Gardening and landscaping questions can be tricky since the rules change based on the region. We would suggest contacting your local Master Gardeners association.
    Master gardeners train on a range of topics so they can provide advice, at no charge, for people in their area.

    Thanks for your question, and good luck!

  • Ro Crumpler Says:
    August 20th, 2018 at 10:21 am

    I have large oak trees that were trimmed three years ago. At every cut, new sprouts have come out which continue to grow and soon they will become small limbs and later large friends, which in effect is defeating my purpose. I also have Crape Myrtle trees that I had trimmed a few months ago. New growth shot out like wildfire and quickly those are going to become thicker branches as well. Again, defeating my purpose. So although you claim the wound paint isn’t a great idea, you tell me which product is the best to prevent new growth from coming out the moment that limbs are cut! I feel like I have no choice in this matter. I do appreciate any comments you make. Thank you!

  • m. garth slatinsky Says:
    April 11th, 2018 at 11:56 am

    love my trees , love my shade brought in 26 trees back of pick-up to semi spade trucks 30 years ago what I ran into planted a pin oak (10in base) ,bowl was to shallow ,clay to slippery, wind and rain blew it over,
    upright in hours ,stake it ,it died had a hugh ball on it( stake every tree) brought in Sugar maple (someone fieid)spade truck (80″)cut a main root ,kill quarter of the tree ,heal nice on top ,hole in trunk. carpenter ants were in,got rid of them dug out decay wood spray foam the cavity , then sealer .Tornado top my Silver Maples (30″base) grubs set in saw off

  • Susan L Says:
    February 14th, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    If you make a burn around all the tree branches up next to the tree trunk will it kill the tree?

  • Audrey Marshall Says:
    January 11th, 2018 at 3:20 am

    My 40 year old Willow tree has lost two huge branches due to too much water getting into the trunk on one side. We have had to top out on the remaining side to keep the tree from falling. There are now some very nasty wounds in the trunk at the bottom. How should I handle this as this Willow tree means a great deal to me as my hubby planted it from a two foot twig and he has passed away. I live in South Africa.

  • Ewan Says:
    November 30th, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Have what I think has been a copper beech and a normal beech been planted close,next to each other,I believe a couple of hundred years ago,they have grown and fused together at stump ,I want to cut the green part of tree down,as it is leaning dangerously,I am especially interested in post treatment of branch stub,diameter of branch approx400 cm,also angle of cut?

  • Margaret Says:
    September 24th, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    After pecan season we need to cut back huge limbs on neighbors pecan tree that is hanging over not only our carport but our vehicles and even one corner bedroom. We have the right of “owning the air above our house and everything in the air”. We have cut them back about 5 years ago, and now they have grown back even bigger and longer. Is there anything we can “paint” on the cut ends to keep them from growing back?

  • William Schumacher Says:
    September 17th, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    My Oak Tree on the river is old and has an old limb that was about 20 inches across cut off at head high a long time ago it healed over but now the bark on the bottom side from the rotted stump part is oozing and the bark is peeling off on that side. What can I do

  • marilyn ames Says:
    May 26th, 2017 at 6:39 am

    I have a magnolia tree that doesn’t look really good it’s blooming but the leaves just don’t look real good and last night we had a bad storm and one of the big branches broke off how should I fix this tray is about 28 years old

  • Derek Foley Says:
    May 18th, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Cutting a branched off palm from the main plant, would I need to seal the cut?


  • Mit John Street Says:
    May 17th, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    I agree with not painting ordinary trees. However, what about Bonsai Trees.. Often when cutting a large branch off , the wound takes a long time to heal and is ugly , I have had success with wound paint.
    What would you suggest ?

  • V Cox Says:
    May 17th, 2017 at 8:24 am

    I just had a large branch ripped from my Japanese maple. The tree has an ugly wound and I need to know how to treat this. The tree is about forty years old, almost lost it once. I’d like to save this tree. V Cox

  • Monica Says:
    May 16th, 2017 at 9:41 am

    I live in north Texas and on May 15th, 2017, I just cut part of a lower branch on a red oak tree. The remaining branch is so thick that I have to someone help me complete the cut to the collar. Should I use wound paint?

  • David Sinnock Says:
    May 10th, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Have recently had several large holly trees reduced in height by a profesionaly
    Qualified tree surgeon.Do I paint the trees where they have been cut or not?

  • Elena Says:
    July 25th, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    I have a very young red bud tree in my back yard (about 3-4 years old). In the spring I tried to prune one of the bottom branches. Unfortunately I did not use any pruning tools but rather tried to break it off with my hands. As the branch came off it pulled a small layer of bark on one side. That side seem to have healed but a crack had formed in that spot and I don’t like the way it looks. What is the best way to fix that?

  • Luke Yancey Says:
    July 13th, 2016 at 7:43 am

    So that’s what the paint around the trees is for. I am from the northwest and have never seen a tree with paint around the bottom of it. A few years ago, when I went to Russia, I saw that nearly all of their trees had paint around the bottom trunks. I couldn’t figure out what it was for, but after reading your article, it must be to protect the tree from bacteria, fungi, and decay!

  • randy Says:
    March 4th, 2016 at 11:24 am

    How about using canola oil.

    Or would tea tree oil be good to put on a cut branch

  • Jason D. Cecil Says:
    February 3rd, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    More than anything, wound sealants and tar paint are aesthetics. I’m from Florida originally where its common to paint over pruning cuts in say a pine or magnolia. If only because a customer doesn’t want to see the cuts.
    Currently I’m working in the Pacific Northwest and in 7 years of both commercial and residential work I have never seen anyone but landscapers use the stuff.

    Jason D. Cecil
    ISA Certified Arborist

  • Becky Eisemann Says:
    October 25th, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Our large old Magnolia tree was just trimmed way back and a rotted limb removed near the top. The trimmer recommends tar treatment on that cut and a couple of others that show rot in the center, but otherwise he said the tree is healthy and just needs some good vitamins at the base. What would you recommend, regarding the tar and the vitamins?

  • barrington Says:
    October 11th, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    So much for my tree painting business. I will go back to house numbers on the curb. Do not want to be left out on a limb. Nipped in the bud!

  • SallyFlaig Says:
    May 3rd, 2015 at 7:47 am

    I have an old dogwood (60 years) in my yard that has lost several limbs to storms over the years. I had to cut some dead branches off a week ago and now it is dripping a clear liquid from those sites. Is it too late to use pruning paint? Please help!! I don’t want to lose the tree – it is one of the reasons I bought the house!!

  • Gina Wallis Says:
    May 2nd, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Every time I cut off limbs or branches, I get a lot of new branches springing up in the cut off area. Any trick to keep this from happening? I even cut down a tree leaving the truck about a foot high hoping it would die and it is now a tall tree once again.

  • Lisa Guay Says:
    April 17th, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    I just had a VERY large Norway Spruce cut down and have left about 15ft of trunk still standing. I was hoping to build a deck around it but wanted to know if or how long before it would start to rot and if I can somehow prevent it

  • Barbara Says:
    October 9th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I have a 10 year old ash tree that was damaged when a semi hit a large branch and tore it off leaving a gaping wound. Ash borer is a big problem here. Should I put wound paint on this. Most unhappy for my healthy tree.

  • SLThompson Says:
    September 16th, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I came home to find 3 teenagers throwing an axe at my maple tree! The damage is pretty bad about 6 feet high of cuts and 1 foot wide area. The center of which has no bark at all where the axe kept hitting the target. I’m devastated! Friends suggested pruning paint but I am so upset I am afraid I’ll make the wrong decision and hurt it further.

  • 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

  • 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,

  • 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.


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

    Tree Service & Landscaping

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


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

    Tree Service & Landscaping

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

    Chris Francis Landscapes

    Tree Service & Landscaping

    May 29th, 2012 at 12:53 pm


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

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

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

    Chris Francis Landscapes

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Treating Cut Tree Limbs with Wound Paint