Seasonal tree pruning and compartmentalization to promote new growth and health

How Trees Recover from Wounds and Pruning

Every time you improperly prune your tree, you could be killing it. However, as soon as you make the cut, your tree begins a long and fantastic recovery process.

Trees don’t heal, they seal. Compartmentalization is the process trees use to isolate split bark, pruned limbs, and even severe weather damage. As long as you have correctly pruned your tree or dressed its wounds, its natural process takes over and slowly finishes its recovery. gathered information about tree bark damage, pruning, how they recover from potentially life-threatening wounds, and what you can do to help them throughout the recovery process.

Tree Wounds and Infection

There are many ways a tree can sustain life-threatening damage, and in some cases, we accidentally cause it ourselves. The following are ways trees can be damaged, get infected, and how to help them recover:

Storm Damage – During severe storms, airborne objects may strike and damage limbs or the bark on the trunk. Such damage leaves trees vulnerable to infection, infestation, and can quickly lead to the decline of its health and death.

Tree compartmentalization broken branch from weather damage

Solution: For damaged limbs or branches, they should be pruned back to a point before the damage begins or in extreme cases, all the way back to the trunk just outside the branch collar.

Solution: For damaged bark, if the bark is still on the tree, use a tree wrap to hold it in place while the tree repairs itself. If the damage has left an open wound, trim off any jagged edges and let the tree close off the area naturally.

If an area of the bark has been damaged which circles more than 2/3 of the trunk (at the same height), this damage will likely lead to the girdling and death of the tree. In such cases, contact a tree professional to evaluate the tree and offer a course of action.

Read more about handling tree bark damage at

Pruning Wounds – The act of pruning causes a wound with each limb or branch removed from a tree. The majority of pruning activities are meant to encourage growth in sparse areas of the crown, remove unwanted growth, and remove parts of the tree that are dead, damaged, infested, or infected.

For all limbs pruned back to the trunk, they should be removed without cutting or damaging the branch collar.

Do not cut into the branch collar for tree compartmentalization to occur
These cuts should be made smooth and flat, haphazardly pruning a tree may lead to fungal infection, insect infestation, declining health, and death.

Tree compartmentalization process needs flat cut branches at the collar

Without following the 3-cut method when pruning medium and large-sized branches, the risk of tearing the bark from the underneath of the branch and down the trunk is significantly increased.

Another common hazard when pruning is the unintentional infection of the tree by using contaminated pruning equipment.

Solution: To avoid accidental contamination, sanitize all pruning equipment after each use. Dip the tools in a solution of 70% isopropyl alcohol or 10% chlorine bleach (household bleach).

Solution: To avoid stripping bark when pruning, follow the 3-cut method as described below:

Cut #1 known as a relief cut should be 6 to 12 inches away from the trunk on the underside of the branch and travel 1/4 of the way through the branch (this serves as a stopping point if the bark should tear as the branch falls).

Tree compartmentalization the pruning undercut is cut number 1

Cut #2 should be 6 to 12 inches further out from cut #1. This is a top-down cut and severs the branch from the tree.

Tree compartmentalization after pruning cut number 2

Cut #3 occurs flush with the branch collar, removing the remaining portion of the branch.

Tree compartmentalization after pruning cut number 3

Read more on the best time for pruning, cutting and emergency tree removal at

How Trees Heal – Compartmentalization

Trees do not heal wounds the way other living organisms do, they seal them. Since trees cannot replace damaged tissue, they have developed a clever way of dealing with potentially life-threatening wounds. Through a process called compartmentalization, a tree seals off damaged or diseased areas by forming walls around it, literally encasing it, allowing the tree to grow around it and flourish.

Compartmentalization Of Disease In Trees, also known as (CODIT), is a concept researched and studied by Dr. Alex Shigo. According to CODIT, there are four walls of protection created as cells modify themselves in response to wounds and infection:

Wall #1 This wall plugs normally conductive vascular tissue above and below the wound, stopping the potential spread of infected or diseased tissue within the cambium layer of the tree.

Wall #2 This wall is formed by the thick-walled latewood growth ring interior and exterior to the wound.

Wall #3 This wall is formed by ray cells which form a maze-like barrier to the spread of decay. Some of these cells undergo a chemical alteration, making them toxic to some microorganisms.

Wall #4 The strongest of the four walls, also known as the barrier wall (or barrier zone), is made up of specialized woody tissue on the exterior of the tree. This wall closes a wound with new wood.

This process can be seen on trees that have been pruned or damaged as growth which slowly encloses the wounded area. For a tree to completely compartmentalize and seal off the exterior of a severed branch, it may take upwards of 15 to 20 years. However, within the tree, this containment process is fast-paced and extremely effective.

3 years after branch removal

Tree compartmentalization pruning wound after 3 years

5 years after branch removal

Tree compartmentalization branch pruning wound 5 years after the cut

10 years after branch removal

Tree compartmentalization branch pruning after 10 years

20 years after branch removal

Tree compartmentalization branch pruning 20 years after the cut

How to Help A Tree Recover from Wounds

After pruning or dressing a tree wound, you may be inclined to use a tree wound sealer or tree wound paint. However, it is not necessary for small and medium sized cuts. As long as proper pruning methods are adhered to, the tree will do the rest of the work itself.

When a tree wound sealer is used for excessively large cuts or wounds, the sealer must allow the wood below it to breathe and should not be applied to the extremity of the cut (where the bark is), as the compartmentalization process begins immediately after the wound has occurred.

The best way to help a tree recover from being wounded or pruned is to ensure proper fertilization, watering, and mulching methods.

Healthy Trees and Compartmentalization

Avoid inflicting life-threatening damage to your tree by following proper pruning methods and allowing it to do what it does naturally – compartmentalize.

In this article, you discovered how trees use the process of compartmentalization to recover from bark damage, wounds, and pruning.

When your trees have been pruned or damaged, your efforts to encourage their health through watering, fertilization, and mulching will aid them in completing their own recovery process through compartmentalizing damaged or infected areas.


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