Is It Always Bad When Trees Lose Their Bark?

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You are taking a stroll in your backyard when you notice your oak tree not looking its usual self. On going nearer, you’re in for a rude shock—your beautiful tree seems to be losing its bark.

Is this normal? Is it dying? What needs to be done? Is it too late?

You’re filled with all sorts of questions because you’ve never seen anything like this before.

First, calm down. This is a normal phenomenon, and no, trees that lose their bark are not necessarily dead or dying. Trees can lose their bark for many reasons and in many ways—slabs, scales, curled ribbons, or small flakes.

In fact, for trees such as oak, pine, ash, and maple, losing bark is completely normal. Experts even equate this process to reptiles shedding their skin.

We are used to seeing trees with sturdy, thick barks—they form an important element of their appearance and add to their appeal. So when we see a tree with peeling bark, we’re quick to anticipate the worst.

So why does this happen? Here are five reasons to explain why trees lose their bark.


Just the way exfoliation is a part of our skincare routine, wherein we get rid of dead skill cells to keep our skin refreshed, the same holds true for trees.

As trees grow and age, new layers of fibrous tissues are formed. When this happens, the outer layers expand and fall out to make way for the new layers. In this process, the inner bark (phloem), which contains the photosynthesis products, becomes the outer bark as it sheds.

In the case of old trees, due to lack of elasticity and brittleness, the old barks tend to split open.

Exfoliation is healthy because trees are able to recover from injury and get rid of pests and bacteria that might be present on the bark. Some examples of trees that exfoliate and lose their bark in the process are Chinese dogwood, eastern red cedar, red maple, and crepe myrtle, among others.

Environmental Factors

Another reason for trees to lose their bark is extreme change in weather. Be it extreme heat or frost, abrupt fluctuations in the weather may lead to cracks in the bark.

In winter months, higher temperatures during the day warm the tree bark, and then there’s a sudden drop in temperature at night, which affects the cambium layer beneath the bark.

In such cases, the bark peeling usually occurs in the south or southwest side of the tree. However, this condition, if not arrested, might affect the health and life span of the tree.

A good way to prevent this from happening is to wrap the tree with a tree blanket. Doing this protects it from the extreme changes in weather and keeps the temperature stable.

Fruit and nut trees are susceptible to this condition, owing to their thin bark.


When peeling bark is accompanied by fungus, dying branches, or wilting leaves, chances are the tree is diseased. At such times, you’ll most likely need to get rid of the tree immediately, as the fungal disease would have completely destroyed the wood and could spread to other nearby trees.

The most commonly found disease that causes trees to lose their bark is Hypoxylon canker. It works its way to the inner layers of the tree through the bark, and if not caught early, can spread to the entire tree, eventually leading to its death.

The cankers appear as lesions on the bark in red, brown, or black. Canker disease is usually caused by changes in temperature, drought, or excessive water.

Insect Damage

If you notice your tree losing its bark and see holes around the same area, it’s possibly due to insect infestation.

Boring insects, such as the Asian longhorned beetle and the bronze birch borer, tend to feed on the bark and create egg colonies inside trees. They’re usually on the lookout for diseased or weakened trees, which have cracks, allowing these insects to penetrate with ease. As the disease widens, the bark loosens and, with time, slides off.

Trees that lose their bark due to insect or pest damage generally show signs of peeling at the lower part of the tree. Along with that, if you notice trails or holes on the exposed layer, your tree is sure to be infested with insects.

Thin Bark

There are trees, such as certain fruit trees and sycamore trees, that have naturally thin barks because they undergo bark peeling at a certain time of the year.

Experts say that thin-barked species tend to lose bark in order to prepare themselves for a long photosynthesis and absorb as much sunlight as possible.

So, now you know trees losing bark isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, it can be due to natural environmental circumstances too. All you need to do is keep a regular check on your trees and look out for signs of trees losing their bark.

Next time you come across a tree losing its bark and are unsure of what the reason might be, it might be a good idea to call an expert such as Mr. Tree.

Having served the Portland metro area and surrounding communities for over 30 years, we understand trees very well. We’ll inspect your trees and assess the situation. In case it is damaged or diseased, we are equipped to tackle the matter right away and offer you the best solution. We care for your trees and do everything we can to ensure they’re healthy.

So if you come across a tree with peeling bark, don’t sit on it, as it can indicate impending danger. Contact us and let us handle it for you!

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