Chances are if you live in the North and bought a tree, the nursery staff recommended you wrap its young trunk to guard against damage. So let’s talk about the what, why, and how of tree wrap, and if it’s even necessary!

What is Tree Wrap?

Tree wrap is a commercial product, used to wrap the trunk of a tree, offering a layer of protection to the bark underneath. The tree protectors can be used during the harsh winter season only, or year-round, depending on the intent behind their use.

The wrap comes in a variety of different materials depending upon the brand purchased. The four most known types are polypropylene fabric, a paper product, corrugated cardboard, and burlap. Each has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Polypropylene fabric

This material has some stretch to it, allowing for a secure wrap and degrades over time to prevent girdling of the tree. One drawback to this type of wrap is it is bright white and stands out like a sore thumb in your yard before the snow flies.

Paper

Typically, this material consists of layers of craft paper with an asphalt-based adhesive material between them. Known in the industry as crinkled paper tree wrap, it breaks down more quickly than polypropylene fabric. That reduced life span requires you to buy new wrap more often.

Corrugated cardboard

It’s the same material used to make boxes is manufactured in thinner, more flexible layers and cut into thin strips. One benefit is the color closely matches the bark of many trees, but it also doesn’t hold up well in wet areas.

Burlap

Not used frequently as a tree wrap. Burlap is simply the same material used to make sacks or wrap tree root balls. You can find it in the craft section of the store, cut into strips. It is cheap to purchase and easy to find but anyone who has worked with it knows the mess it creates from the unfinished edges.

Tree wrap varies in color, based upon its material. Most are light in color — either white, beige, or light tan — to reflect the sunlight from the bark of the tree. Reflecting the sunlight helps to moderate the temperature of the tree bark, keeping it from becoming too warm.

You can purchase tree wrap at home and garden centers, big box stores, and online retailers. Tree wrap comes in rolls, typically 3-4 inches wide and in lengths ranging from 20 to 50 feet. Depending on the brand and material chosen, a $10 roll may wrap a couple of smaller trees.

Why Should You Wrap a Tree Trunk?

As part of tree care in northern climates, certain types of deciduous trees should be wrapped for protection. The advice applies mainly to new trees, young trees or saplings. Wrapping is also called for with trees that have thin bark texture, including soft maple, ashes, willows, honeylocust, and crabapple.

Wrapping a tree trunk protects the bark from damage or splitting that may occur in winter. It also protects against damage from lawn care implements such as mowers and trimmers, prevents damage from wood-boring insect species, and keeps the pesky neighborhood squirrels, rabbits, and deer from trying to snack on the tender bark when their food sources are limited.

Peeling, missing bark is a sign of sun-scalding.

The main reason to wrap a tree trunk is to prevent sun-scalding, which occurs in winter and early spring. According to Planttalk Colorado, a service sponsored by Colorado State University ExtensionDenver Botanic gardens, and the Green Industries of Colorado, high-intensity sunlight occurring during winter days warms the bark of the tree.

This warming of the bark triggers cells to “break” dormancy, stimulating cellular activity. When the sun sets or a sudden drop in temperature occurs these active cells and conductive tissues known as the xylem and phloem are killed.

The resulting injury presents itself as sunken and discolored bark. Over time it may peel or flake off to expose dead tissue underneath. Trees on the south side of buildings are most susceptible, especially the southwest side of the tree.

Owners also wrap some trees year-round to prevent damage to the bark. Splits in the outer bark from frost cracks or other problems such as mower damage increases the chance insects may get under the bark, causing damage to the internal layers known as the inner bark (where nutrients and water are transported from the roots to the leaves) and cambium (the growing part of the trunk continuously producing new bark and wood).

Using Tree Wrap Correctly

The most important aspect of using tree wrap is the timing of the application. Tree wrap should be for seasonal use only to protect trees from sunscald over the winter or early spring. Apply it in fall as the tree slows its growth for the season. Remove in early spring as temperatures begin to warm up.

A good rule of thumb is to apply it at Thanksgiving, and then remove it at Easter.

To wrap your tree start at the bottom of the trunk. Begin winding the tree wrap around the entire base working on a slight upward angle. The wrap should be snug, but not overly tight. Overlap by about one-third as you move up the tree.

Once wrap the tree’s trunk all the way to the bottom-most branhces cut the wrap. Secure it at the top with a staple or small tack. Avoid using anything that wraps around the entire trunk (i.e. twine, tape, wire ties). That can cause a potentially fatal girdling of the tree. Some people also choose to tuck the wrap back under the uppermost three or four wraps/layers and pull it taut.

Contrary View

There are dissenting opinions on the use of tree wrap, and whether it’s beneficial for trees or causes more problems. The main argument against it: If you plant trees correctly and provide proper tree care you won’t need it.

  • Plant trees so their root flare — where the topmost root comes out of the trunk — is at the soil surface or slightly above it.
  • Water thoroughly as needed.
  • Never mulch over the root flare.
  • When pruning make cuts that are flush to the branch bark collar, leaving it intact so it can seal off the wound, protecting the trunk from disease and decay.

If your purpose behind tree wrap is to prevent insect damage or the removal of bark by animals you are better suited to use vinyl spiral tree guards, specially made tree banding or to build a small cage around the trunk using wire mesh.