What Causes a Tree Trunk To Split Vertically in Columbia, MD?

You may have seen a crack running up the length of a tree. You may have even heard a rifle-like sound as a tree splits. But what causes a tree trunk to split vertically?

In this post, a trusted tree service in Columbia, MD, discusses the factors leading to vertical trunk splitting, the consequences of vertical splits, and vertical trunk split prevention techniques.

What Are Vertical Trunk Splits in Trees?

Also known as frost cracks, vertical splits often appear in winter. They are the result of a tree’s inability to handle temperature changes. As the temperature dips below freezing, the outer layers of the wood cool and contract faster than the inner layers, leading to a split in the bark and surface wood.

In summer, you may not notice the cracks. As the temperature warms, the outer layers return to their normal volume, obscuring the split.

What Triggers Vertical Trunk Splitting?

Sudden, extended, or repeated temperature fluctuations can cause vertical tree trunk splitting. Frost cracks are also common when sunny winter days warm the tissue of a tree. The warmer it is, the more the inner wood expands.

Then, as temperatures drop below freezing overnight, the wood cools from the outside. As the outer bark contracts rapidly, it stretches tightly over the still-expanded inner wood. The outer layers can no longer hold together at a certain point, and a vertical split appears.

Can I Prevent Vertical Tree Splits?

Beyond asking, “What causes a tree trunk to split vertically?” you probably also want to know whether you can prevent these vertical splits. While you can’t always control what a tree does only naturally, you can take steps to prevent tree injuries.

  • Provide insulation: Wrap the tree trunk with a thick cloth, tarp, or burlap to keep it warm in winter. Spreading mulch around the tree in the fall can also help minimize temperature changes in the soil. 
  • Keep your tree healthy: Water your trees during dry spells, add compost to your soil, fertilize in the growing season, and don’t prune without the help of a professional.
  • Plant carefully: Avoid planting trees where they’re exposed to cold winter winds. Planting evergreen shrubs around the trunk can protect the tree from temperature extremes and strong sunlight.

Will a Vertical Crack Kill My Tree?

Fortunately, frost cracks do not necessarily kill a tree. If trees do die after vertical splits, it is not from the cracking itself but because the crack provides an entry point for pests and disease.

Healthy trees are often able to seal off the damaged area after a frost crack. The best thing you can do to help your tree heal is to keep it healthy. Providing adequate water, fertilizing if necessary, and mulching around the tree can help.

Contact Us for All Your Tree Needs

Now that we’ve answered what causes a tree trunk to split vertically, Affordable Tree Services is ready to care for your tree needs in Columbia, MD. Whether you want tips on how to improve tree health or need help dealing with a damaged tree, call us today at (301) 512-5531.

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