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I've got a cedar tree that divided into two smaller trees, and the previous owners tried to keep the twin trunks together by tying a rope around them. The rope eventually strangled one of the trunks, and now it's dead; at least, all the needles are brown and it doesn't look good.

So, I think the thing to do is to cut down the dead trunk, but this will leave half the tree bare. The question is, will the remaining trunk eventually grow branches in the newly cleared space, or will it just keep growing up and out on the side where it already has branches, and never fill in the open space?

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Although not essential here, a picture will definitely be helpful, just to get an idea of how your tree & the dead half looks like (more than anything, I'm curious...). –  Lorem Ipsum Sep 21 '11 at 18:52
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@JoshuaFrank Can you please post a photo or two? If too much bark (1/3 or more) is removed from around the trunk of a tree, it normally means the death of the tree will follow... –  Mike Perry Sep 21 '11 at 19:01
    
I'll go out and take a picture of it ASAP. Thanks! –  Joshua Frank Sep 21 '11 at 19:27
    
The trunk will try to fill in that space if there is enough light. –  jmusser Sep 22 '11 at 1:15
    
@Mike Perry: You claimed: "If too much bark (1/3 or more) is removed from around the trunk of a tree, it normally means the death of the tree will follow... " Could you provide a reference for that. It runs strongly against my personal experience. I know half a dozen trees with bark and cambium removed more than half way around that are thriving five and ten plus years after being wounded. If girdled all the way around or nearly so, I agree, the tree will likely die. While a third or half girdled tree is very seriously stressed, but I do not believe that its death is imminent. –  Eric Nitardy Sep 23 '11 at 23:22
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3 Answers

You should definitely cut down the dead trunk. the stump should be cut as close to live wood as possible and treated with a protective coating to prevent disease and rotting. If the rope is still on the tree it should be removed. The trunk itself will not sprout new branches, but the growing tips of the branches will grow into the area and eventually cover it. That could take some time though. If you thin out the branches and remove the broken, dead, and crossing branches, the tree will grow a little faster and look nicer while it heals. It might take a while, but it will be worth it.

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"treated with a protective coating to prevent disease and rotting." Studies have shown that wound dressings do not prevent decay urbanforestry.ifas.ufl.edu/Publications/… Cedar already has properties which inhibit decay so no need to do anything other than prune –  kevinsky Sep 23 '11 at 16:18
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Studies of wounded trees, many done by USDA forestry researcher Alex Shigo, has shown that, as kevinsky noted, wound dressings, pruning paint, or protective coatings do no good (except in the case of elm trees and oak trees). Moreover, cutting out dead wood "as close to live wood as possible" usually does a great deal of harm to both longterm tree health and safety. –  Eric Nitardy Sep 23 '11 at 23:32
    
Thanks. I use a fungicidal coating that prevented rot when used in several widely spaced applications. –  jmusser Sep 25 '11 at 1:32
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Some trees can create adventitious buds in places where there were no buds or branches before. More often, trees have dormant buds near where they may have once had branches. In either case, exposure to light or a major loss of wood higher up in the tree may cause these buds to sprout and grow into new branches. However, this re-sprouting on old wood becomes less likely as the tree gets older and is less likely in evergreens than in deciduous trees. I have no specific knowledge of cedar trees in this regard, but my guess would be that cedars and arborvitae might be a bit more likely to re-sprout on old wood than a typical evergreen. Nonetheless, I would not expect much if this is an older tree.

This is not to say that this tree will never look decent. As jmusser notes in his/her answer, existing branches may, in time, be able to grow into the empty section. Thoughtful pruning as well as watering and fertilizing can help the tree accomplish that, and it may also help the tree the wall-off and grow around the serious wound it has.

You do need to remove the rope from the healthy side of the tree. If the tree has already enclosed the rope in bark, you may need the advice of an arborist on how to deal with the rope without further damaging the tree. Indeed, if this is a large tree, that is if it would require two people to remove the dead section, I would encourage you to get a arborist to evaluate its long-term health and safety. It is too bad the previous owner did not do that. If the tree had been properly bolted or braced, you might not have this problem.

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First I would ask if you are talking about a Cedrus or a Thuja. Most likely its probably a Thuja.

Thuja will sometimes sprout from the crotches of branches but it has been my experience with restoring many of them that this is not something that can be guaranteed. Thuja almost never sprouts from bare wood.

Cedrus on the other hand does experience a fair amount of adventitious budding. There is an Oxford Journal that goes into more detail about the subject specific to Cedrus.

... will the remaining trunk eventually grow branches in the newly cleared space, or will it just keep growing up and out on the side where it already has branches, and never fill in the open space?

There is a chance that it might fill in. However your chances are best at creating a good looking tree through pruning. Invest in having a true landscape ornamental tree pruner have a look at the tree. Proper pruning for design and health will, over time give you a wonderful looking healthy tree.

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