I have a corkscrew willow, and the bark appears to be falling off around the base of its trunk. It seems as if something could be causing it, but I'm not sure as I haven't see anything obvious.

This is our favorite tree, and I want to make sure it isn't dying, and if something IS wrong, I need to know what can be done to help it.

  • Tree is about four years old. Can't remember exactly
  • Leaves and everything else looks fine (additional pictures provided)
  • We have two riders (Craftsman and a Toro Zero turn).
  • We have ~4 acres of mow-able lawn (family property, multiple lots)
  • To my knowledge, this is the only "Corkscrew" willow, although we have some other willows
  • To my knowledge, this is the only tree with this type of damage - I'll be weed eating this weekend and I'll check elsewhere

Tree with damage Full Tree Closer to tree Up close


3 Answers 3


I agree with @kevinsky that it looks like mechanical damage. Other causes might be:

  • sun scald - I've had willow trees do this and they looked similar to yours, but yours must have been there the year before, so if it is this, it must have started during extreme cold last winter (when it happens most easily). It can happen to one tree, and not others, for some reason.

  • There are some borers that kill off areas of bark.

  • fungal diseases - but they usually leave a mycelium layer under the bark.

I see that there is a narrower, older strip down the tree, showing where the bark died during the previous season, and it's surrounded by this years damage. Both damages are on the same side, so winter sun scald might be the issue. You can wrap the tree in winter, with a light-blocking, but breathable material like burlap, to shade the bark.

Whatever the case, this is a willow, so it's not likely to die. It will probably heal over in time, and the center will probably get heart rot (common in willows). If it does need to be cut down, it will surely regrow from the stump. Do not treat the area with protective paint, or tar. They will do more harm than good, trapping in moisture and possibly pathogens.


This is severe long term damage typical of the trunk being banged with something hard. For example enthusiastic work with a lawn mower or even rough handling when it was planted.

I considered some of the fungal diseases that willows are subject to like Inonotus heart rot but the damage is not consistent with the picture.

Willows are tough and grow fast. Their 'lifestyle' is to outgrow infections and damage. There is no need to consider bridge grafting as the willow will recover if you give it a helping hand with these simple steps:

  • roll back the grass in a three foot (1 Meter) diameter around the trunk. Apply one to three inches of compost or mulch. Reapply yearly to keep the layer one to three inches thick. If weeds become a problem apply a commercial grade landscape fabric and top with compost. This will reduce competition from the grass and reduce the chance of further damage from lawn mowing equipment.
  • consider doing some regrading to direct water from down spouts or run off towards the tree
  • 2
    Uploaded more pictures and answered your questions. Only thing I'm not sure of is "dry area". We are in Southern Delaware, East Coast USA. There have been some dry/wet spots this year but I don't think it's been bad. It was dry for a long time then rained a lot, so I originally thought it might have been a "growth spurt". After we planted, we watered the trees (others in addition to this) for the first two years we had them, but didn't water any last year. Only damage to other trees is one tree thats... cough bent... from where I hit it with my car... twice. But that's besides the point :)
    – WernerCD
    Aug 30, 2014 at 17:28
  • 1
    Looks like the tree was mulched at one point, but grown over with crabgrass.
    – J. Musser
    Aug 31, 2014 at 12:45
  • I'll bet that this is just the competition between the tree and the grass...
    – stormy
    Sep 9, 2014 at 21:10
  • 1
    @stormy I don't think so. Competition doesn't cause bark dieoff, It causes signs of nutrient deficiency and root restriction. You should take a master gardeners course.
    – J. Musser
    Sep 11, 2014 at 21:57
  • very funny! grin! I was referring to the sick-looking circle of grass and old mulch that you were discussing with WernerCD. And neither look like they are doing well. The grass in the shade trying to grow in bark and low nitrogen from decomposition. Sorry for the confusion once again!
    – stormy
    Sep 12, 2014 at 20:41

I agree with these guys...get a circle around all of your trees that is without grass. Mulch with decomposed organic mulch or a thin layer of (arghh)bark. You are hitting the trunks with your mowers. If you are using weedwackers/linetrimmers make sure you do not touch the trunks! DO NOT USE FABRIC, JUST MULCH!!

I'd pull off the loose bark so that the rest of the trunk can dry. Moisture allows bacteria and insects to gorge. Make those circles as big as their drip line (the outside diameter of the foliage cap). Easy to maintain, never ever use fabric unless it is under gravel. Really screws up the natural processes and if you've ever gotten fabric caught in your blades, you'd remember!

  • Unwinding 30' of landscaping fabric from a 4 blade deck... Good memories.
    – J. Musser
    Sep 9, 2014 at 19:15
  • These details are amazing! Grin!! Not worth the trouble.
    – stormy
    Sep 9, 2014 at 21:08
  • 1
    I was being sarcastic, when I said 'good memories'. My 4 blade lawnmower wound up about 30' of someones landscape fabric before I turned the blades off. It was not fun.
    – J. Musser
    Sep 9, 2014 at 22:48
  • 2
    Oh, I got it...what a nightmare! Threw us off our dang routes often! Threw one of my guys off a riding mower and had to take him to emergency!
    – stormy
    Sep 11, 2014 at 17:07
  • I would love to get some feedback...from the question/answer process. What did you end up doing and what are the current results? New photos? Very much appreciated!!
    – stormy
    Jan 29, 2015 at 22:52

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