I have a tree in my back yard that the bark seems to be coming off of. There are leaves growing, but seem thinner than past springs. Last year, I added a tree ring with landscaping blocks and mulch... did I kill it?

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Yes - you violated the prime directive of tree health

Don't change the soil level around a mature tree (especially - any tree, really) by more than an inch (up or down) or you'll probably kill it

Death seems to be proceeding. I don't know if (rather doubt) there's any hope for saving it now.

  • He says he put mulch down. Does that have the same effect as soil? May 1, 2016 at 4:43
  • 1
    @GrahamChiu - yes, if it covers the lower part of the trunk.
    – Bamboo
    May 1, 2016 at 12:04

The tree may be salvageable as the area covered is small in comparison to the total root area. Here are some diagnostic checks:

  • remove a piece of bark and examine what's underneath. More bark is good, insects or any signs of decay is bad
  • is the tree leafing on all branches

If the tree is a centrepiece and you value it you should remove the mulch and concrete bricks. Did you, by any chance, follow the recommended requirements for a retaining wall such as a trench 6" deep underneath the wall back filled with gravel? That could be fatal.

If you choose to remove the wall then rake out the mulch to a layer less than half an inch thick around the whole tree. This spring get an arborist to do an assessment and fertilize if recommended.


To make it simple there are two things that can be the problem. 1) The tree is simply shedding the old bark off because new bar is coming in from the underneath. 2) Look under the bark, there should be just wood or new bark, if you find tunnels or any trace of bugs, that could very well be killing the tree. You could do chemicals and everything but they can be everywhere in the tree so it would take effort... if it works. 3) Same as 2 but instead of bugs it could be sick. Look for signs of the tree being sick.

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