Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Hollow Tree? No Need to Panic!


It is not unusual to find a hole full of rotten wood in the trunk of a living tree or even to find it completely hollow. Formerly it was believed that in such a case, you could save the tree by scraping away the rotten wood and digging into healthy wood to “eliminate the rot.” However, we now know that trees are able to protect themselves from rot by forming stronger, more resistant cells around the wound (this is called compartmentalization). By cutting into healthy wood in an effort to clean the wound, you’ll be removing the tree’s natural protection and may even cause the rot to expand. And it is not necessary either to fill the hole with concrete, bricks, etc., or to paint it wound dressing, two outdated techniques that cause more harm than good.

It’s important to understand that the heartwood of a large tree is dead anyway. It is only the bark and a thin layer under the bark (the sapwood) that is alive. Healthy heartwood may, in some cases, help the tree to better withstand wind, but not always. You often see hollow trees that are very strong. And a hollow trunk certainly doesn’t mean the tree is dying! It can sometimes survive another 20, 40 or 60 years, even a century, depending on the species, as long as it is structurally sound. To check that out, you’ll need the opinion of an experienced arborist.

If the tree is deemed unsound and, because of its placement, could do damage when it falls, you’ll have to have it removed. Otherwise, just leave it alone. Holes in trees often host all sorts of interesting animals and birds (a hollow Norway maple at my former residence was once home a family of flying squirrels, much to the delight of my kids!) and hollow trees are part of a normal and healthy environment. So in most cases, when you realize that one of your trees is hollow, just let Mother Nature do her job: she knows better than you do what to do!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

  1. Pingback: When A Trunk Cracks… | Laidback Gardener

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