Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Inland Northwest, High Desert
February, 2001
Regional Report

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This sycamore is showing signs of sunburn and needs a tree wrap for protection.

Sunburned Sycamore

The sycamore or American plane tree (Platanus occidentalis) and its first cousin the London plane tree (P. acerifolia) are noted for their lovely bark color and texture. The bark cracks with age into pleasing geometrical patterns and colors, adding interest to the tree.

My young sycamore went overboard, however. The bark cracked, pulled away from the trunk, and the tree became severely damaged. I couldn't figure out why until I asked a local arborist. He said it was the worst case of sunburn he'd ever seen.

How Sunburn Happens

Ever been skiing on a bright day and come home with an equally bright sunburn? The same thing can happen to trees in winter. Tree trunks aren't shaded by their leaves from our region's often intense high-desert winter sun. Most winter days the sun shines so brightly that it's impossible to see anything outside without strong sunglasses. That same sun shines on tree bark and warms it dramatically, causing it to sunburn. As the temperatures fall at night, the bark dries, cracks, and pulls away from the trunk.

Curing Sunburn

To prevent sunburn, trees, like us, need protection. My arborist wrapped my young sycamore with tree wrap. It's a heavy paper that comes on a roll like adding machine tape. He wound it around the trunk snugly enough to stay but loose enough to permit air exchange. He then tied it top and bottom with a little string. In summer the leaves will provide shade, so I can remove the wrap. Until the young tree's bark is older and tougher, however, it'll have to wear the wrap each winter.

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