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I Pruned My Tree in Spring & Now It’s Leaking

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Late winter & spring pruning cuts can be very leaky.

When we prune trees as they are are exiting dormancy, sometimes we see the trees leaking fluid from the cuts. And, that’s (usually) okay.

Betula jacquemontii Birch tree leaking may stain their white bark.

In the Background: Betula jacquemontii (Birch) with Unparalleled Peely White Bark

In late winter and early spring, before and as trees begin to leaf out, their vascular systems become very active. Water and nutrients get active, traveling up from the roots quite readily.

And yes, trees can leak when we prune them in other seasons too.

Tree Leaking? Think about tapping sugar maples to make maple syrup.

This is done in winter and early spring when “the sap is rising”.

When we prune and a tree begins to drip, it’s basically the same thing that happens — though perhaps without the same tasty flavor that a sugar maple exudes.

Too, not all garden trees show seeping moisture from our pruning cuts. And, some will seep extra sticky stuff. In fact, beware of getting stuck to the goo oozing from a newly trimmed pine tree.

But, really, you rarely need to worry about the plant “bleeding” from cuts. It is already working to seal up those points of injury. And, if the cut is clean and the plant is healthy, it should be just fine without you intervening. In fact, if you do try to clog up the cut, you may do more harm than good to both the tree and the greater ecosystem that co-exists with it.

A few of considerations not to skip when your tree leaks when you prune…

There are a few things you do want to consider when pruning trees with rising sap.

  1. Some trees, like Birch may end up showing oozy stains from the rising sap trickling down their otherwise lovely bark. That’s why many choose not to prune birch and other showy bark trees when their sap is rising.
  2. Be sure that what you see oozing is actually just “rising sap”.
    If your tree has cracks in its bark or strange fissures emitting gunky, gelatinous oozes, that may actually be an infecting body spreading about. If in doubt, be sure to have an arborist or plant pathologist check it out!
  3. That leaky stuff is loaded with nutrients and sugars. So those leaks may attract hungry wildlife including pest insects and sap-sucking birds. That might not be a problem, but these critters may add to the damage as well. So keep an eye on any long-lingering leaks and the creatures that feed on them.

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Or read about how you can make pruning easier on you and your trees by nipping buds in spring.

57 comments on “I Pruned My Tree in Spring & Now It’s Leaking

  1. Katy on

    Hi, we’ve had a very mild winter, and my 3 yr old Japanese maple seedling (in a pot) lost it’s leaves 2 weeks ago. All the trees are waking up again, so I figured I’d better prune now. The buds are only at the very beginning of swelling, if at all. But when I pruned it, it immediately started seeping water. My Amur maples didn’t do this at all. Will it be OK considering it’s so young? Thank you!

  2. Garden Mentors on

    Katy, thanks for writing in. It’s difficult to assess your specific tree situation unseen. It does sound like the sap is rising/causing the seeping from the cuts. However, whether the pruning you’ve done is something the plant will survive or not isn’t something we can answer for a number of reasons. So, for instance, we have no idea what shape the tree is actually in. And, we have no idea how much pruning you’ve done. Plus, we don’t know what kind of cuts you’ve made. But, young, healthy trees tend to be resilient, so hopefully yours will be just fine. Keep in touch to let us know. Good luck!

  3. Katy on

    Thank you for your reply! The maple was extremely vigorous during the last growing season. One branch grew more than a metre. It has a trunk that divides in to two branches. So I pruned back to 2 sets of buds on both branches. I cut them straight across with secateurs so they’re both on an angle with the branch – ie. The sap can run off and won’t pool.
    I’m not sure if that helps but will definitely let you know how it goes!
    I’m assuming then that you would suggest not covering the cuts and just let it bleed?
    Thank you so much for your reply, and so quickly! 🙂

  4. Garden Mentors on

    Katy, It sounds like you topped your tree, which isn’t a pruning method we’d ever suggest for a tree. We have lessons in proper pruning and leaking cuts (and much more) in our online gardening coursework. I encourage you to consider learning more before you make another cut. Good luck.

  5. Bill Reed on

    We recently trimmed our Mesquite tree to paint the stucco. Now it is weeping sap all over the flagstone walkways. Is there some way to stop the weeping and how can I remove the sap from the stone work? Thank you

  6. Garden Mentors on

    Bill,

    The tree should naturally stop seeping soon after your plant leafs out. Since the plant is pulling lots of water and nutrients upward in late winter/early spring and since you cut a limb at this time of year, the water is going to seep out. Once the plant naturally does the work to self-seal the wound, it shouldn’t repeat seeping at that spot again. For now, it’s really a wait it out situation. As for the flagstone, contact your local stone yard for their cleaning recommendations. As well, you could try covering the flagstone with drop cloths or other materials to capture what’s seeping until it stops soon. Good luck!

  7. Jeff on

    I trimmed my birch tree (I believe it is a river birch, it’s brown, not white). Pruned about 12 branches from 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. The tree has been leaking ever since. Gallons of water, I put a 5 gallon bucket on the ground and it’s filled twice. I tried pruning seal, but it still leaks. Should I be worried or is there anything else I should be doing.

  8. Garden Mentors on

    Jeff, it should stop leaking soon. But really, there isn’t much to do at this point. Let that water go back into the roots if you aren’t gathering it to make syrup or drink birch water. Good luck.

  9. Jocelynn Hemphill on

    I have a 5 foot crepe Myrtle planted in half a whiskey barrel. I pruned it two weeks ago. Water is coming out where I pruned the shoots on the lower trunk. The bark is turning white in a few areas. We had heavy rain not long after I pruned. Wondering if this is just normal weeping or “wet wood” bacteria? Is thereA way to tell?

    And if it is wet wood bacteria, I’m guessing it will not survive and I’ll need to replace it.
    If I do replace it, would the half whiskey barrel be contaminated with the bacteria and I’ll need to replace it as well?

  10. Garden Mentors on

    Jocelynn,

    Thanks for writing in. You may want to bring in a certified arborist to evaluate your specific situation. Crape myrtles do often have natural bark mottling, so hopefully that’s the “bark turning white” situation. But, getting a pro in to evaluate is likely going to give you a definitive evaluation of the issue. Good luck!

  11. Kate Katz on

    My spruce tree’s branches were cut off last summer from the ground up about 5 feet. This was to clear visibility of the driveway and sidewalk after a couple of close calls with kids and adults on the sidewalk. This worked well for safety. But after a while, I noticed white stains on the trunk and asked the village arborist to check it out in case it was diseased. She assured me that the tree was healthy and in good shape and these stains were from the tree healing. Now I am wondering if there is any way to remove the stains from the tree trunk, only because it is unsightly. Would you know if there is a way to do it? It sounds like most tree saps are not easily dissolved in water? Thanks!

  12. Garden Mentors on

    Kate,
    The stains are likely material the plant has excreted to put into place to protect itself. Removing that material may create problems for the plant. Perhaps try looking at these like a scar that expresses what happens as any living thing passes through life. For some it might be age spots or wrinkles or a surgical scar. For others it might be, as you see with this tree, dried sap that helped it heal. Hope this helps!

  13. Otilia Gaidos on

    My 12 year old son has this comment bellow:

    Yesterday i just pruned a branch as thick as a finger on my 5 year old silver maple. It has been leaking clear sap a lot. Will the tree be okay until spring? I didn’t realize it wasn’t dormant yet. It’s my favorite tree I planted from a seed. The tree is healthy and vigorous (it grows about 5 feet a year!)

  14. Garden Mentors on

    Otilia,

    Thanks for writing in. Cool that you have a silver maple growing from seed!
    Assuming you’re somewhere that it’s winter, it may be that the tree is starting to pull water up again. It may have already entered dormancy. Pulling water in winter can happen. In fact a lot of maple water is harvested during winter for maple syrup. And trees do just fine with minimal cuts that leak. Your tree is likely to be okay.

    And, if you wanted, you could even try collecting some of that leaking water for syrup. It takes a lot of water to make a little syrup. And it can take a lot of work to cook it down. That’s why we tap trees like maple and birch just to enjoy the nutrient rich water. Good luck & keep growing those trees my friend!

  15. Robert Aivazian on

    I had 12 river (swamp?) birch trees that had grown out of control in all directions cut back by 1/3 in mid February. I thought winter was best, now after researching I see that was a mistake. They are leaking heavily which I see by your posts may not be a major concern, but having had them topped might be. I would normally fertilize in April. Considering the problems I’ve already caused due to lack of foresight I am wondering if I should do that, or delay until the trees (hopefully) come back, leaf out.
    Thanks

  16. Garden Mentors on

    Robert, Sorry to hear your trees are weeping. And doubly sorry to hear you had them topped. But it’s good to know you’re learning from this and asking questions before you do something else. In our experience, it isn’t likely necessary to fertilize mature trees like this. Adding fertilizers to soil without knowing if and what kind of amendment is lacking (and what balance other nutrients are at) can sometimes end up doing more damage than good. And, if you’re concerned that these trees are now going to fail, putting down fertlizer may simply create a nutrient run-off issue. At this point, you might do well to hire a certified gardening coach or arborist to help you evaluate the specifics of your situation and set up a long term plan to help rejuvenate your garden. Best of luck!

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