Scratch Test on Trees: Does It Work?

Spring is the perfect time to test your trees for strength. One way to do this is by doing a scratch test on a tree. However, some people don’t know what a tree scratch test is or if it works.

Let’s look at scratch test basics and how you can use them to test your trees’ strength.

What Is a Scratch Test?

A scratch test is simply taking your fingernail or a key and scratching the bark of your tree to get to the cambium layer.

The tree is solid if you can’t easily scratch the bark. If the bark is loose, it’s a sign that the tree is weak. If the bark is tight, it means the tree is strong.

You may see a brown or white substance on the bark after you scratch it. This substance is sap, meaning the tree is still alive. It’s the tree’s way of healing itself.

Does the Scratch Test Work?

The tree scratch test is a quick and easy way to test the strength of your trees, but it’s not foolproof. There are a few things that can affect the results of the test.

For example, if the tree is young, the bark may be thin and not as strong as an older tree. Additionally, if the tree is sick or damaged, it may not be as strong as a healthy tree.

While the scratch test is an excellent way to test the strength of your trees, it’s not the only way to see if a tree is dead. If you’re concerned about your trees, you should also contact tree trimming experts in Philadelphia.

Why Is it Called a Scratch Test?

The scratch test gets its name because you’re scratching the bark of your tree. This method is a way to see if the bark is loose or tight without damaging the tree.

The test is quick and easy to do and can give you a good idea of the strength of your tree.

Things to Avoid When Doing the Scratch Test

You don’t want to damage your tree when doing the scratch test on trees. Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Using a sharp object to scratch the bark. 
  • Scratching too hard. You should only scratch the surface of the bark, not dig into it.
  • Using the test on already damaged or sick trees. 

Berry Plants & Vines

The scratch test on a tree can also work well on berry plants and vines; just scratch the plant’s bark to see if it’s loose or tight. If the bark is tight, the plant is strong. The plant is weak if the bark is loose or you see dead branches.

If the plant has dead or dying leaves or branches, it’s likely sick. It may weaken if the plant is slow to sprout leaves in the spring. If animals have chewed on the plant, it may suffer damage. 

The tree scratch test is a helpful way to determine the toughness of your plants, but it isn’t the only method. If you’re concerned about your plants’ strength, you should consult with experts.


Although performing a scratch test on trees is not a definitive way to determine the health of your trees, it can be a helpful tool for identifying potential problems. You can also learn more about how arborists can help strengthen your trees.

If you have any concerns about your tree’s health, don’t hesitate to call Mercados Landscaping at (215) 764-5509 for an evaluation. We would be happy to help you keep your landscape in Philadelphia, PA, looking beautiful and healthy all year round!

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