Why Do People Paint Tree Trunks White at the Bottom?

Why do you paint the trunk of a tree white?

You may see in many neighborhoods, gardens, or forests the bottom of the trees painted white or even red and green.

This may look rather odd at first, but there are good reasons why many of these trees are painted white at the bottom of their trunks.

In fact, painting tree trunks white near their base is an age-old tradition found in various parts of the world with plenty of background information and fascinating historical facts. With such an intriguing topic before us, let’s get started to know it better and clear the doubts…

Why is Tree Trunk Painted White?

Of the several reasons, the main one why tree trunks are painted white is to protect the bark itself.

If you notice many trees, among these, not painted white from the bottom of the trunk up around two to three feet, their bark is not in the best shape. This is known as Winter Sun Scald or sometimes Southwest Injury. This usually happens when a tree is still young.

The bark on the tree towards the bottom of the trunk starts to buckle and is in danger of falling away. This happens because of the fluctuations in the temperatures from day to night.

Burning hot days that turn into chilly nights can affect the health of the bark near the ground. However, whitewashing the bottom of the trees offers some protection for the bark and will save them from damage caused by the winter sun.

Besides that, there are other reasons why people may need to color the bottom of the trees white.

1- Burning from the Heat of the Sun

This is related to temperature stress, but it is mostly about the heat that can dry and crack the bark.

Trees that are sunburned create cambium layers which stimulate the dehydration process. Young trees are particularly vulnerable to the effects of prolonged heat and ultraviolet rays of the sun, which can have a devastating effect.

If the base of the tree has a coating of white paint, that will reflect the heat away from the bark. The result is that the trees stay cooler on the bark exposed to the sunlight. This creates conditions that improve the absorption of carbon dioxide, which creates more energy for the tree.

2- Stay Visible and Safe When Driving on Roads

It’s common to see vehicles hitting trees beside the road due to various reasons. Sometimes, drivers veer off the road and crash into trees. Other times the low visibility at night may make it difficult to spot the trees, leading to accidents.

Whatever the case, painting the trees white near roadsides can significantly increase their visibility, particularly when illuminated by headlights.

3- Protection from the Elements, Pests, Fungi & Animals

Whitewashing the bottom part of a tree trunk protects the bark from damage caused by hail or wind. This technique also seals the tree’s base, preventing pests, insects, and pathogens from infesting it. Additionally, it may safeguard the bark from fungi that often attack the bottom of the tree where it meets the ground.

Tree trunks painted white also help prevent deer, elk, rabbits, and other animals from rubbing up against the bark. By rubbing their antlers, hooves, and fur against the bark, these animals can cause a lot of damage to young trees but the white color act as a visual deterrent for these animals, making them less likely to damage the trees.

whitewashing the trunks of trees
Whitewashing the trunks of trees is a good idea

Painting the Tree Trunk White – What Paint to Use?

To protect the trunks of trees, use only white water-based latex paint. Do not use oil-based paint because it will not allow the tree to breathe properly and can be toxic to it.

Also, do not use darker colors as they absorb more light and thus more heat, which makes the tree more vulnerable to sun scalding.

Brands like Glidden, Behr and PPG have a good variety of white water-based latex paints available, and you can find them at paint stores near you.

Before the application, dilute the paint by adding four or five quarts of water for every gallon of paint. However, if your concern is keeping out boring insects, it’s better to use full undiluted paint. For protection against sun scalding, you can mix one-third paint with one-third of water and one-third joint compound.

  • Try to pick a dry and preferably sunny day with no wind.
  • Start by applying a thin coat of paint to the tree trunk with a paintbrush.
  • To avoid causing rot, it is crucial to prevent paint from dripping or forming puddles.
  • Keep painting the bottom of the trunk at least two feet up, if not three, and then stand back to check the coverage.
  • Allow the paint to dry for an entire day, and apply another coat if necessary the next day to create a tougher exterior for the tree.

Can You Paint Over the Tree Sap – What to Do Instead?

If you have ever seen trees such as sugar maple, black maple, or box elders – they produce a sap that can get very sticky and hard to clean.

You might wonder if you can paint over the sap to look the tree trunk nicer or make the sap go away.

In my opinion, it’s not worth wasting your time covering the sap up with paint. If you do, the sap will easily seep through any primer, paint, or stain, eventually causing the paint to bubble and peel. There are two things you can do instead…

First, wait for the sap to dry out and then sand it off before painting. There will be a time when the juice stops coming out. You can then sand it down until it’s flush with the rest of the tree.

The second option is to remove the sap manually with a putty knife or another sharp object. When you’re finished scraping off the extra fluid, use a cleaning solution such as mineral oil or turpentine to clean any residual sap from the wood. Once the sap is removed, you can paint or stain the tree as desired.

Remember that the sap may come back at some point, so you’ll need to be vigilant about checking for it and removing it as necessary. But with a little effort, you can have a beautifully painted and protected tree that will last for years.

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