Painting Tree Trunks White at the Bottom – Why & How?

Why do you paint the trunk of a tree white?

You may see in many neighborhoods, 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 trees are painted white at the bottom of their trunks.

Furthermore, the reasons why they are painted white are not all the same.

Why is Tree Trunk Painted?

Of the several reasons why tree trunks are painted white in the first place is to – protect the bark itself.

If you notice many trees that are 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. Whitewashing the bottom of the trees offers some protection for the bark.

But there are other reasons why people paint the bottom of the trees white.

1- Stress and Burning from Heat of the Sun

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

Young trees are particularly vulnerable to the effects of prolonged heat. Plus, the UV or ultraviolet rays of the sun can have a devastating effect.

Trees that are sunburned create cambium layers which stimulate the dehydration process.

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- Protection from the Elements, Pests, & Fungi

In addition to protecting from temperature variations, the paint can also protect the bark from the elements such as hail or wind damage.

Plus, it helps seal up the tree’s bottom, preventing insects from boring inside.

It may even protect the bark from fungi which tends to invade at the bottom of the tree where it meets the ground.

The cracks in the bark make the perfect hideout for many insects, pests, and pathogens.

Bacteria and fungi can grow with abandon in such areas, which helps limit the growth of the tree.

By whitewashing the bottom part of the trunk, you can help stop this from happening.

3- Stay Visible and Safe When Driving on Roads

It’s not surprising when you see the number of people who run into trees with their vehicles.

Trees along the sides of the road are more likely to be hit by vehicles that veer off the road for whatever reason.

Because of the nighttime conditions, a driver may not be aware of the tree until it is too late.

By painting the tree white, it becomes far more visible, especially when hit by the headlights.

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

Painting the Tree Trunk White

For starters, you will need to find white water-based latex paint. Brands like Glidden, Behr and PPG have a good variety available and you can find them at paint stores near you.

Dilute it by adding four or five quarts of water for every gallon of paint.

However, if your concern is keeping out boring insects, then you’ll want to use full paint that is not diluted.

For protection against sun scalding, mix one-third paint with one-third water and one-third joint compound.

White paint is the best because it reflects the most light.

Darker colors absorb more light and thus more heat, which makes the tree more vulnerable to sun scalding.

Remember to not use oil-based paint because it will not allow the tree to properly breathe.

Also, you need to remember that there is a difference between indoor and latex paint. Always choose latex paint for trees.

How Can You Paint the Bark on a Tree?

You will start by applying one thin coat of paint to the tree.

A thin coat is normally all that is needed since it will provide protection while still allowing the tree to breathe.

Apply the coat, starting about two to three feet above the ground, and work your way down for adult trees.

For young trees, you might consider painting it all the way up.

This will create a tougher exterior for the tree, protect it from disease and fungus, and most importantly, protect it from the UV rays of the sun while it is still quite vulnerable.

Once the tree has matured, you can reapply the paint to the lower section, where it is still exposed to the sunlight.

But painting the tree ensures that you are providing the maximum amount of protection when needed.

And 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 just paint over the sap to look the tree trunk nicer or make the sap go away. 

The short answer is: no, you cannot paint over the sap. The sap will easily seep through any primer, paint, or stain, eventually causing the paint to bubble and peel. So, it’s not worth wasting your time covering the sap up.

There are two things you can do in this case. 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 physically. You can do this 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 beautiful, painted tree that will last for years to come.

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