Why Do They Paint Trees White – Penn State Professor Explains

Arizona and some cities in Greece and Mexico have one common feature – they sport a lot of trees that have white-painted tree trunks. If you are not a native to any of these areas, you might be curious as to why this coloration happens.

Why Do They Paint Trees White? Trees are painted white to shield them from harsh sunlight and infestation from ants and harmful bacteria or fungi. In effect, trees are protected from cracks and sunburn, extending their lifespan.

In areas with hot sunshine during the day and severe cold at night, the rapid temperature changes cause cracks on the lower trunks of trees. This phenomenon was mentioned in a research paper by James Schupp, a Professor of Pomology at Penn State University. Fortunately, this “winter injury” can be prevented by painting tree trunks.

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Why Do They Paint Trees White in Greece?

Trees in Greece are painted to protect the trees from damage caused by bacteria and insects, ensuring that their lifespan is improved.

Taking a walk in some of Greece’s cities, you might notice that a lot of trees have been painted white. This white coating usually starts from the bottom of the tree and extends to the middle of the tree’s main stem. In some cases, however, the trees might be painted higher than that, getting to the individual branches.

If you are a tourist, your first assumption might be that this coloring serves as a decoration for the trees. While your guess might be partially correct, the answer is a lot more extensive than that. The main reason that trees are painted in Greece is protection.

To help you understand properly, here is a breakdown of the function of white paint on Greek trees.

  • Protection From Insects

As important as insects are for the ecology of forests, they can be quite unpleasant when they infest trees in large numbers. To prevent this from happening, white paint is used to cover tree trunks, as this practice is believed to discourage ants from penetrating trees and laying eggs on branches and leaves.

  • Protection Against Heat

The weather in some Greek cities tends to get hot depending on the time of the year. When trees face direct heat from the sun, the constant high temperature can sunscald the tree bark. When a tree trunk experiences sunscald, the outer bark can get dry and cracked, leading to it peeling off.

Fortunately, the presence of white paint prevents the sun from hitting the tree trunks directly, protecting them from damage and increasing their lifespan.

  • Protection Against Bacteria

Just like humans and animals, trees are living organisms and can get affected by diseases. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are some of the common organisms that can disturb a tree, causing havoc to its growth, fruits, and lifespan.

Affected trees could be stunted, discolored, or might even die off. The use of white paint, once again, helps to prevent these unwanted organisms from gaining access to a tree.

  • Decoration

The decorative aspect that comes with trees that are painted white is more of a side benefit than an actual intended purpose. White is an eye-catching color, and if you take a walk on a path that is adorned by white-painted trees, you will enjoy the aesthetics.

The tradition of painting trees in Greece is an ancient one that has been passed down several generations. Long ago, when Greece and the world, in general, had not yet invented specially made chemical compounds to protect trees, they used a white-colored combination of natural ingredients.

Apart from trees getting painted, the Greeks have other traditions that involve using white paint. If you visit some islands in Greece, including Paros, Mykonos, Naxos, and Crete, you will notice that a lot of houses there are painted white.

This prevalent coloring serves to reduce the heat levels in the homes since these islands tend to get hot during the summer. White is a good reflector of heat, so houses that get painted white can remain cool on hot days.

Why Do They Paint Trees White in Arizona?

In Arizona, it is customary to paint trees white because the color is great at reflecting sunlight, shielding the trees from getting damaged.

Here is a video that explains why citrus trees are painted white in Phoenix:

A lot of states in the US have unique, interesting cultures, and prominent around the top of the list is Arizona, a popular state in the Southwest. Arizona is well-known for its prevalent outdoor culture because of its impressive monuments, and among its eye-catching features are its white-painted trees.

The procedure of coloring the trunks of trees in Arizona is a common one, and the people that practice it most often are farmers. In some cases, this paint might go higher than just the tree trunk, but this is not very common.

When farmers choose to paint other parts of their tree apart from the trunk, they usually opt for the parts of the branches that face the sun, ensuring that the trees receive as much protection as possible.

As mentioned above, this white coating keeps trees safe from the negative effect of direct sunlight. Let’s explain how this works.

Xylem and phloem are two important components found in trees. Both are classified as vascular tissues, and they make up the vascular system of a tree. They directly influence the appearance, growth, and overall life of a tree.

Xylem stores and transports water and nutrients from the roots to the branches. On the other hand, phloem transports carbohydrates and other molecules from the leaves to the roots.

Both compounds are produced by the cambium layer which is just below a tree’s bark. When there is an excessive amount of sunlight targeting a tree, the cambium layer, and subsequently, the xylem and phloem of a tree can all be negatively affected.

Covering up trees with white paint is a highly effective way of preventing this from happening since white is perfect for reflecting sunlight away from a tree.

Surprisingly, as much as sunlight and heat can mess up a tree, wintry weather can also be detrimental to a tree’s progress. In Arizona, there is usually a contrast between the temperature during the day and at night. While the sun can be harsh in the afternoon, nighttime during the winter can get very cold.

The constant fluctuation between hot and freezing weather can cause splits and cracks to appear along tree trunks. These openings not only spoil the appearance of a tree but can also make plants vulnerable to rot.

Once again, the presence of white paint safeguards plants from getting heated up and then cooling down rapidly. Oranges and other citrus plants, figs, peaches, and apricot trees are some tree types that you can easily find in Arizona.

Here is a table that highlights countries that paint their tree trucks white:

Countries that Paint Their Tree Trunks White
United States

Best White Latex Paint for Trees

If you are looking for white latex paint to coat your tree’s trunk with, then you should go for interior, water-based paint.

Finding the right paint to use for your tree can get confusing because there are not so many manufacturers that sell paints that are specifically made for trees. Luckily, you do not have to search specifically for paints that are made for trees. You can buy a regular bucket of paint for tree painting.

Before going ahead to choose a tree paint, you should take note of some important considerations. First, you should know the best paint type for trees. While acrylic paint is considered the fastest drying paint, it is not a safe option for your trees as it can damage or even kill plants.

All forms of oil-based paints should also be avoided. Oil paints are dangerous for trees since they can clog up the pores on a tree’s trunk and lead to the death of the all-important cambium tissue found underneath the tree bark.

The best option for painting a tree is latex paint. However, you should note that latex paint comes in two major forms – interior and exterior. You should not use exterior latex paint on your tree either since they contain antimicrobial components to help kill bacteria on the outer walls of a house. These components, unfortunately, are harmful to a tree’s health.

In summary, your best option would be interior latex paint. While searching for one, you might want to look out for any antimicrobial agents in the ingredients of the paint.

To save you the stress of sifting through tons of interior latex paints online and physically, we have done proper research for you and found a product that could be a smart choice for you. Our pick is the Recolor Interior White Paint. There are some reasons why we chose this product over every other competitor, and they are analyzed below.

  • It is straightforward to make use of this paint, as it is a simple water-based paint that dries quickly within 2 to 6 hours. Its coverage is top-notch too, as it provides an even color shade across all surfaces, including your tree trunk.
  • Since it is water-based, you can wash it off with minimal hassle, by just using water. You can also apply it on fresh tree trunks, or as an additional layer on previously painted trunks.
  • The manufacturers of this paint are focused on maintaining the integrity of the environment. An indicator of this dedication is the fact that this paint is made from recycled materials, ensuring that environmental damage and pollution are minimized.
  • Finally, this product fits the exact specifications that are necessary for use as a coating for trees. It is a latex paint that is made for interior use, and it is neither acrylic nor oil based.

There is some controversy that comes with the use of latex paints on trees since some latex paint brands contain strong chemicals that might not be ideal for the health of your tree. As an alternative, you might want to go for other tree paint brands that are made from organic materials.

A great paint brand that you can go for instead of those made from latex is the IV Organic 3-in-1 Plant Guard. While the main function of this product is protection, the three target areas are sunburn, insects, and rodents. So, if you have any worries about chemicals and would prefer natural paint, this would be a perfect alternative.

Why Are the Bottoms of Trees Painted in Mexico?

Trees in Mexico are painted white at the bottom to protect them from insects, particularly the leafcutter ant species.

Greece and Arizona are not the only places in the world where the practice of painting trees is common. Mexico is another location where farmers use this protective measure.

Like other places mentioned above, the painting of trees in Mexico serves similar purposes. This practice is prevalent because white paint protects trees from damage that can be caused by insects and excessive exposure to sunlight.

However, the use of white paints in Mexico against insects is a bit more specific. Trees in Mexico are particularly threatened by a species of the leafcutter ant, called the Atta Mexicana. These ants are harsh pests that are notorious for how fast they attack plants – a single colony of leafcutter ants can strip down a whole citrus tree in a day.

White paint prevents this from happening to most trees on farmlands in Mexico. This effectiveness is because Calcium Hydroxide, which is the major component of tree paint in Mexico, gives a burning sensation to these ants, keeping them away.

What Kind of Paint to Use on Fruit Trees?

While regular latex paint is great for painting fruit trees, you can also use homemade whitewash.

If you want to get your fruit trees painted, you can use any of the products reviewed earlier, or conduct your search to find a useful product.

On the other hand, you can make a whitewash mixture that is often used as a traditional alternative to paint. This mixture consists of three main ingredients – water, salt, and hydrated lime (also called calcium hydroxide).

Tree Trunk Paint at Home Depot

You can buy regular latex paint, organic tree paints, or the ingredients for making homemade whitewash at Home Depot. You can also purchase latex paint for trees on Amazon, click here to see the current pricing.

When it comes to getting hardware and accessories, Home Depot is always an excellent choice, as the store contains most items that you need, including paints. If you are visiting a Home Depot branch, you can get paint that fits the needed description – latex, water-based, free of antimicrobial agents, and made for interior use. You can also find organic paints that are specifically made for painting trees. Finally, you can opt for salt and a container of hydrated lime and combine them with water to create your whitewash.

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Aron Blake

I am the lead copywriter on Homezesty and the Webmaster. I have a lot of experience in home renovations and the creation of style. I enjoy writing and sharing my tips on how to create the best living environment. My Linkedin Profile, My Twitter Account

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