Garden Detective

Need pest and rodent defense? Try white latex paint

Jack rabbits look for dinner on the edge of a Sacramento park. Diluted white latex paint can deter rabbits from munching on the trunks of fruit trees.
Jack rabbits look for dinner on the edge of a Sacramento park. Diluted white latex paint can deter rabbits from munching on the trunks of fruit trees. Bee File Photo

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: I have many types of fruit trees (apricot, peach, cherry, apple, nectarine, pear) growing on our property. I choose to paint the trunks of the trees to protect them from crawly bugs and the sun’s burning rays. My husband insists that it be a water-base paint but it washes off too rapidly. What about a latex paint or combination there of and how high should it be painted?

Carol Luecke, Woodlake

Bee garden writer Debbie Arrington: You and your husband are both correct. Latex paint is water-based paint. (The alternative are oil-based paints and need thinning with paint thinner, not water.)

Diluted white interior latex paint – half paint, half water – works best for protecting fruit tree trunks, according to University of California integrated pest management research.

Why interior latex? Exterior paint contains additives that may be harmful to the tree. Don’t use full strength paint, indoor or outdoor; it can kill young fruit trees.

White latex paint has several benefits for fruit trees. It helps prevent borer insects, such as the shothole borer that attacks peach trees. Other studies have shown that white paint can keep rodents – including rabbits, mice and voles – from gnawing on the trunks. It’s helpful in protecting the trunks of young trees against freeze damage, sun scald and summer sunburn.

You’ll need to create a shallow trench at the base of the trunk. For best protection, the diluted paint should be applied from 2 inches below ground level to 2 feet above. On older trees with more exposed trunk, it can be applied higher (3 to 4 feet above ground). Once the paint dries, the soil can be moved back into place at the trunk’s base.

The Bee’s Debbie Arrington is a consulting rosarian and lifelong gardener; darrington@sacbee.com, @debarrington, 916-321-1075.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

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