“Give your fruit tree a facial!” our instructor declared as we began our session on looking after our trees by applying a Biodynamic bark paste. We used this practice on our apple trees, but this process can be transferable to any fruit tree or shrub. The time to do this is ideally after the leaves fall off and before dormancy. But since we have many projects going on at once here at The Farm School and a lot of trees to cover, we’re still working through some trees here (it’s not too late!)
This process has many benefits for the tree:
- Protects and rejuvenates the bark to encourage healthy and smooth bark
- Protects the bark from sun-burn, or “sun scald” (bare patches that are light in color will be visible and missing bark). This is caused by the lack of leaves shielding the trunk from the harsh effects of the sun. Also, this time of year the sun is traveling lower across the sky and more directly shining on the trunk. You will likely see these sun spots on the southwestern side of the trunks
- Protects from fungus activity (like lichen, that green stuff that grows on old wooden fence posts and trees)
- Deters against insects like borers, mites, and aphids that typically hibernate (or “overwinter”) under the bark, on the trunk, or at the base of the tree
- Helps heal old pruning cuts, wounds, and lesions on the tree
In the past, this same process was done using latex paint (ack!). Today, they do also make plastic wraps that can help achieve some of the above benefits, but those plastic sleeves can also harbor unwanted and overwintering insects.
Recipe and Application:
- In a 5 gallon bucket, soak a Biodynamic prep 500 (a specially composted manure you can purchase online) for an hour in 2.5 gallons of unchlorinated water. If a Biodynamic prep is not being used or is not available, then you can add ¼ cup of fully decomposed compost.
- In another 5 gallon bucket, you’re going to brew some Horsetail “tea” (Equisetum arvense), which is made from the dried Horsetail herb. Add 0.75 ounces of the dried Horsetail to ½ gallon of water (non-chlorinated) and allow to “steep” for 15 minutes. For Biodynamic practitioners, this tea is then stirred for 10 minutes.
- While these items are soaking, you can begin to prep your trees for the paste application. Wearing heavy gloves, rub away any loose/flaking off bark and lichen from the tree trunk. Do this all the way down to the ground and up to the first couple of lateral tree limbs. If there are small shoots at the base of the tree, cut them off and lay back any grasses/debris so you can get as close to the ground as possible.
- Add the 2.5 gallons of Biodynamic prep 500 (or your ¼ cup compost, if using) to the ½ gallon of horsetail tea and mix together. Slowly add 5 lbs. of clay (bentonite or kaolin) to the liquid ingredients and a small amount of limestone, if using. Use a stick or thin piece of wood to stir often.
- Once incorporated, slowly add additional non-chlorinated water, as needed, to create a thick paste (similar to a thick paint consistency) to brush on, or dilute it further to allow for a spray application using a back-pack or other sprayer.
- Using a brush, paint or “white wash” the paste onto the trunk from the soil line to the first main lateral limbs. Try to get into the crevices and get a thin layer all over the bark.
- For full insect protection (and depending on its size), the entire tree can be painted/sprayed—limbs, twigs, and buds—to smother hibernating pests such as the eggs of aphids, mites, and scales.
Many tree “facial” application recipes exist, so feel free to look around and find a recipe you like or modify this one to meet your needs! It’s worth investing your time and getting the most out of your fruit trees!
Happy bark painting! ~Amber