Painting trees: asking for trouble or making a front yard awesome?

June 1 2011 |
Hyper painted tree
Photo by FarOutFlora. Used under Creative Commons license.

In front of my house, there is a very nice elm tree. It's tall and shady and positioned in the center of the circle drive — it's the focal point of our front lawn. I've been wanting to paint it. Not, like, to make a painting of it, but to stripe it. A swath of pink and maybe orange or green. Mind you, I didn't get far enough into the idea to see if this was safe for the tree or not — and that is a concern!

This is where I find it useful to be married — this is the kind of scheme Scott wisely puts the kabosh on. Though we did come to an agreement, because he likes the idea of a colorful tree. I can color the tree if:

  1. I use a non-permanent solution, like wrapping the trunk.
  2. I somehow get it to be a neighborhood trend, so our tree doesn't stick out to potential buyers.
  3. OR! We live here for a good number of years and have the feeling we won't be selling any time soon. I believe the exact agreement was, "when we pay off our mortgage," but…we'll see.

All this leads me to ask: What are non-Christmas-y ways to decorate trees? Bonus points for pictures!

  1. Chimes! Wind chimes, or those colorful shape spinners, ribbons, prayer flags even! Hanging mason jars with candles inside for evenings would be fun!

    7 agree
  2. Not sure what your crafty/DIY skill set is, but have you thought of yarn bombing? There's a little village near where I live, and every tree trunk, stop sign, bench and other fixtures are wrapped in beautiful knitted yarn & fabric. It's so colorful! Good luck, LOVE the idea!

    19 agree
  3. Maybe finding something to hang from the trees that is NOT holiday-looking? Examples could include: Chinese lanterns made of something stronger than paper, actual vintage storm lanterns lined with colorful paper or washed on the inside with paint (bonus for figuring out how to get lights in there!), wrapping the trunk with colorful swathes of fabric, painting stones to put around the base of the tree, etc….you could also go online and see if you can find pics of peace gardens for inspiration πŸ™‚ good luck!!!!!

    2 agree
    • Yarn bombing IS INTRUSIVE! squirrels get their feet tangled and can't climb. Some die. Birds get their feet caught too… you can't just decorate nature without creating harm. If you want to decorate your own house… go for it, but leave the earth alone.

      8 agree
  4. I lived next to some Amish for a bit, and they would paint the base of their tree's white… maybe do that and color with chalk so you could change the color up a bit?

    I also had neighbors once from India who hung mirrors up all over their yard – it was very pretty!

    1 agrees
  5. You could do strips of fabric. Just tack, staple or use small nails to affix it to the tree. You could tie strips of fabric to lower branches so the ends hang down all pretty and then maybe do the mason jar idea too. Hang some mason jars with like, battery operated tea lights or candles or something. I think that'd look lovely. I want a tree to do that to… (I live in a condo.)

    • I have a forestry background, and it's a pretty bad idea to put holes in a tree's bark, whether with small nails, a stapler, or whatever. It creates an ingress point for disease and pests.

      14 agree
  6. I love the idea of decorating your front yard tree! I do have a note of caution, though–if you decide to go with fabric wrapping or yarnbombing or something similar, be vigilant about mold and disease. The moisture that the wrappings trap can give a foothold to such nasties, and it would be sad to decorate your tree all lovely and then have it die!

    Perhaps painting it with tempera paint, or spray chalk? They will eventually wash away, which means that you can change up your decorations as your heart desires!

    12 agree
    • This. Also be careful of the type of tree, cos depending on how fast they grow the trunk can start to grow around/over/through additions like that. My gran used to wrap the base of her apple trees with tarred rags to keep the critters off her crop but forgot to change one. It destabilized the base of the trunk and the whole tree had to be cut down to avoid it collapsing onto the house. Similarly beware of making holes in tree bark as some species don't cope well with that.

      What about solar powered LEDs? They could be wrapped around the trunk in spiral patterns, or grouped like pixels to make images.

      9 agree
    • Just wanted to reply to the concerns for the trees, to date there is no evidence that yarnbombing has ever damaged trees πŸ™‚ or increased any level of mold or insect life. We did do our research before doing our first yarnbomb with local tree experts and they didn't see a problem πŸ™‚ Hope that helps.
      ps. charity shops often have pieces of crochet and knitting for those who don't knit but would like to participate.
      another idea that might be fun, wrapping the whole tree and trunk in white fairy (christmas) lights.
      cheers from the jafagirls in Yellow springs ohio

      3 agree
    • Tempera! Brilliant!

      I saw a yard with a tree that was painted entirely red. I thought it was so cool until my husband pointed out that the tree was dead already, so it wasn't harming it. I couldn't find an answer about whether paint would hurt a tree, but surely something like tempera, which can be easily washed off, would work fine. I'm so excited to try this!

      (Although when we moved in we discovered that our neighbors do not seem to like tacky/kitschy/whimsical yard art, so… maybe not…)

      1 agrees
  7. I have seen antique lanterns hung in trees with little candles in them. I also have seen folks do white fairy lights year round. I don't think those are too Holiday Season-ish. Also, I've been thinking of getting different small tiles and glueing them together with a loop smashed in between and using those for hanging yard decorations. Maybe you could do that or even glue together mirrors and use those. Also, consider using non-permanent glue and sticking jewels on the trunk and limbs.

  8. Instead of paint, you could try using vinyl decal material. Call a local sign shop and see if they have any scraps that they would be willing to sell or perhaps even give away and make sure it will stick to your tree. It may or may not depending on how textured the bark is. But it will look painted and you can easily remove it. Maybe even change it out with the seasons.

    Alternatively, you could use ribbons or cloth to pretty it up. My grandmother always has a huge yellow ribbon tied to her front oak tree in support of our troops. Why not do lots of colors, maybe even may pole style?

    If you are really serious about painting it though, find a really talented graffiti artist and blame it on the neighborhood vandal. πŸ™‚

    2 agree
  9. Whatever you decide to do, please research to make sure it won't harm your poor tree! I know that yarn-bombing is actually really bad for the tree if you don't take it down after a short while- besides interfereing with the growth, it traps moisture which promotes molds and fungus, and provides a cozy living area for destructive insects. I'm not sure about paint, but I'd make sure it's very non-toxic since it'll probably get gnawed on by wildlife and absorbed into the ground.

    I love the idea of hanging ribbons or flag pennants- kinda like a weeping willow with ribbons instead of branches, maybe? Could be really pretty!

    3 agree
      • That's okay, I'd wondered who it was after double-taking whilst driving past the bright blue tree! πŸ™‚

        I think I might have a go a vet-wrapping a dead tree I have in my back garden, once the rain has laid off here a bit. It's sold for human bandage use at Β£1 a roll πŸ™‚

  10. There was a hedge in our neighborhood where I grew up (near Boston) that the landlord would trim then spray-paint to be a train every year around Halloween. Most of the leaves would be a shiny silver for the rest of the year, but then would fall off during the winter and in spring new leaves would grow back in green as if it had never happened. This might not work as well for a tree, but the nice thing about it was it was a seasonal alteration that could be changed every year if you wanted to try something else.

  11. Rent Harriet the Spy! In the first five minutes Golly takes Harriet, Sport and Jane to a friends house that has literally THE most bitchin garden/yard ever created.

    "There are as many ways to live as there are people in this world, each one deserves a closer look"

    3 agree
  12. I like to put ribbons and spells on trees. I make sure to use stuff that is not harmful to the tree or any being living in or around it, and then decorate away. Most things I put in trees carry a wish or a dream with them…

    2 agree
  13. Birds live in trees. Why not make it a bird paradise and fill the tree with wonderfully fantastic bird houses. They can be elaborate and colorful as you want, and they will be functional too. Invite the squirrels in with some creatively places squirrel snacks.

    5 agree
  14. A neighbour tree has tea pots hanging from it's branches. I want to do the same when we finish renting!

  15. My mom makes these Gorgeous hanging baskets that have a moss based and flowers growing out of all corners of them. They kind of look like giant hanging balls of flowers. I want to make a few to hang in the trees in my yard. I think I'll rig up a strap out of webbing so that it doesn't dig into the tree. Hopefully, it'll look very pretty if they hang down past where the leaves are.

  16. I'm not too sure that painting is really worthwhile given that it might harm the tree or animals that live in it.

    You could wrap it in yarn or cloth to create stripes. I have seen this in Thailand – google Kanchanaburi wrapped trees and you'll see some examples. It looks stunning.

  17. It might look cool. . . but I'm not sure it's the greatest thing for a tree that is trying to produce breathable oxygen.
    I just don't agree with painting a tree : )

  18. From the outdoor survival section:
    Tracker Tape- It comes in all kinds of bright colors and hold up to snow and rain and doesn't shred into litter.
    Bright Eyes- also for path marking but they have such a pretty silver blue shine

    Both are designed to safely mark um… decorate trees.

    • Okay, you win today. I hadn't been interested in yarn bombing at ALL until this photo. Thanks!

      2 agree
  19. When my best friend and I were little, we wanted to decorate our favorite climbing tree. Our mothers handed us a couple of buckets of brightly colored sidewalk chalk and let us loose. We got to make the tree as colorful and pretty as we wanted without harming it, and every time it rained the chalk would wash off so we could make new designs all the time and we didn't get bored of it.

    1 agrees
  20. There is a park in Seattle that has blue trees. They used a water soluble colorant that will fade over time. I think it was called azurite?

  21. My parents planted a grove of trees nearly 30 years ago beside our house, and unfortunately many were ash. In my area, the emerald ash borer is a huge problem and many trees died. They decided to take these dead trunks a paint them a rainbow of colours and have made a life size fairy grotto. There's little trinkets tacked onto dead trees, glass bottles strung up between trunks, birdhouses, and an array of unique/ridiculous lawn ornaments about. It is so much fun to wander through because my parents are always collecting new things to hide in amongst the trees. Even their conservative neighbours appreciate the whimsy.

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