En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
2 ratings

Monday - October 31, 2011

From: Quincy, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: General Botany, Trees
Title: Spraying paint on White Pine tree trunks
Answered by: Anne Bossart


Is there a paint that is safe to spray on a tree trunk without damaging/killing the tree? We have White Pines that have ~16" spacing without limbs & would like to 'camouflage' the bare space. If paint/dye could be used, where would we purchase a can?


It is hard to visualize the situation you are describing and to know if you are trying to camouflage to match the bark or the foliage, but I will try to answer your question. 

A spacing of 16 inches between branches is not unreasonable on a Pinus strobus (Eastern white pine) tree and when it is mature, the spacing will actually be much larger than that so that light and air can reach the inner part of the tree.

It would be helpful to know how big the trees are and what condition led to there being "bare spaces".  Are there wounds where branches have died or been removed or are these bare spaces places where the bark has been removed to reveal the lighter heartwood?  Trees have their own healing mechanisms and will slowly regenerate bark from the outside edges of the wound until the wound has healed over completely.  In the past, the generally accepted practise was to paint these wounds with black, tarry wound paint, but research has indicated that actually inhibits the natural healing process.  The bare, light patches will eventually fade to grey but if you can't wait, you can use a wood stain that does not contain any urethane or latex sealer.  You don't want to inhibit the exchange of moisture and gasses, so paint (oil or latex) is not a good idea. 

I hope this answers your question ... if not, please feel free to post another question with a more detailed description of the situation.


From the Image Gallery

Eastern white pine
Pinus strobus

More Trees Questions

Non-native Sago palm roots damaging house foundation from Keystone Heights FL
July 03, 2013 - Will sago palms roots hurt a house's foundation if too close?
view the full question and answer

Replacement for non-native Italian Cypress in Austin
July 10, 2011 - I would appreciate your assistance with some native plant options to replace Italian Cypress trees in the Arboretum area of Austin, TX. I have 12 of the trees on the north side of the house to obstru...
view the full question and answer

Secretions of fluid from crepe myrtles
June 09, 2008 - On my crepe myrtle tree I have dozens of 1/2-inch-long narrow bugs that seem to secrete tiny drops of fluid. They appear on the branches of the tree. Are these harmful to the tree? Do I need to do ...
view the full question and answer

Sap flowing from live oak trees in Austin
May 08, 2010 - I have live oak trees in my backyard,17 to be exact. I live in Northwest Austin, in Williamson county. There are two live oaks growing about 4-5 feet apart in the center of my yard. One appears to ha...
view the full question and answer

Colony of bees nesting in sycamore
July 06, 2010 - I have a very large, old sycamore tree that has recently become home to a colony of honey bees. They have taken up dwelling in a hollow limb of the tree about 25 feet off the ground. While this is gre...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center