Millions of trees across the globe no doubt bear the scars of countless romance-driven efforts to immortalize the fiery blossom of young love. Known as arborglyphs, these small carvings don't normally cause too much damage to trees. However; another way that people leave their mark on trees is with spray paint.
This form of marking trees is known as "tagging" and is used by gang members to mark their territory. In fact, the El Palo Alto tree in the US, which was just a sapling when Europeans first visited America in around the year 1000 AD, also fell victim to graffiti in 2010.
It is true that spray paint does not belong on trees let alone walls, but is it harmful to trees?
Spray Paint Can Harm and Even Kill Thin-Barked Trees
Not only is graffiti unsightly, but it is harmful to trees due to the chemical properties of spray paint. Thin-barked trees such as maples and many types of fruit tree are especially susceptible to the toxicity of spray paint. On thin-barked trees, spray paint, which contains harmful substances like liquefied petroleum gas, seeps into their skin and into the cambium layer beneath the bark.
This is dangerous because the cambium layer is responsible for producing new cells. It is the cambium layer that creates the ring effect that can be seen when the inside the trunk of a tree.
If someone has spray painted a tree on your property, you need to remove the paint as quickly as possible, before penetrates too deeply.
Remove the Paint Using this Safe Method
Before you begin, you must be aware that the layer of tissue under a tree's bark, called phloem, is responsible for transferring food throughout the tree. Therefore, if the spray paint is completely covering the bark of your tree, be extra careful.
First, take a wire brush or even some steel wool, and lightly scrub the spray painted area. Provided the paint has not been on the tree too long, removing the topmost layer of the bark in this way should get rid of at least most of the spray paint.
Return the Tree to a More Natural Colour
Now you have removed the topmost layer, some of the spray paint may still be visible, as well the damage to the bark caused by the wire brush. This may not be something you want on your front lawn, for example, especially if you are putting your house up for sale. In that case, make a mud poultice by mixing some soil with water. Then, cover the affected area with the poultice and leave it to dry. This will return the tree to a more natural colour and disguise any residual paint or damage until the tree heals naturally.
However, some thin barked trees may still suffer, especially if the paint is not removed quickly enough. Unfortunately, the tree might then die as a result. If this happens, be sure to hire an arborist to remove the tree before it becomes a hazard. In windy conditions, the dead limbs of a tree can become lethal missiles that could damage your home. Furthermore, a dead tree on your front lawn does nothing for the aesthetics of your property.