tree banding on plum tree

Tree Banding: How To Easily Increase Fruit Yields [+ Video]

Are you seeing lots of pest damage in your fruit trees? Lost your fruit harvest to pests? Use tree banding around your trees to reduce winter moth damage.

What’s worse than finding a worm in an apple? Finding half a worm!

In the past, homeowners would spray all kinds of chemical pesticides to try and stop certain insect pests from decimating their fruit trees. While that is still being done in many commercial fruit tree orchards, it’s getting harder in some regions for homeowners to get the materials to spray without a special license.

However there are also some time-tested, non-chemical, organic methods to reduce damage to fruit trees by insects.

One such way is tree banding. This forms a physical barrier against crawling insects to keep them off your trees. It’s relatively easy to apply and works well. 

Let’s have a look at why you need to band fruit trees, what you need to get and how to do it.

You can also check out the companion video for a visual walk-through of how to band your fruit trees:

What pests does tree banding stop?

There are many pests that affect fruit trees and end up in the fruit, damaging it.

Our provincial government even publishes a comprehensive list and it’s long! There are likely similar lists for your local area. Just google “[your region] + fruit tree pests”

The winter moth especially can do a lot of damage. The females don’t fly so instead they climb up trees in the fall and lay their eggs. When the caterpillars hatch in early spring they need to feed to plump themselves up for their pupal stage, so they feed on the blossoms and leaves, which impacts your fruit production.

Why tree banding works

Tree banding stops the female moths from climbing up the tree. The sticky tree bands trap them and they die.

The tree banding can also trap other insects including ants and other crawlers that can impact your fruit tree’s health and eventual harvest.

The resin is non-toxic, so it won’t affect any animals that might lick it or try and eat it. However you do need to be cautious about small birds and beneficial insects getting stuck on it. More on that below.

It’s also easy to apply and relatively inexpensive. 

When to apply tree banding

The winter moth typically climbs up your trees in fall to lay eggs before winter. So apply the sticky tree bands in late fall.

The common advice is to wait until your fruit trees have lost all of their leaves. Otherwise you end up with leaves stuck to the resin which can act as bridges for the moths to climb over.

But don’t wait too long. Common practice is to apply the banding in early fall before the winter moth eggs hatch, then remove it in the early spring before hummingbirds have their babies as believe it or not the baby hummingbirds can get stuck on the resin! I was too late this year (2018/2019 winter) so will make a note for next fall to get it done before November.

Try to avoid applying the banding when it is very warm. The resin typically flows better when warmer which can cause issues with getting it to stick to the tree. However if it’s too cold it might be hard to spread, especially if you store it in an unheated garden shed.

What tools and supplies you’ll need for tree banding

You only need a few supplies to apply the sticky tree bands to your fruit trees. Here is the list:

  • Duck Brand Foam Cushion Roll, 12 Inches by 40 Feet Note: I don’t recommend the paper banding that Tanglefoot also sells – because it’s paper it breaks down when it rains
  • Packing tape – I use the clear kind you can find in any office supply store
  • Cotton wool if applying to rough bark – you can also use the foam banding to fill in any gaps
  • Resin: Tanglefoot Tree Insect Barrier Tub 15 OZ is the most common type although there are other brands

And a few tools and other items that you probably already have handy:

  • Scissors or a knife to cut banding and tape
  • Garbage bag to throw old banding into. I usually place it into a small bucket so the top stays open and it’s self-supported
  • Spatula (don’t use the good kitchen one!), masonry trowel or large popsicle stick
  • Disposable gloves or garden gloves (depends on how messy you are – if very messy disposable is better so you can throw them away when you are done)

How to prepare the tree for tree banding

The first step is to remove any old banding. 

This is a sticky job so make sure to wear some disposable gloves or be prepared to scrub your hands very well afterwards.

You may have to carefully cut through the tree banding with a knife or scissors. But be careful not to damage the tree bark! 

Be sure to have a plastic garbage bag handy for the old, resign-impregnated banding. I put the bag into a plastic bucket so that I don’t have to fumble to keep the bag open.

Check the trunk to see if there was any resin that oozed onto the bark. Carefully remove what you can with a blunt popsicle stick or chopstick. You can also use a rough cloth to clean off the trunk. 

As the resin is organic and non-toxic any residue left will simply soak into the bark and eventually wear off, so don’t worry about it too much.

Check the health of the bark. If you notice the bark is a bit spongy due to it staying too wet with the banding on, you should band higher or lower on the trunk, avoiding the old banding area.

What height should tree banding be applied at

Before you start applying the banding, consider how high you will apply the tree banding.

Tanglefoot recommends 4 feet but this is unrealistic for some fruit trees that might have their lowest branches lower than 4 feet. If you try and band where the trunk branches off into two or more main leads you will have too many gaps to fill and the banding won’t be as effective.

So the general idea is to place the band high enough so that it won’t get messed up when you weed, apply mulch or do other work underneath the tree close to the trunk. And low enough so you avoid the first branching from the trunk.

18 inches above ground is probably the lowest you want to go, but if you can go a bit higher that’s better.

How to apply tree banding

I’ve posted a video that shows you to apply the banding.

But I’ve also outlined the steps below:

  1. Measure off a length of foam banding that allows for at least several inches overlap. For large trees try to aim for a foot (30cm) overlap.
  2. Wrap the foam banding around the trunk of the tree in a clockwise direction. You want the wrap to be fairly tight. The foam will stretch a bit.
  3. In order to temporarily keep the banding in place until you can tape it, tuck in a corner of the end.
  4. Cut off a piece of tape and apply it. You don’t have to worry too much about the tape sticking well as the resin will help keep it in place.
  5. If the trunk is very rough, you’ll likely have some gaps that need filling behind the tape. Use some cotton balls or extra foam banding to stuff in between the banding and the trunk. You want to close off all holes that insects might use to climb up the tree.
  6. Apply the resin in a clockwise direction. There are two ways to do so. 
    • You can apply two 1-inch (2.5cm) bands a short distance apart. The idea here is that if something manages to get past the first band it will stop at the second one. 
    • Or you can apply a wider band in the hopes that if some foreign material does get stuck on the tree there is less chance it can span the whole band, allowing insects to crawl past.
  7. Make sure to overlap the resin all the way around. If you leave any gaps the insects will find their way past!
  8. If you have applied any stuffing between the tree banding and the trunk, you can also apply some resin to the top of the stuffing in case any insects manage to crawl through the stuffing.

Clean your tools or in the case of disposable ones, toss them out. Note down if you need to buy more resin or banding materials so that you can purchase them next time you’re at your local nursery.

How to maintain tree banding

The tree banding will over time collect insects as it is meant to do. 

However if you leave the banding on the tree, you run into three potential issues:

  • The banding will get so filled with dead insects and debris that it will form a bridge for other insects to climb over and get onto your tree
  • The banding could restrict trunk growth on a young tree or cause rotting
  • In spring small birds and other beneficial insects could get stuck in the resin

So at the end of winter and before the weather warms up in spring, remove the banding. Wait until early fall to apply the banding again before the moth climbs up the tree.

So give tree banding a try. You’ll be amazed at how much gets stuck to the resin over the course of just a few months! And you should see an improvement in your fruit harvest and reduced fruit damage. 

And hopefully find less of those half-worms!

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