Tree Banding: A Necessary Evil

Backyard trees banded to prevent infestation of cankerworms

Backyard trees banded to prevent infestation of cankerworms

Tree banding is probably the most annoying house maintenance project we have to do every year, but the result is totally worth the cold, sticky fingers.

We have lived in our house for 5.5 years, but this is only the second year we’ve banded our trees.  I guess the cankerworm problem must not have been as noticeable to us as it was 2 years ago.

I remember cankerworms growing up on Long Island as those little green caterpillars hanging from the trees that you wouldn’t see until they were right in front of your face.  I’d usually end up pulling my neck and screaming as I tried to dodge the hanging caterpillars at the last second.

Now I know cankerworms as not only the little green caterpillars I have to dodge as the last second, but also as the little green caterpillars that eat holes in all my plants and that excrete loudly (Thanks, internet!) outside my house in the spring.  We keep our windows open when we are home for approximately 8 weeks out of the year (4 in the fall, 4 in the spring), and for 4 of those weeks it sounds like it is constantly drizzling even though there is not a cloud in the sky.  Well, come to find out, it’s not the sound of the cankerworms crawling on the leaves, but it’s the sound of them pooping.  Yay!

Here’s how the cankerworm lifecycle works: The eggs are laid way up in the trees by wingless female moths.  The little green caterpillars hatch from the eggs and descend from the trees by tiny silk threads or are blown from tree to tree.  They feed on foliage then burrow into the ground and form a cocoon.  The male and female moths hatch from these cocoons, and mate and then the females climb up the trees to lay their eggs.

Last year was our first adventure in tree banding.  Luckily, there are many well-versed people in the area to help us out.  We buy our supplies at Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, NC.  As we have many large, mature trees in our yard, we didn’t buy enough last year and had to go back for seconds.  This year we bought enough, but we have decided that next year we will wear disposable gloves.

In order to band our trees, we use this method:  We wrap the trunks with yellow pipe insulation and plastic wrap.  The hardware store sells plastic wrap on a tube that is super easy to apply.  The pipe insulation is supposed to fill the gaps between the plastic wrap and the bark on the tree.  You can do without the insulation, but you take the risk of the wingless moths climbing under the plastic wrap between the gaps of the bark.  After we apply the plastic wrap, we then use a plastic disposable putty knife to apply a layer of TanglefootTM, which is like syrupy glue.  Hence, the plan to use gloves next year as it is very difficult to wash off your hands.

There is another method to wrap the trees in which you staple a hard plastic band around the trunk of the tree that sticks out from the tree on the bottom and catches the wingless moths underneath.  I don’t like the fact that you have to staple into the tree trunks.  Our method sounds easier to remove.  Or so I think, because I make James do it.

Tree banding is supposed to limit the number of wingless moths that climb up the trees in the late fall/winter by catching them in the TanglefootTM, thereby limiting the amount of eggs laid.  After banding our trees last year, we noticed at least an 80% decrease in the number of caterpillars coming down from the trees.  Tree banding is supposed to be the most effective if all your neighbors do it too.  Not all of our neighbors band their trees.  However, it was much more tolerable to go out on our back deck and enjoy the spring weather last year after banding our trees, even if our direct neighbors did not.

The experts say you are supposed to band your trees in the fall the week before Thanksgiving.  We did it after Thanksgiving last year, and we waited even longer to do it this year.  Our leaves fall off our trees late, and the leaves can get caught in the TanglefootTM and create a bridge over the plastic wrap for the females to crawl over.  This can obviously be remedied by putting another layer of plastic wrap and TanglefootTM over the previous layer, but if you’ve ever worked with TanglefootTM, you know how annoyingly sticky it is.  We prefer to deal with it just once a year.  Despite doing it late last year, we still had awesome results.  This year we waited until December 20.  I guess we’ll see what happens this spring!

Unfortunately, tree banding is wasteful when it comes to the materials used as you just have to throw them away once the project is completed.  I guess the only zero-waste option would be to not band the trees and stay inside with the windows closed during the beautiful Charlotte spring.


(originally posted on on 12/22/14)

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