Painted Citrus Tree Trunks:
Protective Or Just Festive?

Of all the wonders I saw last week in Tuscany, perhaps the strangest was a courtyard full of blue-painted citrus trees. It is truly the mark of a beautiful landscape that something that might look tacky in the city seemed just-right…After all, the Italian countryside is full of foreign beauty: ancient stone walls, wild red poppies, Roman swimming pools- so why not blue lemon trees? I didn't judge and simply filed it under "Ah, Italy!", but upon returning home, I wanted to learn more. According to many gardening websites (most of them based in Arizona), the trunks of young citrus trees are very prone to sunburn and must be protected. According to Arizona Oddities, "Citrus trees have relatively thin bark. Left to their own, they grow more like a shrub than a tree, with shoots growing up at the base and covering the trunk.Without that shading, they need the protection of paint." The article goes on to say that latex paint should be used (oil-based paint will poison the tree) and that burlap wrappings can also get the job done. Tropical Mango recommends using tree paint (who knew?) or a 50/50 mix of latex paint and water. The University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences suggests that whitewash can also be used, and reminds us that protection is no longer necessary once the tree's canopy is large enough to shade itself.

In my painted-tree research, every example I've seen looks rather random and half-hearted. I appreciate that the owners of Villa Ugo (where I took this photo) turned a protective necessity into a design element and made it their own. I could see myself with a gold lemon tree someday...

(Image: Tess Wilson)

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