Updated date:

How to Clean Tree Bark

Jill likes cooking, writing, painting, & stewardship, and studies gardening through MD Master Gardener & Master Naturalist programs.

Pollution, fungal spores, mildew, dirt, insect eggs—all sorts of deposits can lessen the appeal of beautifully barked trees and potentially harm them. Washing specimen trees like lacebark elm, Kousa dogwood, and sycamore is a simple task any gardener can do any time of year, even in autumn and during the mild days of winter.

Clean, Healthy, Beautiful Bark

As cinnamon-bark crape myrtle ages, its rough bark peels away to reveal the smooth, rusty- red bark beneath.

As cinnamon-bark crape myrtle ages, its rough bark peels away to reveal the smooth, rusty- red bark beneath.

The rusty-red, cinnamon-bark crape myrtle; the elegant, ghostly birch; the crinkly-skinned snake-bark maple—some trees have absolutely stunning bark.

If you have beautifully barked trees in your yard, washing them will not only enhance their beauty, but it will also facilitate their health, cleaning away fungal spores and insect eggs, and helping to ensure that your trees live a long, long time.

Tree washing takes little time (anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes, depending upon the size and dirtiness of the tree).

It's easy to do, too, requiring no special skill and only six common household items:

  • a 2-gallon bucket
  • water
  • tablespoon
  • mild liquid soap
  • scrub brush
  • soft cloth

Specimen trees are notable for their size, rarity, and/or exceptional beauty. Ordinarily, they're grown singly in a prominent location that showcases their uniqueness.

Washing Trees with Rough Bark

To dislodge deposits from the crevices of rough tree bark, you'll need cold water as well as a bucket full of hot, soapy water—and lots of elbow grease!

Loosen Bark Deposits

Before you start washing the tree, spray water over the trunk or spray it down with a hose to loosen and soften any deposits of dirt, pollution, insect eggs, fungal spores, etc.

Mix the Wash Water

Next, mix up the washing solution.

Add one tablespoon of mild dish washing liquid or other soft soap to two gallons of hot (not boiling) water.

Although the soap solution is mild, it's strong enough to weaken the protective coating on insect eggs. Once that coating it breached, the eggs will either die due to frost or dry out in the sun and wind.

Scrub the Bark

Use a scrub brush to apply the hot soapy water to the bark, working from the top down.

Scrub hard to dislodge deposits, then repeat the process.

Rinse the Soap

After scrubbing twice, rinse the area with cold water, either by throwing bucketfuls onto the trunk or spraying it with a garden hose.

Dry and Buff

Once it's free of soap, allow the bark to dry. Then buff it with a soft cloth and watch it glisten in the sun.

clean-trees-how-to-wash-tree-bark

How to Clean Smooth Bark

Cold, soapy water and a light scrubbing is usually enough to remove most deposits on smooth-barked trees.

Soften Deposits

Begin the cleaning process by by spraying the tree trunk with cold water. This will loosen and soften deposits on the bark.

Mix the Washing Solution

Mix the washing solution by adding one tablespoon of mild liquid soap to two gallons of cold water.

As noted above, although the soap solution is mild, it's strong enough to weaken the protective coating on insect eggs.

Scrub the Bark Lightly

Apply the soap solution to the bark with a scrub brush. Scrub lightly, working from top to bottom.

Rinse and Buff

Rinse the trunk with cold water and allow to dry before buffing.

Trees with Beautiful Bark

Common NameScientific Name

Chinese or Lacebark Elm

Ulmus parvifolia

Chinese Paper Birch

Betula albo-sinensis

Chinese Zelkova

Zelkova sinica

Crape Myrtle

Lagerstroemia spp.

Flowering Cherries

Prunus spp.

Heritage Birch

Betula nigra 'Heritage'

Japanese Red Pine

Pinus densiflora

Kousa Dogwood

Cornus kousa

Lacebark Pine

Pinus bungeana

Paperbark Cherry

Prunus serrrula

Paperbark Maple

Acer griseum

River Birch

Betula nigra

Stewartia

Stewartia spp.

Striped Maple

Acer capillipes

Sycamores or Plane Trees

Platanus spp.

State Fair Zinnia

State Fair Zinnia

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Jill Spencer

Comments

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 01, 2014:

Yeah, it does sound sort of crazy, but washing the bark is a good idea for those expensive specimen trees in your yard. Thanks for dropping by! --Jill

Krissa Klein from California on August 01, 2014:

I never, ever would have thought of washing tree bark, but it makes sense! Great hub.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on September 23, 2012:

Thanks, Maren! Nice to hear from you. (: --Jill

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on September 23, 2012:

You always give us great information!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on September 22, 2012:

Like anything else, trees can become dirty. Our cinnamon bark crapemyrtle tends to get mildew, which lessens its vivid color. Scrubbing it takes the ick right off. Glad the hub is useful to you--and always happy to hear from you. Take care, Jill (:

Claudia Mitchell on September 22, 2012:

Jill - Never thought about cleaning our tree bark. We do have a couple of specimen trees. One in particular could use it. Cool hub!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on September 21, 2012:

GoodLady--I love the texture and colors of both bark and rocks. I've been trying to take decent photos of them but haven't quite figured out how to capture them so that they appear as beautiful as they seem to me. Glad to hear from you! --Jill

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on September 21, 2012:

What a beautiful idea, though I won't be washing mine I don't think. I have a fig tree that looks pretty clean and a small olive tree...and all the oaks in the driveway are really wild - but I do love bark and I do love looking at the bark of trees. In fact when I drive home I spend most of my time loving the bark...we have a lot of cork trees here!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on September 20, 2012:

Weird, huh? But ... a very doable part of yard maintenance if you have one or two specimen trees. Have a good one! Jill

Caren White on September 20, 2012:

Fascinating! I've never heard of washing tree bark on a growing tree. I love your list of trees with interesting bark.