Answer Man

Painting a young tree seems to deter pests

Q. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, why did many people paint the bottom 4 feet or so of a tree trunk white?

— R.J., of Belleville

A. There are any number of reasons why people still think they’re barking up the right tree when they engage in this seemingly curious arboreal practice, according to the folks at Fruit Growers News magazine.

The most important reasons have to do with just that: the bark. The bark of young trees can split and crack in winter as it freezes overnight and then thaws the next day. The use of white latex paint will both reflect the sun’s heat during the day while it acts sort of like grandma’s quilt at night to prevent winter sunscald and summer sunburn, according to the University of Missouri Extension Service. (Do not use oil-based paints or your tree may suffocate.)

Perhaps even more important, however, is that it seems to deter pests (mice, voles, etc.), whether the paint is applied full strength or in a 50-50 mixture with water. A University of Vermont report suggests adding an animal repellant to stop those wascally wabbits.

“Usually, the rabbits take a bite or two of a few painted trees and then leave them alone for the rest of the season,” Randy Steffens of Shepherd’s Valley Orchards in Chattanooga, Tenn., once wrote on the Virtual Orchard. “These results have been predictably occurring for a few years now, ever since I started the practice of painting my trunks.”

The paint also may stop dangerous boring insects in their tracks. And even if it doesn’t stop them, the contrast in colors makes it easier to spot their dirty work so that other measures can be taken.

“If it works again this year, I’m ready to declare victory, as we’ve gotten hammered from borers over the last several years,” wrote Kevin Hauser of Kuffel Creek Apple Nursery in Riverside, Calif., who uses a mixture of equal parts Glidden Gripper paint, all-purpose drywall joint compound and water for a thick coat.

According to a study by David Kain and Art Agnello at Cornell University, the technique works, although brushing on pure paint was more effective than spraying a paint-water mixture.

Don’t have pests? There still may be reasons to get out the brushes and sprayers. If the trees are near a street or road, painting them can make them more visible at night, thus preventing an accident that could injure or kill your precious plant. In addition, some people apparently paint their trees white along with their fences, sheds, mailboxes, etc., simply to give their yards a uniform look. Of course, if you don’t like paint, you can always go with tree wrap or burlap.

Q. What has happened to Katie Felts at KSDK?

—T.L., of Maryville

A. It seems to be getting to the point where you won’t be able to tell the station’s on-air talent without a scorecard.

In the past three months, at least six members of the Channel 5 family have left with sports anchor-reporter Felts the latest to go. A graduate of Western Kentucky University with a degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in athletic training, she became the first woman sportscaster to be hired at WOWL-FM in Burnsville, Ala., and KSFM-TV in Fort Smith, Ark.

Among her awards, she won the Associated Press Best Sportscast honor in 1999. The mother of two joined KSDK on July 19, 2004, after moving from WFMY in Greensboro, N.C. I could not find any news of her next move, and she did not return an email.

Since March, KSDK also has lost “Show Me St. Louis” host Julie Tristan, traffic reporter Sara Dayley, meteorologist Chester Lampkin and reporter Elizabeth Matthews, who in May said she is likely moving with her husband to Chicago, where his family runs a construction company.

Although working behind the scenes, news director Mike Shipley also left this spring, replaced by Belleville native Karin Movesian. The station says the departures are simply a normal part of the broadcast business despite the recent heavy uptick.

There is good news for Art Holliday fans, though: The station says the 36-year veteran recently signed another new contract with KSDK.

Today’s trivia

What is vog?

Answer to Tuesday’s trivia: Although they would spend 30 years roaming the universe, “Star Trek’s” William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy popped up together on TV for the first time right here on Earth during the first season of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

On Nov. 24, 1964, Shatner starred as Michael Donfield and Nimoy played Vladeck in an episode entitled “The Project Strigas Affair,” during which Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Kuryakin (David McCallum) try to quietly neutralize a rogue diplomat. The episode also starred a pre-“Hogan’s Heroes” Werner Klemperer and was directed by Joseph Sargent, who would later direct “The Corbomite Maneuver” on the original “Star Trek” series. (Although Shatner later said he didn’t remember Nimoy at the time, you can see a picture of the two together with Solo at; search for “Project Strigas.”)

It was during the filming of the “Arena” episode on “Star Trek” that Shatner and Nimoy wound up standing too close to a special effects explosion, causing both actors to suffer from tinnitus. Those afflicted experience a constant sensation of noise, which Shatner began hearing in his left ear, Nimoy in his right. Shatner has been a spokesman for the American Tinnitus Association and has worn a device that emits a low-level “white noise” that helps his brain put the tinnitus in the background.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or call 618-239-2465.