How to Use Tanglefoot – Backyard Food Growing


Tanglefoot is a very effective, natural pesticide product for trees that helps them combat the over-wintering bugs that cause damage to your trees in the spring. These insects include gypsy moths, canker worms, weevils, ants, caterpillars, moths, cutworms and more.

If you’ve never used this product before then I’ll share with you a few helpful tips on how to use Tanglefoot to make it an easier task. Tanglefoot is OMRI rated and certified for organic gardening.

“The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is an international nonprofit organization that determines which input products are allowed for use in organic production and processing”

What is Tanglefoot anyway?

It’s an earth friendly pesticide made from a naturally occurring gum resin. It’s a very sticky substance that resembles thick, cold corn syrup or soft wax.

It’s a unique product that, when properly applied it traps the crawling insects that are using the trunk of your tree as a highway up to where they’ll burrow and nest in the bark for the winter and then wreak havoc on your the tree in the spring. It’ll even catch flying bugs that get too close as well. 

It’s easy to damage the bark of the tree without knowing how to apply this product properly.

By the end of this page, you’ll know how to get it on and off the tree whilst not getting it all over yourself.

Are you ready?

Which Tree Wrap to Use

Protecting the bark while helping the tree fight pests is really important. There are a couple of different options when it comes to choosing what to wrap the tree with.

Never apply Tanglefoot directly to the bark of the tree

If you live in a warm, dry area then you can use cardboard tree wrap. But if you live in a wet rainy area, then the cardboard tree wrap will disintegrate in the rain and won’t last or be effective at all.

If you live in an area with a lot of rain, all you need to do is use the standard plastic wrap from the kitchen as the “tree wrap”.  Since I live in a rainy area, I use the plastic wrap method.

Applying Plastic to the Tree

Apply the plastic wrap and Tanglefoot in the early spring and mid-fall to get maximum effect.

It’s important to leave the plastic on for only one or two months at a time, don’t leave it on for an extended period. Don’t leave it on all winter.  

The tree breathes through its bark so take off the plastic as soon as it’s not needed.

Cotton Balls

If you have a mature tree, especially a cherry, the bark is very lumpy and bumpy with a lot of cracks and crevices in it. It’s important to pack those crevices with cotton balls before wrapping the tree in the plastic. If you skip this step, the bugs will just walk right under the plastic and also the bands of Tanglefoot unobstructed.

However, the young trees that we commonly plant in containers are usually pretty smooth so you shouldn’t have to use cotton balls for them.

Method of Application

Use a putty knife or a cake decorating spatula.

If you choose a putty knife be very careful with the corners as they are very sharp and can easily cut the bark of the tree. It’s really easy to do and can cause significant damage to the tree. Using a plastic putty knife like this one is a good way to avoid that kind of damage.

Personally, I use a cake decorating spatula because they are flexible with rounded edges and also that’s what happens to be handy, since I’m a baker too.

The Steps

  1. Wrap your tree in plastic film
  2. Soften up a glob of Tanglefoot with the spatula
  3. Work it into a smooth lump without strings back to the container
  4. Apply the product in a thin 1″ wide band a few inches from the top of the plastic all the way around the tree creating a complete circle
  5. Drag your spatula in the same direction that you wrapped the tree with the plastic. (If you go the other way you’ll just pull the plastic off)
  6. Make another band of Tanglefoot a few inches down from the first band. This creates 2 barriers that work together to stop the pests from walking up your tree. If they get past the first one they won’t get past the second.

Female Winter Moth

One of the main culprits is the female winter moth. She cannot fly, so she walks up the tree trunk to lay eggs in the bark and crevices of your trees branches. 

After she lays the eggs, all the adults die and then the eggs over-winter in your tree. They hatch in the spring when the temperature returns to about 13º C (55° F). 

When the eggs hatch, the worms crawl out on the branches of the tree and eat any and all new sprouts on the tree. Then they produce a silk thread to drop down on and float in the wind to another tree to continue to spread their destruction further. 

When to Apply It

The best times of year to apply this product is in October and March. Leave the bands on for about one month (two months maximum) then remove the plastic. Discard the plastic wrap when it becomes full of bugs and debris, ineffective or the product gets washed away in the rain. 

The winter moth is considered an invasive species in many areas and a big problem for orchards and growers on both the west and east coast.

The winter moth is in the class of pests called “defoliators”. Their name describes exactly what they do, they defoliate, which means they eat the leaves of your tree completely and virtually any shrub or green growing thing they can find.

It’s good practice to incorporate natural Tanglefoot  into your pest control regime to combat these pests as well. Tanglefoot works well on ants, earwigs and all manner of crawling garden insects as well.

Occasionally, Tanglefoot will catch a beneficial insect that isn’t intended for it, but the cost of that is far outweighed by all the destructive bugs that do get stuck.

Your trees will thank you for learning how to use Tanglefoot correctly and they will likely produce a better harvest in the coming year.

See the sequence of images below for visual details.

Supplies needed

Wrap the tree in plastic film

Hold the edge until it wraps tight 

Wrap it around 4 or 5 times 

Do it tightly so the plastic wrap is as smooth as possible 

Smooth out the edges so there is no loose corners 

It should look like this with nice tight wrapping 

Gather the Tanglefoot on the cake spatula or putty knife 

Ensure that the glob is free of strings back to the container, wrap it around the knife like spaghetti 

Start near the top of the plastic wrap. Begin to spread the product around the tree travelling in the same direction that you wrapped the tree 

Go around the tree several times until you achieve a smooth, solid band of Tanglefoot that’s not too globby or drippy 

The thickness should be as even as possible all the way around 

Not too thin, not too thick 

First band is done 

Second band, start the second band approx. 4″ away from the first 

Repeat this same sequence for the second band of Tanglefoot 

Smooth it out 

Two finished bands 

Tanglefoot works well with the double banded approach. 

Task is finished, repeat in the early spring and fall

When it’s time, carefully remove the plastic by rolling it inwards on itself and dispose of it in the garbage. It’s incredibly sticky and it takes a little skill to not find yourself covered in it.

If you do get some Tanglefoot on the tree bark itself or your tools, then use mineral spirits or baby oil to remove it. You can also use a citrus based cleaner like this one. 

Good luck and let me know if you need further help.

Large 15oz Tub of Tanglefoot

2 pack – 15oz Tubs of Tanglefoot

15 oz Tub of Tanglefoot With Tree Care Kit

Extra Large 5lb Tub of Tanglefoot

Tanglefoot Paper Tree Wrap – 150 feet  

Featured Image: