Sticky barriers are a mechanical control that prevents ants from climbing a tree and reaching the canopy. Many people look favourably on this option because it allows ants to be controlled without the use of pesticide. But just because they don't contain pesticides does not guarantee they are safe for the tree. If proper care is not taken, the sticky barriers may do more harm than the ants.
A sticky band can work to prevent any flightless insects such as ants, snails, weevils and gypsy moth larvae from climbing trees. To create a band, sticky material is placed around the trunk of a tree to create a barrier. Insects that attempt to climb the trunk get trapped in the goo. Material used to create the barrier includes commercial formulas designed for the task like Tanglefoot, Bug Barrier Tree Band or Adhesive Pest Barrier. Petroleum jelly, grease and tar have also been used.
The biggest problem with applying sticky barriers is that they cannot be applied directly to the tree's trunk. The can stain the bark. Even worse, they may cause swelling and cankering, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Substances can also be toxic to the cambium layer that lies just underneath the bark. For this reason, the Bureau of Forestry recommends using sticky barriers that are made of foil or ribbon and coated on one side or protecting the tree by placing a protective layer between the barrier and the sticky substance.
The sticky barrier should be placed about 4 feet off the ground to prevent dirt and debris from becoming lodged and rendering the barrier useless. To protect the tree, place a layer of duct tape, masking tape, fabric tree wrap or heavy paper to create a barrier between the sticky substance and the bark. When the bark is dry, wrap the barrier around the tree. Press the tape firmly into the cracks of the bark to prevent ants from crawling under the bands. The tape should be a 2 to 6 inches wide. Apply the sticky substance on top of the barrier.
Sticky bands need to be checked every 10 to 14 days or after a heavy rain to ensure they are still effective. If they become clogged with dirt or dead insects, you may need to scrape them off and reapply the substance. You should remove and relocate the bands to minimise possible injury to the bark. Bands should not be wrapped too tightly or left on the tree longer than necessary, because they can constrict trunk growth.