Question and Answer
Q. Help! Something is boring holes in my silver
maple tree. There are four holes at a time in a horizontal line. These
holes are a little bigger than a pencil eraser and deep enough that the
tree is oozing lots of sap. What could be doing this? Will my tree die?
Do I need to plug the holes and with what? What can I do to prevent this
from continuing? It has happened three times already! Thanks for any insight
you can provide, because I really dont want to lose my tree. --
A. It seems mysterious, doesn't it? There's no
sign of an insect, but obvious holes in the tree! The telltale clue is
the horizontal pattern of the holes. Boring insects tend to make a random
pattern of emergence hole. Only a vertebrate with a brain would systematically
make a line of holes. It's probably a sapsucker, a type of woodpecker.
Their strong, pointed beaks are used for digging
insects from trees, excavating nesting cavities and for "drumming." Since
woodpeckers do not have true "songs," they use sharp calls and perform
rhythmic tapping (better known as drumming) with their beaks on surfaces,
such as dead tree limbs, metal poles and building siding to attract a
mate or announce territorial boundaries. Both male and female woodpeckers
drum. It is primarily this drumming behavior that may cause serious problems
The yellow-bellied sapsucker bores neat rows of
one-quarter inch holes spaced closely together. Most often, they bore
holes on trees rather than structures, since they feed on sap.
Several options are available to you to reduce
or prevent woodpecker damage. It is best to make use of several of these
non-lethal methods at the same time, as soon as the damage begins.
Woodpeckers can be frightened from the area by
scare devices such as banging pots, clapping hands or spraying the birds
with a high-pressure water hose. Using high-reflective mylar tape (one-half
inch width) has also been successful. Mylar balloons can be used in a
You can exclude the woodpeckers by mounting fine
mesh netting or screening on the tree or by covering the affected area
with heavy (3-plus mm) plastic sheeting. This will keep the birds from
being able to grip the rough texture of the tree with their claws. They
cannot peck or drum if they cannot hang onto the surface of the tree.
This can be put up or removed as needed.
Do not plug the holes since this can trap bacteria
and moisture within the holes, leading to decay. Trees heal by the formation
of scar tissue. Recent research throws doubt on the value of the practice
of painting a wound and is no longer recommended.
Q. Can shredded paper (from home or office shredders)
be used as a mulch or added to compost piles? My husband bought one of
those nifty shredders to use at home, and my school has big bags of shredded
paper. Could the paper be laid in the garden or around plants and then
covered with something more attractive? -- Sheila Reed, Bremen, Ind.
A. Many materials can serve as garden mulch, the
most common being hardwood bark, straw and rocks, but many other materials
work just as well. A good mulch is one that is clean of weed seeds, insects
and other pests, easily applied, and economical. So use your imagination
to make use of materials around the home, including shredded paper. Paper
can be used either shredded or in sheets, but be sure to weigh down the
paper with a heavier mulch to keep it from becoming a litter nuisance.
Q. My neighbor and I have an ongoing discussion
about whether we can tie back the foliage on our bulbs. I think you said
we should leave it in place, but she says it's OK to braid or roll it
down (held with rubber bands), so long as she doesn't actually cut it
off. Please advise. -- Jackie Barrett, West Lafayette, Ind.
A. The foliage doesn't look very attractive after
the plants have bloomed, but it serves an important purpose by manufacturing
food reserves that are then transferred to the bulb for storage. The leaves
should never be cut off before they've begun to yellow and wither on their
own. Rolling or braiding is equivalent to cutting, since it reduces the
amount of foliage that receives sunlight for food production. Plus, it
breaks the capillaries that are vital in transporting food down to the
bulb. Leave that foliage in place as long as you can stand it for larger
bulbs next year!