Grey squirrels are a common sight in North America, and while many people think of them as cute little animals, they can cause a lot of damage to trees. If you have a tree on your property that you suspect may be infested with grey squirrels, it is important to be able to identify the signs of damage, and what you can do about it.
Can Squirrels Damage A Tree?
Absolutely, they can. Squirrels cause damage to trees by stripping too much bark, eat the seedlings, tear off branches, or live in holes inside the tree. Most of the time, the damage amounts to cosmetic harm. The tree may not look as nice, but it will still be alive and continue to grow. In some cases, however, the damage can be much more severe,
Currently there are more than 65 types of squirrels that live in the United States. However, the ones the Eastern Gray squirrel, and the Red squirrel, are the most likely to damage your trees, depending on where you love. We’ll take a closer look at the 4 signs of squirrel tree damage, what to do about it, as well as other tips to protect your property.
The Importance of Tree Bark
Outer bark protects trees from harsh weather and pests, so when it is removed, the tree is vulnerable to damage. The inner bark aka “phloem” is the digestive pipeline for a tree. It transports photosynthesis nutrients made by the leaves to other essential parts of the treat such as the branches, trunk, and roots.
If a squirrel removes too much of the phloem, it can starve and kill a tree.
5 Of The Biggest Signs Squirrels Are Damaging Your Trees
#1 Stripping Your Trees
One of the most obvious signs of squirrel damage to your trees, is the removal or stripping of bark. This generally starts at the top of the tree and works its way down. Squirrels will do this in order to get to the inner layer of the bark which is softer and easier for them to eat.
Older healthy trees will be able to survive, however, if they strip a limb of 30% of the leaves and more than 50% of its bark, it can kill the limb.
The outer bark protects the tree from disease and pests. It also helps retain moisture and prevents the tree from drying out, so when it’s removed, the tree is left vulnerable.
How to Tell If A Squirrel Is Stripping the Bark on A Tree?
If a squirrel or other animal has targeted your tree, you’ll notice bare spots where the twigs, bark, and leaves are missing. The damage will look like it’s been peeled or gnawed off, and you may see wood chips at the base of the tree.
That said, other animals such as beavers, voles, and rabbits are known for stripping bark from trees. So, you’ll want to make sure you know how to spot the signs of what type of animal is damaging your tree.
Squirrels won’t actually eat the outer bark, instead, they prefer eating the phloem (inside bark), because of the sweet flavor. Bark stripping can occur year round, but most will do it during the winter months when food is scarce, and they’re looking for a way to get energy.
#2 Eat the Blossoms & Leaves
Squirrels love to eat blossoms on fruit trees, as well as the buds and leaves. This can cause damage to the tree because it’s preventing it from being able to produce fruit, or causing new growth.
How to Tell If A Squirrel Is Eating The Blossoms & Leaves on A Tree?
If you notice that the buds or leaves on your trees are disappearing, in the early spring when they should be flourishing, it’s likely a squirrel is to blame.
You may also see a bunch laying on the ground near the base of your tree. Other animals that are known for eating buds, blossoms, and flowers are; rabbits, lizards, deer, rabbits, and snails.
It’s important to note that if you only see a few missing, it’s not likely squirrels or any other animal is to blame. This is because these rodents will keep coming back for more until the plant is gone.
So, if there are just a few missing, it’s more likely the wind or some other type of weather condition caused it.
That said, if you see significant damage, such as large areas where the leaves have been eaten, or entire branches that are stripped of leaves and bark, it’s time to take action to prevent further destruction.
#3 Nipping or Chewing Off Branches
Squirrels have sharp incisors that continually grow. Chewing on branches is their way of keeping them razor sharp, properly maintained, and razor sharp. Similar to how we floss and brush, they use outside objects such as trees, to keep their teeth in good condition.
The problem is, when they’re chewing on branches, it could be killing your tree. Chewing on twigs or smaller branches won’t necessarily harm the tree. However, if they are continually pruning the tree, or doing it incorrectly, it can cause the tree to become weak or even die from the stress.
#4 Make Tree Holes Bigger
The holes you see in your squirrels are created by woodpeckers, dig wholes in trees in search of insects. That said, these holes are then occupied by other animals such as flying squirrels, grey squirrels, etc that take advantage of pre-existing cavities in trees.
That said, when a squirrel moves into one of these holes, they will make it larger to fit their needs and to make it more comfortable. They accomplish this by gnawing on the edges of the hole, which can damage the tree.
The problem is, as they’re enlarging the hole, they can cause structural damage to the tree which weakens it overtime.
How To Prevent Squirrel Damage to Trees?
Now that you know the signs of squirrel tree damage, what do you do about it? If you want to prevent these furry critters from causing any more destruction, here are a few things you can do;
Use a squirrel baffle: This is a cone or cylinder shaped device that is made of sheet metal or flexible plastic. It wraps at the base of the tree, and prevents a squirrel from being able to climb up. The downside to this, is if you leave the baffle on too long, it can damage the tree. So, only use it when you see signs of squirrels damaging your tree, and remove it as soon as the problem is resolved.
Trap them: If you have a live trap, you can set it near the base of the tree that’s being damaged. Bait it with something they love to eat such as peanut butter, nuts, or seeds. Once they’re trapped, you can relocate them to a nearby wooded area. That said, you’ll want to make sure you release them far enough, so they don’t come back.
Remove food sources: If you have bird feeders in your yard, squirrels will be attracted to the area because of the easy food source. Remove the bird feeders, and they’ll likely move on to another yard.
Install a wire fence: This will keep squirrels, as well as other animals from getting close enough to your tree to do any damage. The fence should be at least five feet tall, and buried underground about a foot.
Apply a hot sauce or cayenne pepper: Another way to keep squirrels away is by spraying the tree with a mixture of hot sauce and water. The spicy flavor will deter them from coming back. You can also use cayenne pepper on its own, or add it to the hot sauce mixture. This won’t harm the tree, but it will keep the squirrels away.
Use a motion-activated sprinkler: This is a great way to keep all animals, including squirrels away from your trees. The sudden blast of water will startle them, and they’ll likely never come back.
Cut down overhanging branches: If there are any branches that are hanging over your roof, or close to your house, cut them down. This will make it more difficult for squirrels to access your home. And they’ll be less likely to damage your tree. Remember squirrels are opportunistic feeders. If they see an opportunity to easily access your house by jumping from the tree branches, they’ll take it.
Keep your yard clean: This is more to prevent other animals from coming into your yard, but it will also help with keeping squirrels away. Squirrels tend to gravitate towards yards that have places for them to hide, when they’re looking for food. If your yard is kept clean, there won’t be any places for them to hide, and they’ll be less likely to come into your yard.
Use an ultrasonic squirrel repellent: These devices emit a high frequency sound that’s only audible to animals such as squirrels. When they hear the noise, it will scare them away and prevent them from coming back.
Can A tree Recover From Bark Damage?
Trees are resilient and unless the bark damage was more than 25% around the trees circumference, it should survive without a problem. That said, it will require you to treat the open wound, so it doesn’t become infected.
The treatment will vary depending on how severe the damage is. For small scratches, simply wash the wounds with soap and water. After a good washing, leave the wound open so it can get air and heal itself. This will prevent any bacteria from getting into the wound.
For more severe damage, you may need to use bridge grafting to ensure the tree can transport its nutrients. Bridge grafting means you’re literally building a bridge from twigs and branches. This will help the tree get its required nutrients. Similar to how a bridge allows you to get from one side of a river to another, the grafting will allow the nutrients to flow to all parts of the tree.
This can be a complicated process, especially if you’ve never done it before. However, this video will walk you through the entire process of grafting a tree.
Keep in mind, the longer the damage is left untreated, the greater the chance that the tree will succumb to disease or pests.
If you’re not sure what to do, or how to treat the damage, contact a tree service company for help. They’ll be able to assess the damage, and recommend a course of action.
Squirrels can cause a lot of tree damage, especially if you have young trees. If you have a lot of squirrels on your property it’s vital to take action to prevent them from damaging your trees.
By taking a few simple steps, you can keep your trees healthy and free from damage. If you do find damage on your trees, be sure to act quickly to prevent further damage.
Hopefully, the tips above will help you keep the squirrels away from your young trees. If you still don’t have any success, it may be time to call a professional.
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