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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis
sapsucker damage on trunk

Holes in Trees

Posted by John Fulton -

Many people are reporting holes in trees. These holes are round and in a pattern either around or up and down on tree trunks. They are also usually found in a tree that has high sap flows such as maples, gums, or evergreens. These holes are caused by yellow bellied sapsuckers. About the time we notice the holes, the birds are gone. They migrate and only bless us with their presence about two months in the spring (around May) and again in the fall (around September). Sapsuckers are migrating through the area now, and they will remain with us until their instincts tell them to head further south. These holes can cause injury to the tree by allowing a place for insects and disease to get in, and death if they completely girdle trees. Control is very difficult, and consists of trying to scare the birds with pie pans, whirlybirds, rubber snakes, or other items that make sound or sight.

If damage in an area of the tree trunk is severe, you can wrap burlap around that portion to protect it. The sticky type products, such as Tanglefoot would also have some effect, but might cause problems for some of the non-sapsuckers in the area.

Several others caused for holes do exist. Other than sapsuckers, the main causes lately have included borers and carpenter ants. Carpenter ants are the large, black ants that are very noticeable. They get their name from where they lay their eggs – meaning the female chews holes in wood to make a nesting galley. The damage from the carpenter ant is not of the same degree as termites. Termites digest the wood fiber and structurally weaken it, while the carpenter ants make holes in the wood and don't weaken it.

The bad news is that carpenter ants like to nest in dead wood. If you have ant activity in a tree, odds are that there is some dead wood in the tree. You can help the situation with secondary insects, such as carpenter ants, by painting exposed wood with exterior latex paint or spraying with an insecticide that has some residual. Current choices would be bifenthrin or permethrin.

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