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Who’s Been Drilling That Tree?

Early-rising yellow-bellied sapsuckers

The rings of evenly spaced holes you see in the trunks of smooth-bark trees are the work of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. The birds drill into apple, beech, birch, cherry, linden, peach, plum, red maple and southern magnolia as well as pine and cedar trees. I have received several reports from readers wondering what is causing the holes because they have not seen any woodpeckers on their trees.
    To see yellow-bellied sapsuckers in action you will need to rise early. They do most of their feeding starting about an hour before sunrise, when the sap is at its highest concentration of sugars.
    Most woodpeckers make holes in trees in search of insects. Yellow bellied sapsuckers puncture the bark for the purpose of lapping the sweet sap that lies just inside.
    In most instances, the damage done by yellow-bellied sapsuckers is not sufficient to cause permanent damage to healthy trees. However, I have seen rather severe die-back of southern magnolias at the top of the tree where the stem was about six inches in diameter. In this instance, the holes made by the sapsuckers were about a half-inch apart in a band about four inches wide. I had never seen such a concentration of holes in such a narrow band.
    Sapsucker damage on cherry, peach and plum trees can result in increased borer infestation in the trunk.
    Both flat-head borers and peach-tree borers are always in search of easy entry into the bark of these species. If you see a gummy red resin exuding from a hole started by a sapsucker, you can assume that a borer found its way into the wood and is well established.
    It is not unusual to see some trees heavily damaged while a nearby tree of the same species does not exhibit any damage. One can only assume that the sap of one tree is more appealing than that of the other.
    Yellow-bellied sapsuckers can be repelled by tying foot-long, one-inch-wide strips of aluminum flashing to branches near the stem of the tree. Giving the strips a few twists so as to form them into a spiral will allow for more movement by the wind. To allow for maximum movement of the strips, attach them to the branch with cotton string two to three inches long. Use cotton string that will rot in a year so as not to girdle the branch.


   Harlequin Beetle Alert   

    Harlequin beetles are already feeding on the leaves of plants. As their population can multiply rapidly, start checking the foliage of your plants now; they are not fussy as to what they feed on. Look for them in the morning before temperatures rise. As the day warms, they will migrate into the more shaded areas. Early on, you can control them manually by either squishing them with your fingers or drowning them in water containing dish detergent or vinegar.


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