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Sandy Feather: Pin oak can withstand squirrel damage to twigs

Saturday, October 27, 2001

Q. Our 40-year-old pin oak is shedding an awful lot of twigs (not just leaves, but 8- to 14-inch branch tips). The ground under the tree is literally covered with them. What is causing this, and is it harmful to the tree?

 
 

Send questions to Sandy Feather by e-mail at slf9@psu.edu or by regular mail c/o Penn State Cooperative Extension, 400 N. Lexington St., Pittsburgh 15208. Due to volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

   
 

A. Have you noticed squirrels in the tree? It is common for squirrels to chew off branch tips. The ends of the twigs will have a ragged appearance if squirrels were responsible. You might even be able to see tooth marks. Sometimes, they do not bite through the twig completely, so you may also see drooping branch tips. They will die eventually, because they have been cut off from their water source.

Squirrels sometimes prune trees to get to the ripening acorn crops on the branch tips. The tips are too flimsy to support their weight, so the squirrels cut them off and strip the acorns from a sturdier perch. They also use the twigs to build nests, or chew on them to clean and sharpen their teeth.

The tree will respond to the squirrels' trimming by flushing out new growth at the site of the cuts. The squirrels' trim job should not harm the tree, beyond giving it a bushier appearance when it leafs out next spring. There is a chance that the tree could flush new growth before winter. That tender growth might be killed by winter cold but should not present a life-threatening problem for a mature tree like yours.

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