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Why do squirrels strip tree bark?

Damage from squirrels stripping bark. Special to Forum News Service1 / 2
Don Kinzler, gardening columnist 2 / 2

Q: Squirrels are stripping the bark from the trunk and branches of my three maple trees. Is there anything one can do to stop this? I can understand this happening in the wintertime, but with food available, why are they stripping them now? Should I treat the damaged areas with anything? — Rosemary Thomas, Fargo.

A: According to university and wildlife sources, it's not clearly known why squirrels strip bark from trees, but some believe they might be gnawing for minerals. Pregnant squirrels strip bark more often than other squirrels. Porcupines also gnaw tree bark, but the teeth marks are larger, and squirrels often leave a pile of bark below the tree, while porcupines consume most of it.

It's not easy to exclude squirrels if the canopies from surrounding trees intermingle with your trees. If trees are isolated, metal trunk bands can work. Once the damage is done, research has shown that pruning paints or dressings don't help. Leaving the wound open promotes better healing. If the edges are ragged, they can be trimmed smooth with a knife for a cleaner wound that heals neater.

Q: Can you transplant the whole plant of asparagus after the spring harvest? — Chuck Vancura

A: If asparagus is older and well-established, it can be difficult to move successfully because the roots are deep and extensive. Younger plants are easier to move. Transplanting in early spring before any growth begins is less stressful on plants than moving during the active growing season. Even though the asparagus has been harvested, the roots and underground stems are still active. Allow the fern-like tops to grow, and leave them on the plant through winter.

If you have no other choice or are willing to take a risk, then the asparagus could be moved now, although next spring would be better before growth begins. If you decide to move it now, increase the success rate by preparing the new planting site and digging the hole in advance. Move the asparagus as quickly as possible, protecting the roots from drying out during the relocation. Then plant and water immediately.

Q: I am having my house resided, and my peonies are along the back side. If I cut them down this time of year, will they come back next year? The plants are about 20 years old. — Joanne, West Fargo.

A: Peonies need their foliage after blooming to feed the roots, replenish the plant and form buds for next year's growth and flowers. Cutting it back before September could diminish next year's bloom, and could stress next years' regrowth of the plant itself. If there is any way to protect the plants, that would be preferred. Even if the plants get mistreated a bit during the construction it might be better than cutting them back too soon. Moving peonies is also difficult in mid-summer, as September is the best time.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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