Gardens become a squirrel buffet
Summer is a challenging time for the home landscape and anyone attempting to manage the situation.
Ornamentals and vegetable plants may mysteriously be clipped off and left to die by an unknown perpetrator. Before becoming disheartened, the answer is likely as close as the nearest tree.
Among poachers of autumn nuts, Tallahassee residents most recognize the common gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis. It collects nuts and acorns in the fall and buries them in caches for later use.
As the weather warms, nut deposits rot or germinate, so the squirrels must seek alternative meals.
Squirrels are adventurous eaters, and the list of potential menu items on this rodent’s diet is wide and varied. They may sample foliage or a vegetable, then change their mind with only one bite gone. They are known to pull up small, shallow-rooted plants while searching for culinary satisfaction, potentially destroying an entire row of plants.
Even water hoses and other garden implements are not safe.
Squirrels must constantly grind down their ever-growing front teeth, so handy hardgoods are an easy choice. Witnessing them in the act of destruction is difficult even though squirrels are most active during the early and late parts of the day.
Attempts at control can be frustrating as chemical repellents are a hit-or-miss proposition and will be washed away with the first rain. Trapping requires specialized equipment and skill but may leave the squirrel in an indisposed state. Home remedies, such as hair from a barbershop or a rubber snake, offer limited success; the squirrels quickly adjust to the changes.
A protective barrier or netting may provide the best protection. Once the squirrels are frustrated, they will depart, at least for a while.
Summer Tree Tips
As the summer storm season progresses, homeowners may benefit from these tips to help assess potential problems with trees.
» Mushrooms growing on or very near trees is an indicator the tree has a serious health issue. While the fungi are not the cause of the problem, they are a sign of decaying wood. Consult an arborist to assess the situation and determine the best plan of action.
» Pitch tubes on a pine tree may indicate an infestation of pine borers. These beetles will attack dead or living pines, and their presence is a threat to all pines in proximity of the infested tree.
» Gutters on homes and outbuildings becoming clogged with leaves and tree debris can cause damage to the structure that is frequently irreversible. Limb removal — or possibly removal of the entire tree — may alleviate the problem. Consult a certified arborist for best solutions.
Don’t be fooled by the bright colors of this summer moth. The Io moth, Automeris io, is a large moth native to the area.
Choice meal sites for the developing Io moth caterpillars include oaks, sweetgums, redbuds and ash. The eggs are commonly laid in clusters of 20 or more, and the caterpillars go through five development stages before reaching adulthood.
Unlike the parents, which are active almost exclusively at night, the larvae spend their days hidden in the tree leaves they are consuming. These caterpillars are quite animated and active, frequently seen moving in line from one feeding site to another.
Throughout their life cycle, they will change from an orange color to lime green as they mature. They also develop strategically placed clusters of spines across their plump bodies. Each spine contains a sac filled with the defensive solution to protect against predators.
When contact is made with the hollow spines, the fragile structure breaks and releases the toxin. The pain is almost instantaneous, intense and can be a serious health threat for those who have an allergic reaction. If encountering one of these caterpillars, recognition, retreat and avoidance are the best strategies.
Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.