Metro-East Living

Gardening: Keep squirrels away from maple sap

Sugar maple trees are tapped for their sweet sap.
Sugar maple trees are tapped for their sweet sap.

Q: We have a sugar maple tree that is approximately 18 years old and 24 inches in diameter in our yard. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed what appeared to be sap draining from two spots on the tree. One spot is approximately 24 inches above the ground level and the second is 8 feet above the ground where all the limbs begin to grow. I have seen squirrels licking at these spots on the tree. I see what appears to be a hole in the bark about 1/4 of an inch around the lowest spot on the tree. The spot higher up on the tree seems to weep from joint lines where the limb joins the tree.

Every spring since we planted this tree, I have applied a pesticide to the base of the tree. This tree was a gift to commemorate the passing of a loved one and it would be a great loss to us. What would you advise?

L. & B. J. of Belleville

A: It is quite common for a squirrel to lick the sap from a tree especially, a sugar maple, which has the highest amount of sugar in its sap. Be on the outlook for squirrels chewing on the bark around these two locations. They are members of the rodent family and their front incisor teeth are constantly growing, They can chew through soft bark quite easily. As the sap begins to dry up, they will try to damage the bark to see if more sap will be produced.

If you have a dog, you may want to bring it around the tree whenever you can. I you don’t have a dog, find a friend who does and ask him to walk the dog around the area. This will deter that squirrel from hanging around. Once the leaf buds begin to open, the sap production will slow down and the problem should be over.

Also be on the outlook for woodpeckers and sapsuckers, which also like sugary sap. They damage the tree. If you notice them flying in and out, you will need to get burlap wrap and coat this burlap with a product called “tangelfoot,” which can be obtained from garden centers. Just wrap this around the tree. Do not use nails to hold it in place as they would cause more injury to the tree.

Keep watch on this tree to make sure other problems don’t show up. What you have right now should not be a big problem as sugar maples are tapped for sugar sap with a spout for each 8 inches in diameter.

Q: We have many hostas and a problem with grass growing inside the beds with these plants. This came from an overzealous lawn service who overspread grass seed into our rock beds. Last summer, we carefully hand-treated the sprouting grass with cotton tips dipped in Roundup. We wonder if there is a pre-emergent for grass that we could spread over the hosta areas before the hostas begin to push up. Would this kill both the grass and hostas? Will it work only on the grass seed and not the rooted grass that we did not successfully remove last fall? Someone recommended Preen, but I would like your opinion before I try it.

J. S. of Shiloh

A: I sympathize with your problem. Once the grass gets started in your beds, you are fighting a losing battle. You will never kill all the grass without hurting your hostas.

Since you have a lot of hostas, you may want to dig them and divide them to keep vigor in your plants. Make new hosta beds and remove anything that looks different than your hostas. Roundup works only when the plants are vigorously growing. Preen works only on seeds and prevents them from germinating. Any grass rhizomes will not be affected at all by Preen applications.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Use a shovel or check out a soil probe to collect samples that will help tell you what your garden needs.

Do it now

Timely gardening tips from Charles Giedeman.

  • PLANTING: You can plant trees and shrubs as they have not leafed out yet.
  • PATIENCE: Just because some of you have heard the spring peepers singing and craoking, do not rush spring planting