Sapsucker damage to trees is rarely fatal

The regularly spaced holes in a tree's bark show that a sapsucker has recently visited. (Walter Reeves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
The regularly spaced holes in a tree's bark show that a sapsucker has recently visited. (Walter Reeves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Walter Reeves

Credit: Walter Reeves

Q: We have a sapsucker that routinely visits a wax myrtle in our yard. There are now multiple series of unsightly holes. We want to repair the holes, save the tree, and deter the sapsuckers. Gregory Wilson, email

A: I don’t think I have ever seen a tree that I thought was killed by woodpecker damage. I am not saying it can’t happen, since anything that pierces the bark is somewhat damaging, but I have seen trees with hundreds of holes that seem perfectly healthy. Sapsucker woodpeckers make very shallow holes. The depressions need only be deep enough to exude sap from the tree’s cambium layer. My observation is that trees have no problem healing from this kind of damage. I don’t believe there is an effective or practical way to deter the birds. If you water your wax myrtle when it is dry in summer, it should be fine despite the unsightliness.

Q: I have 20 well-established ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly trees. We expected to get an abundance of red berries during the winters; however, we get very little on each tree. I planted a male ‘Edward Stevens’ to help but it didn’t do anything. Kerwin Cortez, email

A: ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly is partially parthenocarpic. This means it can produce berries without a male holly present, but you’ll get more berries if a male is blooming at the same time. One reputable online source says that Chinese holly, Ilex cornuta, can pollinate ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly. Chinese holly is the shrub that has so many spines on each leaf it’s scary to look at. But like all hollies, Chinese holly has both male and female types. Try to find a ‘China Boy’ holly to add to your landscape. As the years go on and this holly plus your male ‘Edward Stevens’ get bigger, you should get more berries on your ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly.

Q: We have two hibiscus plants that we bring inside (they’re in pots) every late fall. We never have been able to find when to prune these. When do we prune and how much? Deborah Gentile, email

A: Depending on how much space is available indoors, many folks find it necessary to prune their hibiscus in September to reduce the size. It can be left outside until temperatures dip into the 50s. There is usually some leaf drop after a month indoors, even if you put it in the brightest light available. Take the hibiscus back outside in the spring when the temperatures are trending above the 50 degree mark. Give it house plant fertilizer to kick-start growth. In May, you may need to do light pruning if some twigs have died in winter.

Listen to Walter Reeves' segments at 6:35 a.m. on “Green and Growing with Ashley Frasca” Saturday mornings on 95.5 WSB. Visit his website, www.walterreeves.com, follow him on Twitter @walterreeves, on Pinterest, or join his Facebook Fan Page at bit.ly/georgiagardener for more garden tips.

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