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Garden Help Desk: Plenty of options for humanely discouraging sapsuckers

By USU Extension - Special to the Daily Herald | Sep 16, 2023
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Sapsucker feeding leaves rows of holes in tree bark.
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Carpet beetles are common indoor pests in our area.
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Carpet beetles are common indoor pests in our area.

Are these holes in my trees from pine beetles? What can I do to save trees? If I can’t save them, how long before they need to come out?

This damage doesn’t look like bark beetle damage. Bark beetles are very small and leave randomly spaced holes about the size of large pinheads. The damage in your photos is typical of sapsucker activity. Sapsuckers are members of the woodpecker family. They make rows of holes in the bark and feed on the tree sap that collects in the holes. A sapsucker will often prefer a specific tree, returning to the same tree frequently to make new holes or enlarge the existing holes, allowing more sap to collect.

Sapsuckers, like all woodpeckers, are protected migratory birds, but using nonlethal methods — scaring techniques, exclusion and repellents — to discourage sapsucker feeding is allowed.

Materials like strips of mylar tape or brightly colored cloth, old CDs or aluminum pie tins can be loosely hung over the damaged area where they can move in the wind, flash or rattle to startle the birds. Plastic owls or silhouettes may also frighten sapsuckers. These measures will probably be temporary because sapsuckers can become accustomed to their presence and learn that they don’t present a danger. Alternating between a few different objects will extend their effectiveness.

Loud noises can also be effective at scaring away sapsuckers. If you live in an area where you won’t be disturbing neighbors you can try playing recordings of cap guns, cannons, loud banging, etc., near your trees at random times.

Exclusion can also prevent further damage. Wrapping the trunk in burlap, quarter-inch hardware cloth or something similar will block access to the current feeding site on the tree. A sapsucker may decide to simply move to a new spot on the tree, so keep an eye on the tree and add additional exclusion materials if you see new damage.

Consider using a repellent. Birds don’t like sticky surfaces and there are sticky repellent materials like Tanglefoot or Bird Stop that can be applied to a tree. Taste and odor-aversion products are another option.

For your best chance of success, use a combination of methods, keep an eye on your trees and take action at the first signs of new feeding.

Some sapsuckers may leave Utah in the fall to spend the winter in warmer areas, returning in the spring. Others will remain in the area.

The best thing you can do for your trees now, in addition to discouraging further sapsucker damage, is to make sure your trees get a deep soak about once every seven to 10 days during the summer (but never more often than that). This will help to reduce tree stress and improve resilience. Give your conifers a final deep soak in late November so that your trees and the surrounding soil enter the winter well-hydrated.

When I was cleaning and moving my dog’s kennel, I noticed lots of dead bugs and some live ones underneath. I’ve found a few more of them in other places. I looked online and I think they are carpet beetles. Do you have any idea how to get rid of them?

You didn’t include a description of the beetles, but based on where you found the beetles, I suspect you have either black carpet beetles or varied carpet beetles, members of the Dermestidae family. The larvae stage of these beetles is the most damaging stage.

Black carpet beetles feed on animal hair, feathers and will also feed on grains. The area around the kennel would have had plenty of food sources for beetle larvae — hair, dander and tiny bits of kibble. Synthetic fibers may also attract their attention.

Varied carpet beetles eat furs, wool and dead insects. They’ll also infest carpets.

Controlling dermestid belts centers around finding and removing infested food sources. In your case, frequent vacuuming of the areas where you dog spends his time will be needed. Remove cushions on furniture and vacuum thoroughly, including under the furniture, to remove as much pet hair as possible.

Carefully inspect the area where you feed your dog. Vacuum along baseboards and base cabinets to remove any hidden food sources. It’s a good idea to inspect fabrics, yarns and stored out-of-season clothing, as well. Storing seasonal clothing and other fiber products in airtight containers is another control option.


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