I am planning to get Japanese maples for my garden. I am particularly drawn towards a fast-growing variety called “Seiryu.” and maybe some smaller purple-leaf varieties. However, I’ve learned recently that squirrels have the habit of stripping the bark off Japanese maples.
Squirrels do not live on my property. I think they live on the more mature trees of my neighbors. But some of them (maybe 3-5 at most) do visit my backyard on a daily basis.
Given their propensity to strip the bark of Japanese maples, I’m wondering if I should rethink having Japanese maples.
Does bark stripping by squirrels normally seriously damage trees? What are effective deterrents that botanical gardens use to keep squirrels from damaging their Japanese maples? And what alternative trees could I plant that are a good substitute for Japanese maples?
I want to have Japanese maples. In fact I already have a plan on where to put them in the garden, but it may not be worth it if they are constantly damaged by squirrels.
Please, some advice would be appreciated.
Japanese maples are a lovely addition to a garden plan.
Squirrels rarely eat maple tree parts, but they love to “prune back” the new growth. It might help — or not — to know the squirrels aren’t maliciously eating your maple. They aren’t actually eating the tree at all, but pruning it. All members of the rodent family have continuously growing teeth, which requires them to gnaw and chew on things in order to keep their teeth from growing out of control. They use both the bark and the small twigs to build their nests. Squirrels may also use maple twigs and bark as chew toys. Their teeth need constant maintenance to keep them from growing too long, so this means they need to chew on things regularly. If other food isn’t readily available, squirrels may peel back the outer bark and eat bits of the inner bark. Depending on how hungry they are, they may also eat the buds, leaves, and samaras (seed pods). Japanese maples seem to be the most popular species among the squirrel population. This is one of the smaller varieties of maple and, if too many squirrels invade the tree, it could easily be killed by having too much bark stripped away or too much new growth pruned back.
To prevent squirrels from “picking” on your maple tree, there are a few things you can do.
One such thing is to given then an alternative. It is possible to distract squirrels from your tree by leaving a pile of sticks, twigs, bark, or bedding material for them. Use nuts to attract them to the pile and away from your tree. Of course, you will have to keep replenishing this pile to keep the squirrels coming back. There may also be concern that this practice will actually attract squirrels to your property. Use your best judgment as to whether leaving a “peace offering” for the squirrels will work in your yard.
Another thing to do is to trim branches back. If you have trees growing near your house, power lines, or fences, then squirrels may have easy access. Trimming branches away from these structures may make it more difficult for squirrels to get into your tree. Try and keep branches back at least 4 or 5 feet from any nearby structures. This may be difficult or impossible with some trees, depending on where and how they are growing. Be careful not to over-prune your tree in an effort to keep the squirrels out. Pruning away too much of the tree will cause more permanent damage than most squirrels ever could.
Although there are squirrel repellents, I think that this discussion is outside the scope of my answer because the treatment may not always be humane to the squirrel.
All of this being said, I live in mid-Toronto. We have grown, as have our neighbours, beautiful Japanese maples which continue to thrive. Squirrels have never been a problem even though our lots are small and maples are close to the house.
Good luck in making your decision.