We planted a pagoda dogwood tree last year. It came through the winter fine and looked good all summer, but about five days ago, I noticed a squirrel in it, eating the berries. The squirrel had also chewed off the red stems on which the berries grow. The next few mornings, I saw the same thing, and also see a bunch of the red stems and leaves on the ground under the tree (see photo). It is a very small tree and I am concerned that this action will harm it. Am I right to be concerned, and if so, is there anything you can recommend? (This is our fifth attempt at growing a tree in this spot. We have a large black walnut tree. I really want this tree to survive.) Thank you.
Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.
Pagoda Dogwoods, Cornus alternifolia, is a beautiful native tree here in Ontario. The berries from this tree are a valuable food source for birds and squirrels. With any of the dogwoods squirrels and birds will visit to eat the berries. This is totally normal. The berry stems will come off with the berries but are not eaten by the wildlife. Some leaves being knocked off should not have a huge effect on the health of the tree.
From your picture I do have another concern. It looks like your tree is planted too deep. Trees should be planted no deeper than the root flare; the area at the bottom of the trunk where the roots branch off from the trunk. If the trunk is buried below this point the trunk begins to break down and the tree will eventually die.
Looking at your picture I do not see the flare. If it is indeed too deep you may need to dig it up and replant at the proper height in a new hole. I would wait until fall to do this as the middle of summer is too hot for the tree. I am attaching our tree planting guide for your reference.