Crabapples, sapsuckers and more

There are a number of showy blooms that recently occurred throughout Frederick County, including the crabapple. There are 35 species and 700 cultivars of crabapple (Malus spp.) found throughout the United States. These small to medium sized trees need plenty of sunlight to be happy, so they are often found in partially-treed, “old fields” and in landscape settings.

Crabapple provide spring color and fall food for wildlife.

Credit: - Mike Kay

Crabapples can grow in a variety of soils; they prefer full sunlight. Crabapples do not self pollinate so they are very dependent on bees and other insects for fruiting. The fruit of the crabapple ripens in the fall about the same time as regular apple trees. Crabapples are eaten by deer, raccoons, and many birds, but they are very sour and bitter to the taste when eaten raw. Sometimes used for jellies and jams, they can be dried and ground into a sour condiment.

Crabapple wood can be used for curing food since it produces a lot of smoke with little flame when burning, and has a pleasant, fruity aroma. This firewood burns long and hot, and it’s pleasant odor makes it a good choice for the fireplace. Crabapples hybridize easily, so there are a wide variety of cultivars.

There are a number of diseases that affect a crabapple such as scab, cedar apple rust, and fire blight. Many ornamental varieties were developed that have natural resistance to these diseases, so it is a good idea to choose a disease-resistant variety when establishing landscape plantings.

Sapsuckers … damage to trees

Have you ever noticed fairly large, evenly spaced holes on the trunk of your tree? These are not the holes of some super strain of insect; instead, they are the handiwork of the yellow bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius,) a bird in the woodpecker family. The yellow bellied sapsucker is a medium-sized migratory bird that over winters in Central America and the south, and it spends its summer in the Mid-Atlantic northward to Canada.

The sapsucker makes test holes in a tree to taste the sap and eat pieces of the cambium. If the sap is sweet enough, the bird will continue feeding on the tree or shrub throughout the summer. Sapsuckers are the only woodpecker to feed on tree sap; the other woodpeckers hammer on trees in search of insects that might be found inside.The sapsucker will also feed on insects, should they encounter one.

Sapsuckers feed on nearly 250 species of trees. Some of their favorite trees found in our area include pines, hickories, tulip poplar, red maple, birch, and spruce. The holes that the sapsucker make are fairly shallow and they rarely kill a tree unless they happen to completely girdle a small tree. Red maples have the highest mortality from sapsucker damage at 40 percent, while other trees, such as hemlock, have relatively minor sapsucker mortality, at less than 1 percent.

The smaller the tree, the more vulnerable it is to being girdled and killed by the sapsucker. Although the bird rarely kills trees, the holes it makes can serve as passage ways for fungi or bacteria that can stain or cause rot in the wood. This damage is more worrisome in forestry applications in which the tree is being grown for a lumber crop where sapsucker damage is referred to as “bird peck.”

In a landscape setting, sapsucker damage can be controlled by placing a barrier such a plastic mesh or burlap around the trunk of the tree, applying a sticky bird repellent like Tangle Foot, placing pie pans, wind chimes, or anything that makes a loud noise on or near the tree, or putting a fake owl close by. Unless this damage is being done to a valuable or sentimental tree, one might be better off allowing it to continue because the sapsucker may begin visiting other trees on your property instead. In a woodland setting, options are limited to either living with the damage or culling out trees that have signs of decay fungus to which sapsuckers are drawn.

Tree City USA

Visitors to Frederick City or Fort Detrick may observe Tree City USA signs being displayed throughout these communities with a sense of pride. The Tree City USA program began in 1976 as an offshoot from the Arbor Day Foundation. This program was designed to recognize communities that meet at least four basic standards of a good tree care program. These standards include: the establishment of a tree board or tree care department that is run by a professional arborist; the establishment of a tree care ordinance; expenditure of $2 per capita on tree care and planting projects; and organizing and celebrating an annual Arbor Day celebration.

The Tree City USA program is celebrating its 40th year anniversary in 2016. The 1976 inaugural class of Tree City USA included 16 communities. Today there are more than 3,400 Tree City USA communities across the country. Maryland has 38 Tree City USA communities including Frederick City and Fort Detrick. Frederick City is the oldest Tree City USA Community in Maryland celebrating its 36th year anniversary followed closely by Chestertown at 35 years.

Frederick City hosted its annual Arbor Day Observance on Friday, April 29, at Monocacy Elementary School. This program included presentations by city and state officials, teachers and students along with a ceremonial tree planting. Trees benefit the urban environment by providing oxygen, cleaning the air, cooling the surrounding environment, buffering noise, and adding beauty to the landscape. For more information on the Tree City USA Program you can visit the Arbor Day Website at:

Article FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 6/12/2016