Squirrel Nut Tree
May 4, 2011 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I want to plant some trees in the front yard that appeal to squirrels and birds. One would think that nut trees (hazel, chestnut, etc) would be a good choice but there's one thing - I'm hugely allergic to them and their pollen. What sort of tree should I plant?

I live in the PNW and would like something native, although anything native to N. America is OK.

I've seen squirrels eat big-leaf maple seeds, but as I understand it they're not real great landscape trees because they're prone to blow over and can cause major root damage. Does anyone know if squirrel like red maple, which is frequently found on "best landscape tree" lists?

I've also considered oak tree, but they tend to be slow growers and very large and I'm looking for something in the 30-50ft range with a medium/medium-fast growth rate. Plus dealing with too many acorns might drive me over the edge.

Various types of dogwoods come up as recommendations with the statement that "birds love the fruit" but I've honestly never seen a bird go anywhere near dogwood fruit so I don't know how true that is. Anyone with practical experience with this?

I'm looking to plant more than one tree, so something that plays well with others (including the 40+ year old douglas fir already there) is imperative. I've heard that some trees are very ornery and require solitary planting. I've also heard that planting too many trees can draw down the groundwater too much and damage your foundation.

I'm going for the "native forest" effect in that part of yard, so there will be understory planting as well, incorporating elder, red current, vine maple and ferns. It (they) will be replacing an aging European white birch tree with has (surprise surprise) become infested with birch borer. I'm considering leaving the birch as a "snag" (to go with the "native forest" thing) but since it's infested I don't know about that yet.

Something suitable for zone 8 is good, although I'm open to trees that require some water to maintain in our zone. The yard has a east/west-facing exposure, with some afternoon sun from the south in the summer, so I can get pretty hot over there. Alternately, in the winter it's pretty cool because the sun doesn't get high enough over the neighborhood trees to the south to warm it up much.
posted by fiercekitten to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Any fruit trees will be fine. I used to have a large backyard positive rife with squirrels and birds, and have learned more about The Mind of the Squirrel than I ever thought possible.

A few things I observed that may be helpful:

1. Squirrels eat anything. Anything. They will nibble on oranges (blech!), they will eat tasty bugs and grubs, and they love peanut butter. And they LOVE fruit.

2. They love to eat fresh young leaves and buds off trees in the spring. Unless you have an army of squirrels, like I did, this is actually good for the trees because it stimulates new growth. They would spend hours in my giant Pakistan mulberry tree eating the fresh juicy leaves that were just coming out in March. And they loved the figs; boy, did they ever. And every summer was a desperate fight between me and the squirrels for the cherries and tomatoes. They like apples and plums as well.

Just be careful what you wish for!
posted by Atrahasis at 11:08 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the warning. Are you really sure you want squirrels?

For starters, there is no such thing as one squirrel. One squirrel leads to an army of squirrels.

If you care at all about your lawn, you don't want squirrels. The lawn outside looks like a missile testing range. There are holes dug up every other square inch. Every year the lawn requires patching and reseeding.

If you care about your garden, you don't want squirrels. They dig up bulbs, decapitate budding flowers, pull down plants, you name it. (About the only thing they stay away from are narcissus/daffodil.

If you want to reap the benefits of your fruit tree, you won't. I can count on both hands the numbers of pears harvested from a pair of trees. Around here, the squirrels start eating the pears when the are about an inch in length.

I have yet to see a tree squirrel doesn't like. There are maples (native and oriental), pines, spruce, wild cherries, oaks, an elm, and an assortment of others here. They're into all of them. They're also on people's roofs, in people's sheds and garages, etc.

If you don't want a flowering tree or a nut tree, you may want to consider a spruce or a pine. The squirrels (actually all the birds and animals) here seem to love building nests in them -- I guess they offer more protection against predators (including hawks) than some of the deciduous trees do.

Don't get me wrong, part of me really loves squirrels. They're cute, they can be very friendly, and they're highly entertaining.

They can also be noisy and destructive (chewing through window screens and eating fences -- yes, stained wood fences -- killing trees and other plant life) and annoying.
posted by sardonyx at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Squirrels are cute, but can be destructive, so I wouldn't plant trees that could harm you. For advice on attracting birds, check with your Cooperative Extension office.
posted by theora55 at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2011

We have a walnut tree in our front yard and in addition to pulling up walnut tree seedlings that sprout up out of all our flower boxes from squirrels burying the nuts, we also sometimes seem to be the targets of squirrel bombing raids. I swear they throw those things at us! They definitely drop them on the cats.

When I'm looking at plants, I'm trying to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I think dogwoods are attractive to butterflies. Here's a few more. I really can't imagine any tree isn't attractive to a squirrel.
posted by amanda at 3:28 PM on May 4, 2011

I have a tall pine tree adjacent to my driveway. Actually on my driveway, I have piles and piles of pine cone scales dropped there by the squirrels who strip the pinecones down to get at the seeds.

In the ten years I've lived in the house, the tree has been used as a nesting spot for jays, magpies, crows, and a cooper's hawk. It's also a regular perch for the barn owl that lives in the yard next door and the Great Horned Owl who patrols those several square miles.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:38 PM on May 4, 2011

Response by poster: I should note we already have squirrels. I'm interested in making the yard better for them and the various birds that come down from the hills in the winter and spring. I've already decided to plant another doug fir, so I'm curious what type of trees birds and their friends the bees would like as well.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:41 PM on May 4, 2011

Flowering crabapple!
posted by RedEmma at 7:22 AM on May 5, 2011

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