Branch tips littering the ground under your trees?

Linda Williams, forest health specialist, Woodruff, Linda.Williams@wisconsin.gov, 920-360-0665

Have you been noticing branch tips scattered on the ground beneath spruce, fir or pine trees this spring? You may be seeing one of a few things – damage from small animals or breakage caused by the harsh winter we had. Fortunately, the damage from either is unlikely to do serious harm to your trees. 

Spruce branch tips found on ground were clipped from tree by squirrels.

Spruce branch tips found on ground were clipped from tree by squirrels.

If you have recently walked under a spruce and found scattered green branch tips lying on the ground, you’re probably observing squirrel damage. No one knows exactly why squirrels do this. In some cases, they have been observed nibbling the buds at the ends of branches, but they’ve also been seen clipping the tips and dropping them to the ground. There appears to be some wastefulness of these spruce branch tips, though the reasoning remains unclear.  

This year you may also find balsam fir and white pine branch tips on the ground beneath some trees. This appears to be related to the freezing rain and ice we had in February 2019. Temperatures plummeted following the freezing rain event, leaving a thick layer of ice stuck to the branches. The additional weight of the ice is the cause of most of the fir and pine branch tips laying on the ground this spring.

The good news is that even on trees that seem to have dropped a lot of branch tips on the ground, if you look up into the canopy of the tree it’s often difficult to tell that anything is amiss. For the vast majority of these trees, life will continue as normal.   

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