Black hills spruce - small holes at top of tree trunk

Asked September 4, 2017, 2:19 PM EDT

I have a 5 foot tall black hills spruce we transplanted last year from a nursery. It's been struggling all year. The top of the tree is dead but there is some new growth happening below the top of the tree. I just noticed some small holes at the top of the tree. Insect or some sort or bird? Can this tree be saved? If so, What steps should I take to save it? Thank you.

North Dakota

1 Response


This appears to be the work of a woodpecker called the yellow bellied sapsucker. The sapsucker drills holes and then sips the sap and any insects trapped in the sap well. It appears that the damage is quite extensive on this tree and it has girdled the top.

Normally, I tell people to wrap the trunk with burlap to deter the woodpecker. However, that won't help in this situation. There isn't enough trunk area to wrap. You could attempt to scare the bird away by hanging pie tins or something shiny that will blow in the wind.

I fear that the top of the tree is dead. It is possible to gradually train up a side branch to be a new leader once you cut the dead top off the tree. You can use splints to eventually cause the side branch to grow upright. Take the splint off after one year.

Good luck!