Question of the Week – Number Two: October 8, 2020

Small twigs like this fall from cedar elm trees. Zoom in on the severed end and you’ll notice it is jagged.

“Why are little twigs falling from my cedar elm? I see no signs of insects or animals.”

This question does not rise to the frequency level of roadside asters in this issue, but I get it asked of me a good many times each fall. I also see it beneath my own cedar elm tree in our landscape. So, I’ll attempt an answer here.

The twig loss I have observed is the same as what you are seeing, that being terminal twigs with eight or 10 leaves – always late in the fall, and never anything major.

Continued Below

I’ve always suspected that the damage was either from birds or squirrels, but in doing just a little bit of online research to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious, I learned of an insect that might be a candidate.

I am all too familiar with twig girdlers. This doesn’t look like their work. However, I have never heard of twig pruners. An Extension Service worker in Maryland mentioned them in answering this specific question a few years back. Check out this link.

All of that said, my money is still on the squirrels. We have them running rampant through our pecan forest, and honestly, they seem to have little better to do while they forage for pecans than to help me prune the tips off my cedar elms.

This image seems to show more leaves than actual clusters of leaves, but that’s not really the case. This late in the season, once the small twigs at the ends of the branches start to lose leaves you can count on lots of individual leaves to come down with them. But all of this presents no threat to the tree in the long run.

The good news is that whether it’s birds, squirrels or twig pruners, the effect is extremely minor. Pick up the twigs and send them off with the trash. Run them through the mower and put them onto the compost. Do whatever you wish with them, but just don’t worry about them!

Photo credits this story to Berta C. of San Antonio, as posted on my Facebook page earlier.

Posted by Neil Sperry
Back To Top