Are squirrels stunting a hedge maple?

Q. I have a 12-year-old hedge maple that has always been stunted, despite my carefully watering it. In recent years, I’ve often noticed squirrels climb up it to feed, I think mostly on the leaves.

Do you think it’s likely they’re responsible for its never growing up? At this stage, is it worth getting a squirrel shield, although I doubt one would work?

I don’t mind providing a buffet for squirrels, which I enjoy watching, except at the expense of a younger tree.

Peter Ross, San Jose

A. I don’t think we can blame squirrels for the tree’s failure to thrive. More likely factors include being planted in the wrong place.

Although people do successfully grow maples in the Bay Area, the hedge maple (Acer campestre) is best suited for planting zones 5-8; San Jose is a 10a. It might be too warm for the tree, which is an Asian native.

Of course, there are microclimates that can lead to a hedge maple flourishing on one side of the street and struggling on the opposite side. In general, maples require at least six hours of sun, although they can tolerate partial shade, prefer alkaline soil (which is what most soils in the Bay Area are), and soil that drains well.

The fact that your tree hasn’t grown robust and developed that magnificent ball-shaped canopy is a sign that it’s just not happy where it is planted.

As for the squirrels, they have a fondness for maple trees, snipping off tips to use in their nests and for keeping their teeth growth in check. The small amounts of pruning done to the tree are probably more helpful than harmful, and if you enjoy watching them, that’s a bonus.

Q. Is it true that a tree grown from an avocado seed will never produce avocados?

Albert J., Concord

A. Not necessarily. Trees grown from pits are generally slower to fruit, and you can’t be certain of what variety they will produce. That’s because the seed contains the genetic material of both the tree the fruit grew on and whatever other tree fertilized it.

Botanists explain it like this. If two people have a baby, that baby contains the genetic material from both the mother and the father. The baby will likely look like them, but won’t be an exact duplicate of one or the other.

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