Garden Variety Mystery

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Backstory: When I was 11 I planted seeds from a grocery store orange in two planters and tended to them as they germinated and grew. These orange trees are as much my babies as Benchley (my cat). They lived inside for many years, and when they got too big to reasonably stay inside the house they were moved to the backyard.  They tended to summer in the backyard sunshine, and be moved into the garage for the coldest parts of Texas winters (nothing like we saw two weeks ago). Side note, my dad did a great job of tending to them for me while I was at A&M.
They have flourished  are both much taller than me now. In March of 2019 I discovered the first ever blossom on one of them…turns out one tree had three beautiful blossoms. I was so happy – especially since coming from grocery store produce I was aware of the possibility they could be sterile plants. Last year , just before the pandemic hit, I discovered a bunch of blooms on both trees. I was so excited I had developed a habit of wiggling like a puppy during my daily tree visits. But wait, it gets better! The trees ended up with several tiny oranges! Most fell off when they were tiny, but one got to be the size of a big gumball before it fell. I was sad that none of the fruit was edible, but I knew they were still fairly young trees and it was the first time they made it to the stage of producing teeny fruit so this year was going to be even better. 

Then the “2021 Texas Winter Storm” hit and ruined all my plans.

Last month I went to water the trees on Monday and they were great, I even thought I might have spied a few little places where blossoms would develop in the coming weeks.
I went out to water on Tuesday and there were little dots going around both trunks, about 1.5-2 feet from the dirt.
Automatically panic set in – because I am obviously a helicopter plant mom…

I headed to the internet to research what could have caused these holes. They looked like the holes had been punched out of the outer layer of bark/skin. My research gave me no difinative answers.
It could be boring beetles.
It could be the Texas Stinkbug.

Armed with my limited knowledge I ordered some Neem oil (a natural beetle repellent) to mix with water I had boiled, and cooled, with garlic (supposedly stinkbugs don’t like “stinky” things).  I added a squirt of mild soap, put the (stinky) concoction in a spray bottle, shook it up and coated the leaves and trunks of the trees.

Still, I was keeping my fingers crossed that if it was a beetle issue the trees would be strong enough to survive the damage that had already been done.

Cue the first wave of the winter weather two days after the dousing with the oil and garlic spray.

I happened to be playing with Benchley by the window where the orange trees are, when I saw a brazen bird come to one of the orange tree trunks and start to PECK!!!

That’s right! It wasn’t beetles boring into/out of my trees. It wasn’t the suspicious Texas stink bug I had seen loitering near by. It was a female, redheaded WOODPECKER!

I was both outraged and in awe at the same time. 
I had never seen a woodpecker around North Texas before. It was stunning. It was beautiful – I wish I’d had a chance to get a picture. It made me wonder if they operate with constant concussions.
At the same time, I was outraged because that thing was assaulting my orange tree babies! How dare she?!

So, to keep her from sawing them in half with her relentless pecking (yeah, I’ve seen Woody Woodpecker cartoons) I set to work on a plan to protect the trunks from her brazen onslaught.  I raided the garage and the pantry; I gathered an old pool noodle, some weird quarter inch square wire, some string, and aluminum foil.

I wanted to wrap the trunks to protect from her attacks, but I didn’t want to rub the bark and I wanted the “cage” to be offset enough her beak couldn’t just go between the wire’s grid lines. I cut the pool noodle and wrapped it around the trunk, then attached the wire to that. The pool noodle would allow for the trunks to expand, should it have to be guarded that long, but it also set the wire off enough to keep her nose from doing any more damage.
I then made some icicles out of the foil (ironically there would be loads of real icicles hanging from those trees in a matter of hours) and hung them from the branches. One of these keeps spinning in the breeze and it makes me thing of the Olympic figure skaters doing their seemingly endless and beautiful spins.

I have recorded no further woodpecker damage to the orange trees since I made up these little contraptions. Now, that is either because I am a genius and my on-the-fly creative problem solving saved the day, or it is because hours after I rigged these up the week-long sub freezing temperatures and frozen precipitation hit and the woodpecker fled to warmer climes (like Canada). I guess we will never know, but one thing we did learn…the mysterious markings (graffiti, if you will) were created by a violent, probably concussed, flighty, assailant who hasn’t been seen since I caught on to her crime spree.
Case closed.

Casey, sorry for all the parentheticals.  😉

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