DEAR JOAN: My heart sank when I saw destruction to my beautiful Japanese maple. Something has gnawed at the base of the tree. What do you think is the culprit and what can I do to protect my tree?

Kathryn Tomaino, Los Alto

DEAR KATHRYN: From the photo you sent showing bark damage on the trunk of your tree, it’s likely you have some type of rodent using the tree to whittle down its teeth. While it might be squirrels, the location of the damage so close to the ground indicates rabbits or voles, also known as field mice.

You can try wrapping the trunk of the tree in metal flashing or a heavy weight aluminum foil to prevent further damage, but I’m a little concerned about the wound the tree has now. It can be an avenue for decay, rot and disease.

Your best bet is to contact an arborist for advice.

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DEAR JOAN: I hope it’s ok to use the red hummingbird food. That’s what I use.

Gary A Gearheart, Palm Springs

DEAR GARY: There actually is some debate on this, with most people coming down on the side of not using it.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which strongly recommends against using red dye in feeders, has some compelling arguments against it. The dye in the commercial nectar is a petroleum-based one called Red Dye No. 40.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the dye in this country, but it is banned in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

One concern for having it in hummingbird nectar is that there is no regulation on the amount of dye used in the products, so hummingbirds can get a little or a lot. Given that they have to feed frequently to maintain those little quick metabolisms, they could be getting a significant amount of the dye every day.

There have been no studies on how Red Dye No. 40, or any other dye, might affect these birds, but anecdotal reports from licensed and experience hummingbird rehabbers say that birds feeding on nectar colored with synthetic dyes have a greater mortality rate and a higher number of beak and liver tumors.

Making this even sadder is that red color in the nectar isn’t necessary. As long as the feeder has red or purple color on it, or your yard has lots of colorful flowers or decorations, the hummers will find the food.

Nectar is simple to make using a 4-to-1 ratio of water to sugar, and it’s lot less expensive than buying ready-made nectars. Please stop using the red nectar, and if you don’t want to make your own, look for commercial nectars that don’t use dyes.

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