Ask the Steward

By Dan Ernst


What is best way to post no trespassing signs or Classified Forest signs at my property? Is nailing to trees OK?


Putting nails into trees is generally discouraged for several reasons, including creating tree wounds and perhaps of greater concern is safety. More than once I’ve cut into a nail when felling a tree or cutting firewood – fortunately without injury, but it ruins a saw chain quickly. Worse yet are tree climbing steps, large nails, chains and other heavy metals placed in trees for any number of reasons. Those create extremely dangerous situations for tree cutters and sawmills.

However, there are times when there are no better options available to post signage, hang a bird box, or other attachments. In those cases, here are some important considerations.  

1) Whenever possible, use a post instead of a tree.

2) Use aluminum nails. They’re softer, don’t corrode and are relatively safer than steel nails. Smaller nails are better.

3) Attach the sign to a board and nail the board to the tree. This prevents the nail from being pulled through the sign as the tree grows. 

4) Attach to a junky tree that is unlikely to be used as firewood or timber.

5) Don’t nail the sign tightly. This leaves some space for extra tree growth. However, it bears repeating that whenever possible, use a post instead of a tree.


I have over 20 small welts that appeared around my ankles and waist the day after a walk in my woods and they itch like crazy. Someone told me I got the Jiggers. What’s a jigger, and how do I stop the itch?


Got the Jiggers eh? 

Probably no creature in Indiana can cause as much grief for its size than the tiny Jigger – also called Red Bug – but best known as the Chigger. This tiny creature (a mite) is found all over, but prefers heavy vegetation areas such as woodlands, berry patches, lake and stream edges and parks. Some feel moist areas are prime sites, but drier lawns and cemeteries (I can vouch for this one) are also common chigger haunts. The biting larval stage is most numerous from late spring to mid-summer when grass, weeds and other vegetation are heaviest. Chigger larvae are usually yellow to light red in color, hairy, and move quickly on their six legs. Adult chiggers are bright red, have eight legs and do not bite humans or animals.

As larvae, Chiggers are very small - only about 1/120 of an inch - and have tiny claws that allow them to attach tightly onto people and animals. Once attached, they are able to pierce the skin and inject their saliva, which contains powerful digestive juices that breakdown skin cells and cause surrounding tissue to harden and form a straw-like feeding tube. The chigger feeds for up to 4 days by sucking up the digested skin cells, and then they simply fall off.  They do not suck blood or burrow under the skin. Welts and itching may show up as early as 3 hours after exposure and may continue for a week or more. Fortunately chiggers are not known to transmit any diseases in this country.

For temporary relief of itching, apply ointments of benzocaine, hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, or other itch or bite relievers recommended by your pharmacist or medical doctor. The sooner the treatment, the better the results. Some have had luck with Vaseline, cold creams, and even fingernail polish (this is not an endorsement).

To minimize chigger bites, apply insect repellants before entering chigger prone areas. Chiggers prefer areas of tight fitting clothing or soft, tender skin - such as waistlines, ankles, back of knees, armpits, groin. Follow label directions and apply to exposed skin and clothing, especially the around ankles, lower legs, waistlines, neck and sleeve openings. Keep moving! The chance of chigger bites increases dramatically when loafing around in sunny spots when temperatures are above 60 degrees. After visiting a chigger infested area, take a hot shower as soon as possible. Lather up good to help wash off critters before they get lodged. Wash your clothes in hot water too!

Don’t feel too bad – chiggers also feed on a wide variety of snakes, turtles, birds, and small mammals.  Which makes one wonder, “how does a snake scratch itself?”


Dan Ernst is an Assistant State Forester with the Indiana Division of Forestry. He oversees the state forests in Indiana and has authored the “Ask the Steward” column for years.  Have a question for the column? Email Dan at