Rabbit damage to trees

Damage Caused by Animals

Many animals leave their signs on trees. Squirrels, voles and porcupines may chew off bark for food or medication. Sapsuckers (a type of woodpecker) drill holes in thin-barked trees such as birch to drink tree sap and eat the insects attracted to the ooze. Honeysuckles and other shrubs with shredding bark may be stripped by birds for nesting material. Deer or moose may rub their antlers on trees, wearing the bark off.

Tree Damage

The height and pattern of damage and the type of tree may reveal the animal responsible. Minor bark damage will eventually be covered over by a healthy tree. Chewing or damage that completely encircles a stem or trunk will result in the death of that stem or branch above the damage. This could be the whole tree.

Squirrel damage is usually revealed as chewed areas, often high in a tree and on the upper surface of a branch. Unless the damage completely encircles a branch, the tree will probably cope with the wound.

Porcupine damage can be extensive. Long chiseled tooth marks are distinctive.

Voles are small rodents that resemble burly mice. Voles do not climb trees but may chew off the bark at the base of small trees or shrubs during winter. Stems that are completely girdled by chewing will die. Voles rely on the cover of snow, mulch or dense shrubbery around the base of a small tree to access the bark. Hares may also chew the bark from thin-barked young trees in winter.

Bird damage on honeysuckle or other shaggy barked shrubs can be quite remarkable. Unless the birds are seen collecting the bark shreds for nesting, it’s hard to believe a bird could be responsible. Shredded bark at the base of a honeysuckle could be caused by cat scratching, as some cats are attracted to honeysuckle.


Sapsucker damage on birch. One or more evenly spaced rows of holes that resemble nail holes reveal sapsucker activity.

Control Measures

  • Voles can be trapped like mice.
  • Protect small trees and shrubs by keeping mulch away from the base of stems in winter. Pack snow down around trunks to deny voles a pathway under snow cover.
  • Use plastic tree protectors or make cages of chicken wire around trunks to deny hares access to bark.
  • Use a commercial animal repellent such as Plantskydd.™
  • Erect fences and barriers.

Damage to Trees

Bark is a food source for many animals. Squirrels, rabbits, mice, voles and porcupines feed on the inner bark of trees. Birds like woodpeckers eat insects just inside the bark. Deer don’t read “deer resistant” plant recommendations and may browse on any tree, especially in winter when food is scarce.

Damage is easily noticed on the bark. When the inner bark is damaged, the tree cannot move water and nutrients from the roots to the branches and leaves. Minor damage does not heal, but the tree may grow a seal of tissue over the wound. For minor damage:

  • If you don’t know which animal is damaging your tree, mount a camera to catch them in the act.
  • Do not apply pruning paint to bark wounds.
  • Prune off badly damaged branches as needed.
  • If you use any kind of barrier or trunk wrap, remove it after one season to prevent bark damage.
  • Monitor your tree and keep it well watered.

Severe damage is not reversible and can kill a tree. Girdling is when animals chew all the way around the trunk. When this happens, the entire tree above the girdled line will die. Once this happens, you need to cut down the tree. Generally, as the top dies back, the tree will begin to send up prolific suckers from the underground roots. You can either remove these suckers on an ongoing basis until the tree uses up its underground resources, get the roots removed to prevent sucker growth, or allow the suckers to grow to replace the downed tree. If you decide to allow them to grow, make sure you prune them regularly or they will grow into an oddly shaped shrub. Mice are especially bad for girdling trees so keeping control of your mouse population will go a long way towards preventing expensive girdling issues.

Mice are pretty sneaky and tend to do much of the damage to bark in the winter when alternate food sources are more scarce. They will create above ground tunnels beneath the snow surface to move from your tree to their homes throughout the winter, which will also impact the health of your grass. For more information on mice and vole control, see our Mice and Voles guide.

George Weigel This plastic spiral tree wrap protects young tree bark from rodent chewing in winter.

Q:

I have a small patio peach tree in my yard and recently noticed that something ate the bark off of the tree from the base to about 1 foot off the ground. Can the tree be saved? What should I do?

A: Ouch! That’s most likely rabbit or vole damage.

There’s nothing you can do about what’s been done, but you can protect the tree from further damage. Options:
1.) Wrap the trunk with corrugated cardboard tree wrap, available at most garden centers and some hardware stores.
2.) Wrap the trunk with a spiraled plastic tree protector, also available at most garden center.
3.) Buy a sheet of hardware cloth or stiff, narrow-opening wire and wrap it into a loose cylinder around the trunk.
Whichever trunk protection you use, start it as low as you can get it (at least under the mulch) and go up to at least 4 feet on the trunk. One year I wrapped a young apple tree 2 feet high, which worked fine until it snowed 2 feet and the rabbits ate the bark off 3 feet up!

Here’s the issue now. If the rodents only did surface damage or didn’t chew the bark off deeply the whole way around (“girdling”), the tree has a chance of callousing over and healing. Hopefully, that’s the case, and you won’t need to do anything other than get new protection in place.

However, if the damage is deep and all around in a continuous band, it’ll likely die from that point up. No spray, no tar or tree paint, no fertilizer or anything else will help.

Some trees will push out new growth from the roots or from below the girdling point. You may be able to salvage the plant, but it’ll essentially be starting from scratch and require some staking and pruning to re-train it over years. Let’s hope it’s not a girdle…

How To Protect Small Trees And Shrubs From Rabbits

When tiny pawprints in the snow lead you to a chiseled tree or shrub in your yard, you know you’ve got a hungry rabbit on your hands.

In their quest for a quick bite to eat, rabbits can leave the bottom of plants totally bark-less. Recently this happened to one of our blog readers. She reached out saying, “the resident rabbits have chewed all the bark off the lower branches of my burning bushes. Is there anything that can be done to prevent further damage? And what about the current damage—can I use pruning paint?”

Below, read about how to prevent rabbit feeding, and learn how to help an injured plant recoup.

Rabbits are eating the bark off my trees. What should I do?

If it’s common for rabbits to roam your neighborhood in winter, protecting your plants before any damage is done should be a top priority. When a tree or shrub loses its bark, it becomes immediately vulnerable to threats like pests or harsh weather, and water and nutrients can’t properly flow throughout the plant.

What type of wood can rabbits eat? Are my trees at risk?

In winter, rabbits have a taste for…nearly any plant they can get their paws on. Food is scarce in the colder season, so rabbits can’t be choosy.

Still, they do have a few favorites. Fruit and ornamental plants including crabapple, plum, cherry, apple, pear, rose and burning bush are targeted, and trees including serviceberry, honey locust, maple, and pine are also on their preferred menu.

How to protect my trees from rabbits

To prevent unwanted nibbling, you’ll need to build a barrier that stops rabbits from reaching plant bark. Here’s how:

  1. In fall, use chicken wire or hardware cloth to build a fence around your plant. It should be about two- or three feet tall.
  2. Bury the fence down a few inches into the ground so sneaky rabbits can’t crawl underneath.
  3. When you spot the first rabbit in winter, make sure the fence is tall enough to protect from high hoppers, and adjust if needed.
  4. Apply a wide range of repellents directly to the plant

Can I do anything to save a plant whose bark is already ripped off?

Certainly, the question of whether your plant will survive is top of mind. And the answer is: it depends.

One thing’s for sure—wound dressing or pruning paint won’t help your plant heal. In fact, they’ll just interfere with the plant’s natural repair process. It’s best to avoid these and follow the steps below instead.

If your shrub was damaged by rabbit feeding…

  1. Check for healthy bark below the chewed area.
  2. Prune damaged stems down to the fresh bark if there is any.
  3. Wait for new growth. And be patient! It can take a really long time for your shrub to restore itself, in some cases, 2-plus years.
  4. Protect your shrub from further damage using the fencing method above.
  5. Apply repellents

If your tree was damaged by rabbit feeding…

It’ll have a hard time bouncing back, or in the worst case won’t recover at all. If the damage goes, say, ¼ of the way around the trunk or less, keep an eye on your tree to see if it heals naturally over the next few seasons. If damage runs about halfway around the trunk, there’s a smaller chance the tree will survive, but no harm in waiting to see what happens. Or, if you’d rather not deal with the suspense, get an arborist’s opinion.

Trees that have been chewed all the way around the trunk more than likely won’t survive. In this case, the best next step is to remove and replace the tree

Protect Newly Planted Trees and Shrubs from Voles and Rabbits

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Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Act now to protect your new plantings from winter damage caused by voles.

Voles are small mice-like animals that live in grassy fields, meadows and under bushy evergreens and brush piles. They leave trails in the lawn under the snow when scurrying about looking food such as seeds, fleshy roots of perennials and the bark of young trees and shrubs.

Protect new plantings by pulling mulch back from the base of trees and shrubs. Consider installing a cylinder of ¼” mesh hardware cloth around young and newly planted trees and shrubs. Sink the bottom 4 inches of the hardware cloth into the ground. Create a barrier of hardware cloth at least 4 feet high to help curb rabbit damage. These furry critters also feed on the bark of trees and shrubs when food is scarce in winter.

A bit more information: Deer are another threat to landscape plants. Apply repellents before they start feeding. Sturdy 6-foot-high fencing surrounding small areas of new plantings can help. Fencing should be far enough away to prevent deer from reaching over to eat, but small to prevent them from jumping into the secured space.

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Rabbits Eating Bark Off Trees – Preventing Rabbit Damage To Trees

The sight of a bunny on the lawn may warm your heart, but not if it’s eating the bark off your trees. Rabbit damage to trees can cause serious injury or even the death of the tree. It’s best to take action to prevent damage as soon as you see rabbits on your property.

When rabbits eating bark off trees leave bare wood all the way around the tree, the damage is called girdling. The sap can’t flow past the damaged area, so the top part of the tree gradually dies. There is no way to repair this type of rabbit tree damage, so it’s best to remove and replace the tree.

How to Protect Trees from Rabbits

The only sure way of preventing rabbit damage is to surround the base of the tree with a cylinder made of hardware cloth. Use wire with holes no more than 1/4 inch in diameter and as tall as the rabbit can reach, which is about 18 inches off the ground. You should also factor in the expected snowfall because rabbits can stand on top of snow to reach the tree. Allow 2 to 4 inches of space between the tree and the wire. Fasten the hardware cloth securely to the ground so that the rabbit can’t get under it, or better yet, bury the lower portion of the cylinder underground.

Habitat modification can also play a role in preventing rabbit damage. Remove stacks of rocks or firewood, tangled brush and tall weeds from your property, leaving rabbits no place to hide. Habitat modification is most effective in urban areas where there is no other cover nearby.

There are no toxic agents approved for use against rabbits, but some commercial repellents are effective. Read the label carefully before using a repellent and apply it according to the package instructions. Most repellents make the tree taste bad, but in lean times, a starving rabbit will chew on the tree regardless of the taste.

Trapping is a good way to get rid of rabbits on your property, but you should first check with your cooperative extension office about regulations concerning the trapping of rabbits. In some areas, you need a permit or license. Most local regulations require that you either release the rabbit unharmed on the same property or kill it immediately. Taking the rabbit out to the country for release isn’t usually an option.

Trees damaged by rabbits may be saved

Weymouth, Mass.

When the snow had finally melted from around several long-established apple trees, Louis Abelli of Framingham discovered what some orchardists fear the most: The trees had been completely girdled by mice or rabbits in a broad band 8 to 16 inches wide.

If there was any value left in those trees, it was as fuel for the family fireplace; thus, Mr. Abelli marked them down for felling later in the summer. that was in the winter of 1978, yet today those trees are still standing — alive and well and becoming steadily more fruitful.

What happened was this: E. Dexter Davis, well-known in horticultural circles hereabouts, suggested to Mr. Abelli that he not destroy the trees. Then, armed with some clear plastic film, Mr. Davis set about repairing the damage.

Bark, says Mr. Davis, is made up of many layers. Quite often the mice, or other tree-girdling critters, leave a layer of cambium over the wood that is too fine for the human eye to detect. With a little assistance this thin bark layer will sustain the tree while normal bark slowly reforms over the damaged area. Left on its own the tissue-thin cambium layer might never make it. It would readily fall victim to the hot sun and drying wind.

In this instance, clear plastic, two or more layers thick, was wrapped around the trunks and taped above and below the wounded area. In the resulting humid environment beneath the plastic film, what was left of the bark was able to continue working for the tree. At the same time the light, shining through the plastic, encouraged the formation of new bark.

Whenever the plastic became noticeably brittle or tore, it was replaced.

Obviously, an almost invisible bark layer cannot serve the needs of a tree as adequately as undamaged bark. the trees were noticeably set back the first year , leaf coverage was sparse, and there was no flowering or fruiting at all. But last year they came strongly into leaf and there was some fruiting. At the same time the bark thickened noticeably.

This year new plastic has been placed around the affected area for probably the last time. A moderate harvest is expected in the fall, and next year the trees should be able to go it alone once again, except for the obvious winter precautions which all good orchardists take against girdling.

What this effort has done for Mr. Abelli is to put his established semidwarf trees back into full production in three years and at relatively little cost. In contrast, expensive new semidwarf trees would only start to fruit in the third year at best, and probably not for four or more years. And it would be several years after that before Mr. Abelli could count on a heavy apple harvest.

If there’s a moral to this example of horticultural ingenuity, it is this: There may be much more to a girdled tree than firewood.

Apple tree with severe rabbit damage

I don’t speak the local language and I don’t see my man becoming that shoulder – Oo. I am sure they know the walls are ‘paper’. They just don’t care, and it is the whole house of people with similar attitude. It’s life. Thanks for the idea. I wish I had an oven though – one of the main reasons I cant wait to get the new place – lol. This flat is like it should begin as a building site. The trouble about a new one is to get then all in a good condition before it is full of things and no place to put anything for the time of some work. Yea yea – rent a storage – but I prefer less costs of renting and more money for the finish the fact being that we will need most furniture new too. People like to hang a lot of curtains here and there do they not? I like them covering the windows – and that is it. Other than that – thick is a good idea to keep outside out for sure – where it comes to sounds. And to keep that extra sun out too. I am not such found of the southern heat – not at all. However doorways for example – I don’t even want to think of some fabric on them. Ugh – its just one step away from beads hanging in front of the kitchen opening missing that door. Granny had curtains in front of bathroom door.. I do not know where she got that fabric from… Yes there are nice fabrics too. If one wants nice fabrics for curtains it better reach the floor – and then I must lift that to clean? Horrible how lazy I am! I find most curtains too short if they do not reach all the way down. But you people can believe I will soon be asking about tips on how to make your home as easy to clean as possible… short of hiring the maid or bitching to the man to do it. My body is not anymore good to be constantly doing those little things – mostly it argues against me like a little kid – so I will have to include ‘no work’ options to my ideas. Other than that I would easily consider many little projects. That aside. I have been considering about acoustic panels – well art work. We happen to like some of that fantasy art which is more for computer desk tops – and such – but some of it is absolutely divine. So in one space we could use some images like that for the walls and maybe a large family photo – from our trip at summer. Well I know that apparently some companies do that kind of things – letting you choose images your self. Also – I think I paid about 124 € for some 5 m of fabric that was around 2.5m wide – just recently. It was for my Mom’s curtains in the living room. Maybe one could find a fabric to upholster over some kind of a structure and then use wooden frames to finish the sides. Might just save me from putting a new wall paper on that wall – lol. And then I start thinking of cleaning it. How would one keep that clean – dusted? Carpets omg – well that would be really ‘medieval’ – people used to put the carpets on the walls to keep the cold out. They was not always to be walked on. Its a true bit of history that. But I think if I were to consider an actual carpet – any possible noise control products set aside – I would need to become an other person. Too many colors in one (often – in sense of having that on many walls), too much dust collected… I’ll have to go with just some area rugs on floors where one might keep the feet longer – to make the floors feel more warm. But then there is the problem – they have rules against taking your carpets outside to give them a shake – what?! I am not going to pay for a cleaner bill when it could just be beaten a bit! The surprises I keep running into. Thank you again. You can be sure I will consider anything if it could be turned acceptable an idea. The thing is that I would like to have less ‘wall art’ and more meaningful art – but less of that too is more. Like those paintings I have about our summer home. Photos just aren’t the same. Even if I want each room to have a different leading color – dark broken tones – I don’t want the experience of several colors in same space. That is also why I am bit worried about multiple solutions added – as they would bring in a new dimension to textures and patterns again too. A mix of 1970s and a boudoir is not the ideal for me. Sorry if I am bit ‘nothing works’ today. I have spent the morning looking at real estate adds and am utterly bored about what is available. I stop to think every option – how can I use this place – and run into a ton of work.. and increasingly many open kitchens. That is bit sad.

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