I have been reading articles about how voracious the rabbits and deer have been this past winter. They have been very hungry stripping the bark off our trees and shrubs as high as the snow level. Have you seen pictures people are posting online about how their trees and shrubs look? Some are pretty bad and the question becomes: Am I going to lose my tree or shrub?
I always thought if there is damage that means the end of it, but not necessarily. A recent article that I read from the Minnesota State Horticulture Society has given me a new glimmer of hope for some of those damaged plants.
What does the word “girdle” mean? It means there has been damage all the way around the trunk of the tree or shrub. The bark has been chewed or stripped off. That means the flow of nutrients and water to the tree has been interrupted due to the damage. If the tree bark has been removed and the damage extends to the phloem and cambium layers under the bark then your problem is pretty serious. All the nutrients that keep a tree healthy flow through those layers under the bark. If you notice the bark is gone, a sure way to tell if it is rabbit or deer damage is to check for poop under the tree. If the tree is girdled all the way around the tree will not survive long term. It might leaf out this summer, but you will start to notice a decline in the health of the tree. But, and this is your glimmer of hope, if your tree has in-tact bark around 25% or more of its trunk, it can survive.
If your tree has been damaged and you think it is salvageable treat it with lots of TLC. Water it consistently throughout the summer and into the fall. Apply appropriate fertilizer as well. Shrubs often grow from the base of the plant and can be pruned way back and let them regrow. It might take a couple of years for them to grow back to the size they were before the damage was done, but they will probably survive. Again give them TLC as well with water and fertilizer.
So the next question is - How can I prevent this from happening again? Rabbits don’t like the texture of burlap, so you can wrap the trunks of your trees with it in the fall. But make sure it is high enough to be above the snow- line. Fencing and or chicken wire is also another option. There are sprays for foliage that you can apply, but they tend to wear off after a couple of weeks. It is sometimes hard to apply things during the winter months.
Some years the damage is worse than others - or there are more rabbits and deer in the wild. But as gardeners we all know what patience is. We are sometimes at war with Mother Nature! But the rewards far outweigh the trouble they cause.