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Wildlife Damage to Trees and Shrubs (05/14/20)

As we come out of winter, many people are noticing damage to their trees and shrubs caused by wildlife.

As we come out of winter, many people are noticing damage to their trees and shrubs caused by wildlife.  Rabbits, voles or other animals have girdled branches and stems – that is, they’ve stripped the bark all the way down to the wood.  Another common type of damage is where branch tips have been eaten by rabbits.

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Unfortunately, there’s very little that can be done at this point.  Mostly we need to take a wait-and-see approach.  Pruning paints will not help the tree ‘heal’ itself.

 

For shrubs, this type of damage causes little permanent harm.  The shrub will send out new shoots and leaves either from undamaged areas low on the stem (see the photo), or sometimes sending up brand new shoots from the root system. 

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For fruit trees, the source of the sprouts is important in managing the tree in the future, if the tree was grafted.  Sprouts originating above the graft union will come back as the chosen cultivar.  Sprouts originating below the graft union will be true to the rootstock, which will not produce the fruit that’s desired.  For example, if a Sweet 16 apple was grafted onto a Dolgo crabapple rootstock, then sprouts that form after damage could be either Sweet 16 or Dolgo, depending on their source.  If the sprouts form above the graft, they will be Sweet 16.  Sprouts forming below the graft union will be Dolgo.

 

Prevention is the only truly effective way to deal with wildlife damage.  Putting up some type of barrier will usually keep rabbits and voles away from trees and shrubs, but even these are no guarantee if winter snow piles up so high that the animals can get above the protected areas.

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To reiterate, at this point, the damage is done.  Wait and see how the trees or shrubs recover, and manage the re-sprouts.

 

Joe Zeleznik

NDSU Extension Forestry Specialist

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