What’s eating the bark at the base of trees and shrubs, and can I save my plant?
The answer to this question is, “it depends.” Let’s deal with some of the basic questions first.
What strips bark off young trees and shrubs?
In my experience, there are two animals which do the vast majority of winter damage. The first is the rabbit, and the second is the common meadow vole. (looks like a fat mouse with a much shorter tail – see picture above courtesy Wikimedia)
In practical terms to repair the damage, it doesn’t matter what critter did the eating. “Gone-bark” is gone no matter who enjoyed it as their salad course.
Will damaged bark kill a tree?
If the damage totally encircles the tree so there is no bark at all in a complete, encircling ring, then the growth above the damaged area will die.
There is nothing you can apply to the damaged area of a tree or
shrub tokeep the top of the plant alive. No matter what the Internet says. Do not apply wound dressing. Do not apply tar. Do not wrap in tape. Do not…
The plant will provide its own protective systems. But anything above a complete bark removal around the trunk is going to die. (Sorry.)
So my plant is dead!
Anything above the damaged area is dead,
But everything below the ring of missing bark is alive.
At least, in the majority of
Will The Plant Regrow?
If you cut the plant off right at or below the damaged section, there’s a very good chance it will resprout. And, it will regrow very quickly. Remember, there’s a full root under there and it will pump a lot of energy up to regrow the top.
This is not to say that every plant will regrow (evergreens are mostly not going to regrow with the exception of yews) but the majority of woody shrubs and trees will throw new shoots
So don’t dig up or give up on damaged plants.
Some folks decide to dig out the old plant and plant a new one. In my experience, the damaged plant will bounce back to create a full bush and outgrow a newly planted one. Remember, there’s a massive root system under there that wants/needs a top and it’s going to pump a ton of energy into creating one.
What To Do With Damaged Plants
This is a picture of the Proven Winners Pearlbush. I have grown this plant for several years (and I really like it) and pruned it to allow shade loving plants to thrive under it. This winter (2019 with a greater
I’m going to cut this to the ground and it should resprout to reform a shrub. But I’m seriously annoyed at those voles. I watched one perch up on the snowbank, take a bite and then (rather cheekily I thought) take two more nibbles before darting back down under the snow.
This is a picture of a Purple Mulberry tree with the bark stripped off. I’ll cut this to the ground and it will throw a half dozen shoots. Note what appears to be a cut at the base was done last year as the tree developed twin shoots and I chose the one to the right. Sigh. Didn’t do much good though did it?
Here’s How I’ll Prune This Tree To Regrow It
- I’ll leave every shoot on this first year. This helps the roots develop strength.
- Next year (year 2), I’ll remove one-third of the shoots.
- The third year, I’ll remove another third.
- And the fourth year, I’ll prune off everything but the strongest main stem.
Note all pruning will be done in very early spring before the buds begin to swell and leaves emerge.
Are Grafted Trees or Shrubs Different?
Yes. Grafted trees and shrubs present two options.
- If the plant throws shoots at or from below the graft they will be the rootstock and not the upper, more valuable tree/shrub. So you might as well dig up the plant and be done with it as it won’t ever look right again.
- If the plant throws shoots from above the graft (and this isn’t likely) then they’ll be fine and you can grow them as above.
I think that’s what you need to know about something eating the bark off your shrubs and trees.