eating at the base of trees

What’s Eating The Bark At The Base Of Trees and Shrubs and Can I Save My Plants?

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

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 to keep 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 decidous shrubs and trees everything below the damaged area is alive.

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

I have grown Pearlbush 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 snowcover than normal) the voles enjoyed the bark. It will be bare right down to the ground.

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

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.

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