This past season we received questions from new tree owners concerned about the wildlife that was eating the leaves off their saplings. In particular, hungry rabbits are becoming more common especially with increasing home development throughout the valley.
The most common tree damage attributed to rabbits is denuding-- or eating the leaves off of a tree-- and bark stripping, or eating the ripe green layer just beneath the bark particularly during the winter when food is scarce (pictured right). The most effective way to prevent rabbit damage is to place chicken wire fencing around the tree(s). It is important to place the fencing far enough away from the tree so rabbits cannot get to the leaves through the fence, but not so far and low that they can jump over and fit between the fence and the tree. Also, try and place the bottom of the fence 3-6 inches underground so rabbits so do not go under the fence and reinforce the bottom part with extra wire to make the openings smaller (refer to the example below). You can place tree trimmings outside the fencing area to serve as a decoy food source during the winter, as rabbits favor twigs and buds over tree bark. Repellants can also be used as odor and/or taste deterrents.
To protect against bark stripping, you can temporarily place protective wrap around the trunk and low branches of your tree (pictured right).
What happens if your tree loses all its leaves due to rabbits? Most mature trees can survive a defoliation and young trees can survive a single incident. If you haven’t already, place fencing around the tree as described above. Water the tree as if it has leaves, do not over compensate for the missing foliage. If it is in the heat of the summer, shade the tree until the new leaves reach maturity.
If your tree does get damaged by rabbits, feel free to post your questions on our ask the arborist forum or advice. And if Fido won’t stay away from your young trees, check out our blog on how to keep dogs away from trees.
http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/rabbits.html (fencing diagram)
http://www.vpaaz.wildapricot.org/askthearborist (forum link)
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