All Right, Who’s Been Chewing On Sally Holmes?

Now that the snow has finally melted and left us for the season (please, please, please), I’ve had a chance to inspect the winter damage inflicted on the garden by the neighborhood rodents. My investigation reveals that, once again, rodent enemy #1 is none other than:

Petey “the Gnasher” Cottontail

Yes, the cloyingly cute bunny rabbit, known to his criminal friends as Petey “the Gnasher” Cottontail. How appropriate for Easter! And what has Peter done that I should indict him so? Well, I would show you except that the victims are a young Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) ‘Iroquois’ and a young witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), chewed down to within 3″ of the ground. Kind of hard to take a compelling photo of some 3″ sticks.

Petey also chewed on some dwarf grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa ‘Muskingam’), but the damage was not so extensive.

But how do I know that “the Gnasher” is guilty? Because his MO is unmistakable. I learned in my Plant Health class at the Chicago Botanic Garden that a rabbit’s bite is a sharp clean cut, like someone used a good pair of garden pruners.

In addition to rabbits, some violence against plants was committed by unknown assailants. Most disturbing is that someone has been gnawing on ‘Sally Holmes’, a favorite shrub rose. I put the evidence before you. (I also apologize for the quality of the photo, I took it with my phone – all the good pictures on this blog are taken by Judy). I’m guessing this was mice or voles, but I’m not sure.

Rosa 'Sally Holmes'
Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’. Kind of hard to see the gnawing, you have to look closely

And so you can understand why this upsets me, here is a picture of ‘Sally Holmes’ during happier days.

Rosa 'Sally Holmes'
‘Sally Holmes’ is a great shrub rose with lovely cream flowers. 

Hopefully she will make a full recovery.

Less upsetting but more mysterious is the damage to this shrub Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica). The surface of the stem has been almost shredded – you can see long woody shreds hanging from the stem.

Lonicera tatarica
You can see there are long shreds hanging from the stem.


At first I thought this looked like damage from young deer rubbing their antlers – but thankfully we have no deer in this area. I’ve also read that crows use shreds of grape bark to make nests, could something like that be happening? In any case, the more damage done the better. This Lonicera tatarica is an inherited plant and an invasive I’d love to remove. This could provide me with just the excuse I need, heh heh.

Fortunately, I did remember to protect most of my young shrubs with chicken wire over the winter, so the damage could have been much worse.

Have you had a chance to evaluate the winter rodent damage in your garden yet? Would you say it is felonious or just a misdemeanor?

46 Comments on “All Right, Who’s Been Chewing On Sally Holmes?”

  1. OHHHH I have the same shredding on my honeysuckle…we were thinking raccoons??? My suspects are all felons! The darn squirrels that are fed heavily by a neighbor have invaded our yard. They love the rich soil around my plants to bury their nuts! Oh and they have ran away with a couple of my coral bells!! Darn buggers! I can’t stand em….but I hope as the season warms and we are out there more that they will find somewhere else to create mischief!!!! Sorry to all the squirrel lovers out there…a few would be fine…we have an army!

  2. I have similar shredding most years on my Kolkwitzia (“Beauty Bush”?), which I think is the same family as honeysuckle, and have always put it down to the cold weather. It invariably recovers and the stem looks quite normal again by mid summer. No idea what it can be though!

  3. I’m lucky enough to live in the woods so most animals find what they need out in the forest and leave the ornamentals alone. I feel your pain though. I was going to suggest hardware cloth around trunks and stems because the holes in chicken wire are big enough to let mice in. With hardware cloth the holes are small enough to keep even them out. You can find it at any hardware store, but you’ll need tin snips to cut it.

  4. I noticed some damage mid-winter on the few unprotected plants – raspberry canes and a high bush cranberry that is new to the yard – so I wrapped them in poultry netting. I assumed all the damage I have seen over the years has been rabbits, but now I see some was mice and voles. I’m hoping Finn will become a “garden cat” and help discourage some of these critters, especially the ones that take shelter under the shed.

  5. We have both deer and rabbits here, and they do the same level of damage — but I can tell which is which by the way they prune. Rabbits, as you say, do a clean, sharp cut on the diagonal. Deer rip the stems and leave rough cut stubs. Either way, my reaction is the same, not unlike yours.

    The first years the rabbits were merciless with my aronia Brilliantissima, but it’s a suckering shrub and the more it was damaged, the more the plant put out new stems. Now I have a glorious tall stand of aronia, but I never thought I would!

  6. I get rabbits in my garden and had a similar experience a few years ago as a bunny killed my Japanese Maple. I too pegged him as a criminal and did this really cute post on him complete with his arrest photo. I hope you don’t mind me leaving the link. I wanted you to see it because of your cute story and characterization of Petey “the Gnasher” Cottontail. Ironically, the link is in my post today on painting digitally.

  7. I don’t really know for sure, but my first thought on seeing your rose bush damage was voles, due to the round holes you can see in the ground just to the right of the plant. The bad news is that voles can wreak damage underground as well as above ground. The good news is that their populations will fluctuate all by themselves, so this year may be bad, but next year is unlikely to be. By the way, my favorite control for small rodents of all varieties is to keep the garter snake and rat snake populations healthy in my yard and garden…..

    Good luck!

  8. Over the past few years I’ve seen more and more damage in my garden from rabbits and groundhogs.I’m used to having to protect plants from the deer but rabbits are a new threat. They are so cute but they can really wreak havoc on a garden.

  9. I send you my sympathies. If it’s not one threat to our gardens it’s another! In my case, it’s squirrels. I spend as much time covering and protecting plants from the squirrels as I do caring for the plants themselves. It’s exhausting!

  10. Uh, yeah, the bunnies were hungry in my garden this winter, too. And the snow levels were so high that they gnawed the tops off the side branches off one of my Dwarf Lilac bushes. I guess I’ll be pruning it a little more severely this year, after the blooms fade. Dang long-eared predators! They’ve also chewed on the low-growing Junipers. I don’t care about those as much, but they’re looking mighty scraggly. I feel your pain!

  11. Rabbits are incredibly destructive in the garden. A few years ago I couldn’t grow a Heuchera or an Echinacea to save my life. I lost Asters, and had to cage young shrubs including large varieties like Oakleaf Hydranagea. They would build nests right in my fenced in back yard where my dog would find them and kill the little ones. Since the cat appeared I no longer have as many problems although I just noticed that my very small Spiraea ‘Pink Ice’ is back down to a nub. Grrrr…

  12. Sally Holmes looks gorgeous shame about the bunny and those gnashers. I have trouble with squirrels and a mouse in my shed but they don’t damage my plants, just my bird food. Neighbours have trouble with their direct sown peas early in the year getting eaten by mice. Oh I tell a lie, the squirrels dig up my bulbs. I protect them with netboxes and also keep pots inside the greenhouse before they start growing.

  13. Hi Jason, I’m so glad that we don’t have to contend with destructive wildlife such as bunnies, moles and deer. There are supposed to be plants unappetising to rabbits and deer but I think cage protection is the only sure way to go to ensure plants don’t get nibbled.

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