So before I write about spring cleanup in the garden, which is going pretty well, I have to touch on an unpleasant subject. Namely, my failure to protect all my woody plants from girdling.


Rabbits will chew the outer bark off of certain woody plants during the winter when other foods are scarce. Plants like Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora), above. Rabbits like young woody plants best, but this Serviceberry is at least 15 years old, so I guess they decided not to discriminate on the basis of age any longer. Funny thing, it’s the first time this plant was bothered by rabbits or any other mammal.

sally stick

Rabbits also like roses. With roses, they’ll eat the whole cane as long as it is sufficiently tender. The little stick you see above is all that is left currently of what was once a fairly robust ‘Sally Holmes’.

2014-07-06 12.16.47 rose sally holmes
‘Sally Holmes’

This is the third time, and the second year in a row, that ‘Sally Holmes’ has been reduced to a nubbin. Each time she has sent up new canes, but the blooms are later and less prolific. Can this go on indefinitely?



Oh, and they also got at a newer Serviceberry – see the unfocused picture above, with the chicken wire applied after the damage was done. And they chewed on a new Witch Hazel (Hamemelis x intermedia) I planted this fall.

Petey “the Gnasher” Cottontail in our back garden. Don’t let the cuteness fool you.


This is all an object lesson in the perils of procrastination. I kept thinking to myself, I should really protect those shrubs with chicken wire, and then I let it go for another weekend. And now look.

Serviceberry 'Autumn Brilliance'
Serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’ flowers

So now I have to see if the stems have been killed above the chew marks. The answer will be yes, unless somehow enough of the vascular tissue has survived. More than likely I will have to cut these shrubs down to below the chew marks, which is almost ground level. What a dreary prospect.

For the moment, the upper stems give no sign of dying, but it’s early still. Guess I’ll just try to preserve my optimism as long as possible.

42 Comments on “That Gnawing Feeling”

  1. So sorry to hear of your problem, and so frustrating for you as a keen gardener. Do you or your neighbours have a cat ? I ask because when rabbits were breeding in my garden, one of the neighbours cats was coming and killing all the babies. They soon moved house, thank goodness, otherwise my shrubs would have been like yours.

  2. With our mild winter I thought my plants were going to escape the depredations of the Gnawing Gang but as time has gone on the rotten buggers have turned to eating everything that is not caged. My DB has said I don’t know how many times that I should have caged this and that. If I did that the garden would look like a fence factory. To top it all off I accused rabbits of eating the blossoms of my Snowdrops and wouldn’t you know I looked out the window and saw a squirrel eating the blossoms! My garden is being attacked by two fronts. UGH!!!! As you say, don’t let the cuteness fool you.

  3. I saw a program on a Canadian station about aspen trees having a substance in their bark that prevents rabbits from digesting the bark. The rabbits get sick. Someone should bottle the stuff. Rather than a virus that sickens humans, how about one for rodents?

  4. After our great rabbit debacle last year, I feel pretty confident that your damage won’t need hacking to the ground. It looks pretty superficial to me so I’d give it a good while before you whack it back that hard! I’m always amazed at how resilient they are. Good luck though!

  5. I guess that’s what happened to my rose that I can’t find. 😦 Darned rabbit. One of our two dogs killed a rabbit mid winter, and my little terrier really tries. I have to admit, the rabbits are made of pretty stern stuff to keep coming into a yard filled with dog.

  6. I am totally taken with cuteness. My three attempts at growing yellowwood trees (cladastris kentukea) were stimied by cottontails. At last, after chewing shoot to the ground for two years in a row, one tree had grown sufficient roots and was able to prevail above ground. Victory!

  7. Non-gardener me had no idea rabbits could be so destructive. I always have thought of them as grass munchers, thanks to too many sweet but unrealistic books, I suppose. I’m still trying to figure out what ate through the rocker panels on both sides of my car. Squirrel? Raccoon? Dog? I have no idea, and neither did my insurance agent. She said, “Oh, yeh. We see that a lot.” Better keep an eye on your chicken wire, too.-

  8. Sadly I subscribe to the same caging practices and many of my plants look just as badly chewed. I did try and save a few things after losing two witch hazels and a new dogwood, but the blueberries took a beating. I’m wondering if I can plant anything more tempting to lure them away…

  9. It is ironic, isn‘t it… we plant a garden for wildlife and then they go and destroy it! Our problem here is mice. And maybe a hare or two. Something is nibbling at various plants as they emerge this spring. Fortunately the shrubs haven‘t been damaged… yet! Hope your serviceberry recovers.

  10. Sorry to hear of the damage to your plants caused by cute vermin. I hope they survive and eventually recover. For new susceptible plants you’re putting in, you could try and get in the habit of adding the protection as part of the planting process – perhaps before you do the watering (as you probably do that without thinking. So: dig the hole, fertilise the bottom, plant, backfill, protect, water. Then it’s not something you need to try and get round to doing afterwards.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: