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I've got a small (and always struggling) apple tree in my yard, which just looked at for the first time this spring and discovered that the bottom foot or so of outer bark is mostly missing.

picture of base of trunk, showing what look like vertical grooves stripping bark

I presume this is unrecoverable. Not a disaster, but a nuisance.

This is in the outer Cambridge MA area.I know I don't have deer. We do have rabbits, and rabbits, and rabbits, and opossums, racoons, and squirrels at least. Skunk. Mice. No porcupines that I know of. Quite possibly foxes/coyotes, whom I'm told have been known to try grabbing apples... but with all those rabbits and a mild winter I can't imagine them chewing on bark.

Can anyone make a reliable guess at what caused this, or do I just chalk it up to "things die"?

2 Answers 2

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You don't appear to have used a tree guard, which would prevent gnawing on the bark of a young tree. Commonly attributed to mice, but could be any several of your critters. Worry less about which critter and more about preventing any of them from gnawing the bark off. Use a tree guard on the next tree until it's a reasonable size with rough bark at the base.

Rodent (&/or lagomorph) damage is very common for young trees in snow without protection.

It might be possible to bridge graft across the damage, but it's a long shot, IMHO.

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/bridge_grafting_as_a_life_saving_procedure_for_trees

https://homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu/factsheets/trees-bridge-grafting-and-inarching/

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    Interesting. I've been in the house for about 15 years now, and the problem didn't arise until now. And the tree was here when I moved in, though relatively young. .. Oh Well. Time to consider whether something else goes into that spot.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 1:58
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    Barkwise, if it's smooth, it's young (for apples. Beech and birch are different....)
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 2:04
  • Judging by the shell husk at the base, the tree could be a horse-chestnut, in that case, it's still young. Best tree guards are made from hardware cloth (3/8" steel mesh), formed into a cylinder and tied with twist-ties. Permanent, and they let the bark stay exposed to the air (important for preventing rot); they also don't allow homes for insects beneath them, like solid plastic tree guards. If you're in deep snow country, use a four-foot high section, which will protect the tree even if you get a couple feet or more of snow. Paint it black & it'll not be noticeable in the landscape.
    – Jurp
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:51
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If it's limited to the bottom foot then it's probably rabbits.

However I'd suggest that that's NOT girdling (which in any case, I think you ought to be referring to as ring-barking): it looks superficial i.e. not all the way to the heartwood, and isn't all the way round.

If it's ring-barked, the tree will die in a year or so. In any case apply a good coat of Stockholm Tar over the damaged area and somewhat above, and as others have suggested consider some form of trunk protection extending all the way to the ground (i.e. covering the grafting callus).

Oh, and if you've got rabbits etc. it's your responsibility to feed them properly rather than leaving them to fend for themselves over the Winter. Poor things >:-)

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  • I'd be glad to feed the rabbits... to the owls and such. If the squirrels and mice can look after themselves all winter, so can their cousins. ... OK, lemme see what I can do.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 9:39
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    NO NO NO Do NOT seal the wound with anything! From Purdue University: "at least not inhibited. First, it is essential to avoid limiting oxygen availability to the wounded tissues. Oxygen is necessary for proper recovery. For example, painting a wound with any kind of material that interferes or impedes oxygen will slow or even prevent wound closure by poor callus formation." Citation: purdue.edu/fnr/extension/tree-wounds-and-healing. There are many other such sites.
    – Jurp
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:47
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    See gardening.stackexchange.com/a/13762/6806 with regard to the throughly debunked myth of using such products being in any way good.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:56
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    Feed the rabbits properly? That's a naive thing to say. No matter how much food you provide, they'll rapidly multiply to the point where you're still not feeding them properly. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 11:00
  • If there is snow cover on the ground , rabbits eat bark and branches. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 14:44

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