Earlier this spring I walked onto the site of one of my edible forest garden research plots. It was in Mississauga at the Iceland Teaching Garden, which is beautifully surrounded by woodlots/meadows on all sides but one, which is residential housing. As I got closer to my apple trees and surrounding plants, which at the time were all just little babies, everything looked perfect as could be–buds were beginning to burst on the apple trees and all the herbaceous plants were reaching up out of the woodchip bowls we had made for them.
However…as I got closer to look at the apple trees I noticed something near the trunk–where the apple tree meets the soil surface. There were bite marks!
Every single apple tree had good chunks of bark missing from the trunk leaving the vulnerable veins and arteries (xylem and phloem) of the tree ravaged and exposed. My babies! Who would’ve done this to each of my 8 babies. This is more than a kid falling and scraping their knee, this is the equivalent of strangling to a tree–girdling is the term. If the trees trunk bark had been chewed, scratched, scraped, or whatever, all the way around then the tree would most likely die because it would no longer be able to transfer water or nutrients. You could imagine what was going through my head: “Sheet! Sheet, what am I going to do?! Are my trees going to die?” But then, with closer observation and a cooler head, I saw that even though some pretty heavy chewing occurred, not one tree had chews completely around the the trunk! This means that there was a good chance that the tree could survive and continue growing. Whew! Needless to say, I ran home and grabbed some tree guards to wrap around my babies’ trunks to prevent this from happening again.
Here’s one of our Worker Bees, Richard, showing us how to do it and some cool tips:
Animals that do this include: voles (farmers’ name for mice), rabbits, ground hogs, and other small rodents. Dear may also do this if desperate except they have access to much higher areas of the tree. Typically tree guards are used on younger trees that are still vulnerable due to size. Put them on before winter comes (food sources dwindle for animals) and can be removed once there is an abundance of greenery in the spring.