Rabbits can cause a lot of damage to newly planted trees by eating away at the bark, exposing the tender wood underneath. Trees are especially susceptible during the winter, when food is scarce. Protecting your tree may be as simple as wrapping it.
Rabbits prefer trees that have thin bark that is easy to chew through. Young trees, especially those just planted, are at the highest risk due to their thin bark. Deciduous trees, such as willows, poplar and apple, are also at risk due to their thin bark.
Evidence of rabbit damage can be found by looking at the bark. Damage runs along the bottom of the tree trunk, as low as an inch to as high as they can reach by standing on their hind legs. Rabbit teeth marks run horizontally since they must turn their head sideways to get a good grip on the bark.
One-quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth from a hardware store is the best protection for a tree. The wrapping should be slightly larger than the trunk to allow for tree growth. Plastic tree guards can be effective as well, but these should be removed during the summer months to prevent excess heat from building up around the trunk. Moisture from excessive heat causes disease and peeling bark.
Rabbits can be effectively deterred using tree wrap. Wrap should be buried 2 to 3 inches below the soil, and should reach 18 to 24 inches above the year's projected snowline. This will prevent rabbits from being able to stand on their hind legs on top of the snow and feeding on the bark. Tree wrapping should be done in November after temperatures cool.
For added protection, apply repellent in addition to tree wrapping. Repellents protect trees for several months, if not the whole winter, with one application. Application made in the late fall when temperatures are above freezing ensures the repellent sticks to the tree bark. Dissolve seven pounds of lump rosin into one gallon of alcohol for an effective home-made repellent. Apply it with a paint brush to the trunk and lower branches.