Rabbit damage is classified as either shoot or bark damage. Shoot damage occurs on new growth and has distinctive angled cuts. This damage is rarely fatal. Bark damage occurs when rabbits remove the bark from around a branch. If too much bark is removed, all growth above the damage will die. If you’re dealing with a shrub, it may rebound from both types of damage with only a little bit of help from you. Trees will only recover if the trunk has not been heavily damaged.
Remove any arborvitae trees that have girdled trunks. Girdling is when the bark has been completely removed. Wait to dig up arborvitae shrubs even if they appear heavily damaged. Shrubs will often produce new suckers or growth at their base and may recover.
Wait until the spring to prune damaged branches. Trim branches just below the damage if only part of the branches or the shoots are damaged. Shoot damage occurs on new growth and has distinctive angled cuts. This damage is rarely fatal, but can affect a shrub or tree’s shape. Rabbits and deer like to eat the shoot or new growth on arborvitae.
Prune branches down to the ground or trunk if the bark has been stripped halfway or more around. Any wood above this point is dead.
Wait a few weeks to see if the tree or shrub will recover. Your shrub should rejuvenate and you’ll see new growth emerging from around the base of the shrub.
Install a 4-foot fence around your arborvitae to prevent further rabbit damage while it is recovering.
Things You Will Need
- Pruning sheers
- 4-foot fence
- Don't bother with wound dressings, pruning paints, latex paints or similar protective barriers because they do not help prevent rabbit damage, according to Rebecca Finneran with Michigan State University Extension.
- Northscaping.com: Rabbit Damage
- Iowa State University Extension; Rabbit Damage to Trees and Shrubs; Richard Jauron; March 2010
- North Dakota State University Extension Service; Questions on: Rabbits; Ron Smith
- Michigan State University Extension; Animal Feeding Damage and the Landscape; Rebecca Finneran; 2011
- Melinda Meyers.com; Rabbit Damage; Melinda Meyers