For most of the year, the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) tends to shrink into the background. With dark green foliage, this plant is less than showy. But the onset of fall brings the burning bush to center stage. Vibrant red foliage and red berries make it a standout. Birds are attracted to its berries, but beware, rabbits are eager to sink their teeth into it.
Careful observation of the burning bush and the surrounding area is of utmost importance when detecting rabbit damage. Rabbit sightings near the plant, round feces and damage to lower branches are all indicators. Feces is rough, circular and 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in size. Damaged branches will appear white rather than their natural dark gray. Smaller branches may be chewed off at a 45-degree angle. In areas of heavy snow, rabbit damage may appear higher up on the plant. Rabbits chew the bark in search of the edible plant material just below the surface. If the gnawed area circles the entire branch, the top portion will not survive. This branch will die back the following summer.
A well-established burning bush will regrow in about two seasons. To treat the plant, prune just below the chewed area. The plant will send out new growth along the remaining stems. Consider the plant's appearance when growth is complete. Uneven trimming will result in a poorly shaped tree once the plant has filled in.
Fine mesh or chicken wire are suitable choices for deterring rabbits. A simple cylinder surrounding the trunk of the burning bush is sufficient. Make sure the size of the mesh is 1/4 inch or less. To prevent digging, bend the lower 6 inches of the wire at a 90-degree angle. Bury this section 1 inch underground. The wire cage should be at least 3 to 4 feet tall.
A variety of homemade and store-bought repellents are available. The most effective repellents work on the senses of smell and taste. Repellents are best utilized before major damage takes place. When rabbit populations are high and food sources are scarce, repellents will be of little help.
The area surrounding your burning bush should be considered. Large piles of brush, overgrown grasses and obvious hiding spots will appeal to a rabbit. When provided with food and a home, rabbits will be interested. A tidy garden has less appeal to a hungry rabbit who does not want to be seen. Once the garden is cleared, space can be provided for natural predators. A perch for birds such as hawks and owls may encourage the natural cycle of life.
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