Is there any possibility of reviving a fallen redbud tree….we think it was bitten and gnawed by rabbits over winter. The branches are not totally dried up and can still bend. So I am wondering whether a bit if root simulant can help it root? It is about 4ft tall. Please advise.
Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.
There are a number of animals that like to feed on trees during the winter months as food is scarce during that period.
Voles and mice can be a serious problem; they travel under the snow which acts as an insulating blanket and provides cover from predators. Rabbits, groundhogs and porcupines may also damage trees by burrowing under roots or chewing on bark. Squirrels will feed on the bark or buds of trees and shrubs through the winter when there is little else to feed on.
Through the rest of the year, there is usually sufficient food present which is more palatable, preventing the trees from being damaged in the same ways. In winter, these creatures will chew on the bark near ground level thus damaging the cambium (The cambium is very close to the outside of the tree and has only the bark for protection). In many cases the damage will entirely circle the trunk, girdling the tree; this is called ring-barking and totally cuts off the vascular system of the tree.
In terms of damage to the tree, it depends on how extensive or how deep the damage has been. As I mentioned above, unless it completely encircles the trunk, the tree may cope with the wound. When wounded in one area, a healthy tree begins to compartmentalize the injury thus sealing it and, at the same time, starts growing barriers against decay. If only the outer bark is lost, the tree can typically recover with a bit of extra attention to watering. On the other hand, if deeper damage or girdling, trees sometimes can not recover as there is disruption to their vascular system.
So, here are things you can do to help: this year, ensure your tree gets proper amount of water and nutrients in the soil (with compost). You can apply mulch around the tree but ensure it is placed 20cm (8″) away from trunk to avoid covering the tree collar and prevent any diseases from hurting further.
Next Fall, use plastic tree guards/protectors, available from your local garden center, or make cages of chicken wire around the trunk to deny these animals further access to bark. Please note that, if using tree guards, they need to be removed in the spring to avoid harbouring pests and allow for tree expansion. Cages can stay around the tree as long as they are not touching the trunk.
Best of luck with your young tree and thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.