There are a number of animals that will chew on the bark of trees and shrubs. Normally, bark is not a preferred food source but during a long, cold and snowy winter many critters will resort to bark when everything else is gone or covered up.

In the home landscape, bark damage may be caused by the following animals:

  1. Deer - Normally, these beautiful landscape pests prefer to nibble on hostas, leaves and tender shoots of our plants. As mentioned before, in a tough winter, they may have to move down their preferred food list and chew on bark. When they feed, they will pull and twist leaving ragged patches of bark. Also, during the rutting i.e. mating season, bucks will rub their antlers against trees which can cause a lot of damage to tree trunks.

  2. Rabbits - Like deer, rabbits would prefer nice, lush green foliage or tender stems. However, in the winter, they too will resort to chewing on the bark of trees and shrubs. Since they are short, their damage will be limited to the bottom foot to 18 inches of the plant...unless they have mounds of snow to stand on. When they chew, they generally leave a distinctive impression of their two rodent front teeth.

  3. Field Mice or Meadow Voles - In a heavy winter with cold, snowy weather, these critters can do a lot of damage. Generally, they will tunnel through mulch beneath the snow and start chewing on the bark at ground level. If they damage enough of the bark around the circumference of the tree, they can girdle it resulting in death of the plant. You might see tiny scratches on the wood which is exposed when the bark is gone.

  4. Squirrels - Sometimes in the early spring, you will find small strips of bark all over the ground beneath a tree. Often this is due to squirrels stripping off the bark in order to get at the sweet sap below.

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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