Mouse, vole and rabbit damage to fruit plants
Bruce Bordelon, Professor, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
Mice, voles and rabbits can be serious pests of fruit crops such as apples, blueberries and brambles. During the winter months these rodents feed on the bark of fruit crops, especially when there are long periods of snow cover. This feeding damage can seriously damage or kill plants by girdling the trunk (Figures 1, 2, and 3).
There are a number of methods to control damage from rodent feeding. On many commercial plantings, plastic tree wraps or woven-wire cylinders are used to prevent the animals from reaching the trunk (Figures 4 and 5.). This is especially useful to discourage rabbit feeding. Tree shelters can also be used, but their use is discouraged during winter as they can lead to excessive temperature swings and trunk damage.
Several different types of repellents are available, but their effectiveness is temporary and not foolproof. Repellent sprays are useful during the growing season, but are less effective at deterring trunk damage during the dormant season.
With mice and voles, it sometimes becomes necessary to poison the rodents to reduce damage. Poison baits are applied to control the population. The baits must be carefully dispersed to prevent accidental feeding by birds and other animals. A bait station (Figure 6) is a very good method to disperse baits. The baits are kept dry inside the plastic pipe, and the small opening is only large enough for mice and voles, the target species. Be sure to carefully read the label of any baits used and follow all label directions and restrictions.
There are a number of resources available regarding wildlife damage to plants.
See the Purdue Wildlife Conflicts Information website at http://www.wildlifehotline.info/
See Diagnosing and Controlling Wildlife Damage in Hardwood Plantings FNR-216 (pdf file)
Click image to enlarge
Figure 1. Trunk damage on apple tree
Figure 2. Rabbit damage on crabapple
Image from Iowa State University Horticulture & Home Pest News
Figure 3. Rabbit damage on thornless blackberry
Figure 4. Tree guard
Figure 5. Young apple tree with plastic tree wrap
Figure 6. Bait station