Q: I have a September Ruby apple tree that was mauled by rabbits this winter. We had the trunk wrapped, but the snow got higher than the wrap and they chewed off bark all around the trunk. I thought it was dead after reading online that’s what usually happens, but it is budding and leafing out! This tree is a memorial for our stillborn daughter and I will do anything I can to save it. Can you help? — Sara, Fargo.
A: Let’s do everything we can to save this tree, but for now, the best thing to do with your September Ruby apple is wait and see.
Once bark is damaged by rabbits, there are no paints or sealers that should be applied. Trunk recovery is best hastened by exposure to air. Trees can compartmentalize damage, and if enough of the conducting tissue is undamaged, some trees show remarkable ability to survive.
But such damage can also cause death to the tree portions above the point of injury. Damaged trees sometimes have enough internal sap and energy reserves to leaf out in spring, but when leaves fully expand, and summer arrives, the damaged tissue might not be able to conduct water and nutrients effectively within the tree. Wilting and death of leaves and branches frequently happens at that point.
If that happens, there’s a backup plan. Rabbit injury to a trunk usually doesn’t kill the tree's roots, and your tree wrap protected a fair amount of the trunk. If the tree’s portion above the injury dies, the lower trunk will most likely sprout and continue growth. If so, carefully cut off the tree trunk above that point and allow the sprouts to grow, which can be trained into a new trunk. Please keep us posted.
Q: What do you recommend for preparing soil in a yard that has always been grass if you’d like to convert an area to a vegetable garden or flower bed? — Deb Haugen, Fargo.
A: After the turf layer is either killed or stripped away, adding organic material is a great way to prepare soil for vegetable or flower gardens, especially if the soil is heavy clay or light sand.
Add a 3-inch layer of peat moss, compost or bagged manure, then incorporate into the soil by digging or rototilling. Organic materials improve the tilth and workability of soil, allow better moisture and air exchange, and improve the nutrient-holding capacity. Organic material is somewhat of a cure-all for both too-heavy and too-light soils.
Q: My shrubs in the yard are not showing much evidence of growth. Is it a late spring, or is this evidence of winterkill? Should I trim them down? — Mike Richtarich, Britt, Minn.
A: As springs go, this would probably be considered somewhat late for tree, shrub and perennial flower startup. Besides air temperature, these plants also respond to soil temperature, which has been chilly for roots. As both air and soil temperatures warm more consistently, growth is triggered.
Winterkill is always a possibility, especially on any plant material that’s borderline in winter hardiness. Because there’s no way to speed a plant’s spring startup, it’s not always clear whether plants are slow or winterkilled. It’s best to simply wait, and see what happens.
Most live plants will begin growth at least by late May or early June. Many shrubs, even if injured by cold or critters, have amazing ability to regrow from the base. If all regrowth begins at the lower portions, prune away the dead branches above.
Even while dormant, live branches on shrubs and trees can be determined by the presence of the green cambium layer, visible when the outer gray-brown bark is gently scraped away with a thumbnail or knife.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.