Apple Wood Palatability To Rabbits

After some winter snow a couple months ago the local rabbits turned their sights to the many young potted grafted apples I had in the nursery. Among them almost every single grafted tree was mowed down to near the graft union, but not below it. Some young potted rootstock of the same age which had been left ungrafted were completely untouched despite being sited along side the grafted trees which were eaten. This made me realize that rootstock choice could potentially be very critical in areas where such damage is common and using unpalatable rootstock with high grafts could prevent or at least discourage winter chewing.

For those curious, it was M.26 rootstock that the rabbits didn’t want to eat.

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You could be correct. Here’s some alternative theories: the graft union emits a smell that drew the rabbits to grafted trees rather than the ungrafted tree. Near graft union, it’s harder and not preferable to chewing.

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They didn’t actually eat any graft unions and the ungrafted rootstock had young growth just as tender as the eaten grafts. I know exactly what attracted them. It was the fact that the young trees were sticking up through the snow when little else was available to the rabbits. They never touched my apple grafts before the snow and immediately seased further chewing once the snow was melted away to expose other options.

@JohannsGarden

Sorry to hear of your rabbit problems. They can be a real problem some years.

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It’s okay. Some of the grafts have surviving buds cause my grafts usually have a bud right at the graft union. Mostly it’s just an important lesson for me to have learned since we don’t often have long lasting snow cover around here and I hadn’t been mindful of the risks when it happened.

I’m curious how much variability there is in palatability between the various available rootstocks.

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@JohannsGarden

There is a huge amount of variability! That is why i like BET and callery pear rootstocks because rabbits, voles and other things don’t.

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Hope your plants will recover quick.

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@JohannsGarden

I’m not a big apple grower but i think you will find this thread worth reading Living with the cottontail and growing fruit

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I should note that a few young grafts of a locally sourced feral pippin I’ve been evaluating were left untouched as well. Maybe the feral seedlings have had enough natural pressure that the survivors are disproportionately less palatable to rabbits than the average cultivated types.

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It occurred to me that I didn’t recall seeing any damage on my ‘Pendragon’ grafts so I just went out and double checked. Sure enough they were an exception as not one of them even showed so much as a nibble missing. I wonder if it’s something related to the red-flesh genetics or if it’s just another trait inherited independently from the red flesh trait. When so many of the varieties seem so palatable to the rabbits it’s really impressive when a variety gets left completely untouched.

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@JohannsGarden

I’m with the rabbits on most red fleshed apples. Many are a little tanic tasting.

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Could you imagine the tart berry flavors of a red flesh crossed with the complex sweetness of a russet? That’s a combo I’d like to try.

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I seem to recall that @derekamills has successfully made such crosses. I remember seeing a spectacular photo of the results. Perhaps he can comment on how they turned out.

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Skillcult specifically describes planning to make such crosses in one of his “Golden Russet” videos.

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I thought this thread was going to be about rabbits preferring apple over other wood.

This late winter / early spring, I did some hasty pruning in the orchard and left the prunings where they fell. The rabbits denuded the apple prunings (at least the portion exposed) and mostly ignored the stone fruit.

I can’t remember who posted that he makes such offerings intentionally as an alternative to the actual orchard trees. It seems to work. I’m not sure how far the rabbits will travel for it though. In other words, I’d like to know the radius of protection afforded by fresh, on the ground apple limbs.

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I’ve noticed each rabbit seems to have a primary area it hangs out around the property. I imagine trimmings will only satisfy the rabbit within whom’s “zone” they are dropped.

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You must have fewer rabbits than me, or more distributed habitat I sometimes see several at once in the same area.

The orchard areas are generally in clearings. I think the rabbits live closer to the perimeter of the 2.5 acre (a little over 300’ square) property, especially now that I’ve cleared out a lot of the brambles that grew around the huge stumps left.

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Can you imagine the exotic flavors such a diet would impart to Peter Cottontail?

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It might not if there is something unattractive to Peter about the red-flesh genetics.

Members of the prunus genus have cyanogenic chemicals that convert to cyanide when crushed, wilted, or otherwise damaged. Herbivores can browse a bit on intact plum and cherry foliage (as most of us know), but I think wilted cuttings would be toxic for them.

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