Can I save this vole girdled Liberty apple?

New member here looking for some help. I just noticed this after snow melt. 5 yr old Liberty apple dwarf with a 5" diameter trunk… It looks like voles have completely girdled the trunk.

When I discovered it, I researched bridge grafting but when I excavated a bit of soil from around the trunk I can not find anything that looks like bark. I think either they also ate all the bark below grade or it just looks different on the roots and is hard to identify. Might it also be possible that they have been eating just the thin outer skin of the bark undetected by me and the tree has been healing over?

Sorry for the bad photo. It is raining today and the trunk is wet making it harder to see whats going on.

I’m willing to try grafting to save this, but I’m not sure if there is any good bark below to graft to?


Also I should mention that the light colored swatch in the center of the trunk at the bark line is a place where I cut into it trying to ascertain what layers have been eaten. It seems like there are still one or more layers of tissue there before the sap wood.

There’s always a chance, but it doesn’t look good.

Get that trunk wrapped with aluminum window screen to prevent further damage.


Are you implying that it may survive without a grafting?

I am trying to find out if the tree is a goner without an attempt to save it with grafting. I can’t see any clear line below the damage where bark exists so I am confused a bit. Most pictures I have seen on the internet of girdled trees show a clear place where bark is present above and below the damage. I just don’t understand where below the damage I would insert a graft.

If you can’t find undamaged bark below the girdled zone you could do inarch grafts using 2-3 rootstocks


I’ve never done root grafts but: would it be doable to take a cutting from the Liberty and graft it to the roots? I’m thinking he could cut a scion from the tree and graft it directly to the root of the same tree.

Is the stem on the right a root sucker? If its long enough, you can graft that back to the tree above the damage.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it is not in fact fully girdled. I had 2 young trees that looked like that, I tired inarch grafts that were poorly executed and did not take. The trees survived.


You sure have sharp eyes. That stem would seem to be a shoot from the rootstock, and eligible for a graft. I also agree that all may not be lost with the chewed bits. I’ve had ‘girdled’ trees survive and send up suckers for inarching later. It seems that if some cambium remains to start regenerating at least a bit of phloem the plant can possibly survive, but the older the plant the tougher it is. I never looked closely enough to sort it out, but there usually was a scattering of areas that recovered.

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Michel Philips always advised trooping around the trees if the snow got deep to collapse the vole tunnels. If snow accumulates before the ground is frozen the ground warmth can actually melt the snow from below and leave whole swaths of ground where the voles can party.

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If fully girdled you cannot save it. Even mostly girdled will be tough to save it. I would put the plastic tree guards or metal ones around the rest of your trees. If they do it to one tree likely they will be back for more, unless they get eaten by a predator. Bummer about the tree.

Good ideas.

Do you mean planting some new rootstocks and grafting them in above the girdled section?

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I make small hardware cloth cages for the base of all my fruit tree trunks. About 18 inches tall and a foot or so in diameter. Fabulous stuff and it keeps mulch away from base of trunk.

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I second the tree guards. We have voles out the wazoo here, and they do at least some damage every year. The guards help a lot, though they’ll still eat the roots and sometimes tunnel under the crown.

I had a very similar degree of damage on a weeping crabapple I had grafted into the orchard after finding it as a chance seedling. The ortet isn’t far from me, so I mostly just wrote the tree off. It fruited heavily that year, and I kept waiting for it to whither. It was a dry, hot summer. It never skipped a beat, and leafed out the next year as usual. There was a small section of cambium still intact, though that wasn’t at all apparent. All of the bark was stripped on the lower ft. or so. Rootstock is chance seedling, grafted where it grew up, which along with the toughness of the crab may have helped.

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Yes, that is what I was implying.

It looks like the girdling may not have gone all the way through the cambium.

I’ve had older wild crabs receive similar damage and survive just fine.

I see no roots to bridge graft to. I suppose you could dig lower to expose some undamaged bark and give that a try. Have you given the tree a good “tug” to verify the roots haven’t been eaten?

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Are you sure it’s not collar rot? In my orchard in update NY all girdled trees that look like that were from disease. But you would have seen it happen over time with clear border between necrotic tissue (brown and slimy) vs remaining healthy/greenish yellow tissue.

I second that. I didn’t see any teeth marks.

Unfortunately trunk guards make it a problem to control for borers unless you remove them each spring. To protect the roots somewhat you can keep a gravel mulch close to the trunk, coming out a foot or so. It drains well enough to be less of a rot hazard.

I second the gravel/crushed stone around the crown. Voles do NOT like to burrow in it. I use tree guards made from coated 1/2” steel mesh, similar to that used to make lobster traps. They are 2 ft high, preformed in a curve, and slit so that they pop on and off very easily. No sharp things to cut yourself on, either. Unfortunately they no longer seem to be available from what I can tell.

As for the voles vs collar rot, the difference should be pretty obvious in context. Voles leave a network of tunnels, showing where they’ve done their dirty deeds. They look like this:

The teeth marks are the striations that you can see in the original picture. Here’s one of my apple trees for comparison. It was pushed sideways by the plow guy enough that the voles found their way in. It’s girdled for about the bottom 2 ft. Compare the striations to the original, they’re dead ringers.

This tree, a Mantet apple, may be toast and I’ll graft another just in case. But the crab that was similarly damaged 2 yrs ago looks great. Check it out.

Note the tree guard I described. I think the vole may have just eaten the xylem, and left the phloem, similar to what you do when air layering/marcotting. That would mean the top growth still receives water and nutrients from the roots, but the roots don’t get sugars from the leaves, at least as I understand it. In any case, proof that dire looking girdled trunks CAN regenerate, at least some of the time. I’ve attempted bridge grafts a number of times (though never inarching) and I don’t think I’ve EVER had one take. I graft all sorts of other stuff just fine, so not sure what I’m doing wrong.