The cottontail rabbit is almost exclusively a wood eater during this time of year and many of you know your fruit trees are no exception. There are many other topics on protecting fruit trees using corrugated drainage pipe, wire, paint mixed with Sheetrock mud, pruning seal etc. that’s all been said before so I will not reiterate it all again. What is seldom said is how you know it’s cottontails and what to do when it is? The cottontail can strip bark and girdle every unprotected tree in your orchard in one night. What do you do about it when other methods fail ? The scope of this topic is to better know your rabbits and take some different approaches. This is what their tracks look like and as you can see at times their numbers are significant. disregard the occasional predator track in the picture
Using as much rabbit resistant rootstock as possible is just one of my non traditional approaches. I also feed the rabbits branches they do like I cut out of my orchard such as elm sprouts and wild cherry or branches I will not use and I prune off my trees
Some people said they will get a dog to watch their orchard but trust me that won’t work by itself. Cottontails are masters at hiding. There is one in this picture below from today and I’m only 10 feet away
Since I have piles of brush even if there is a heavy snow that goes above my rabbit guards on my trees they will likely continue to eat the higher brush I piled up for them. If you don’t give them a food source such as your pruning clippings if it snows they will walk over the snow and eat your fruit tree. That’s why you don’t want them to start on your fruit trees is they don’t like to stop eating a food source once they have one. Don’t rely on hunters because cottontail are primarily nocturnal. As you saw from the picture above their fur blends in with the terrain in the winter. That rules out hawks as a predator as well because they only fly by daylight. This is a picture of a couple of cottontails hanging out in front of some of my carmine jewell cherries in the summer
Cottontail are obviously worse when snow is on the ground but that does not mean they only cause damage then. I had trees attacked when snow was not on the ground before. Food shortages occur at times with rabbits. I should also mention rabbits have large families and they like to be together so the tracks you saw in the first photo were not isolated we have literally at time 30+ adult rabbits on my property in the general area. There could be hundreds more in the fields.
Had problems last year when I failed to notice that snow had drifted high enough to allow them to jump over the chicken wire around the nursery. Didnt catch it right away and they clipped off every Dwarf Chinkapin Oak I had grown from acorns that spring! Damaged a few small crabapples as well. I think you had said before that you had damage to OHxF pear rootstock from rabbits as well. I didnt have any rabbit damage to trees grafted onto OHxF, apple must rank up there higher than pear overall.
Yes they will eat OHxF pear rootstocks but prefer apple over anything else. I got 10 or so OHxF trees from a friend with an orchard this year and they started working on them right away until I painted them with pruning seal. That friend lost a lot of trees last year. Callery pears are what I primarily use as rootstock but some things will not graft to them. I’m having to use more of the rootstock cottontails like every year. I still planted twice the callery pears to every thing else this year. Remember I said they don’t really care for pears like apples but if snow is on the ground and they are hungry they will eat pears. Red delicious is their favorite apple. I had them attack a tree that was 10 years old and kill it once. That’s one of the few trees I ever lost to rabbits.
I use this stiff black plastic mesh that I buy at Home Depot. I cut it with pruning scissors and cut the size I need then put the ends together around the base of my trees and tie them together with plastic covered wire. The thick mesh comes in a heavy roll that is about three feet by eight feet long. The first go around using this mesh has lasted ten years. I am just replacing it last fall and will finish this spring. On new trees, I surround the entire tree with the mesh,unless the upper part of the tree is branched.
Seems like great advise Mrsg47. Fencing out the rabbit all together is the best way to go. I do use the small metal hail screen around my apples such as red delicious. I will have to give the plastic a try. The big fence you saw is for deer , goats , and cows. That was a large investment at the time to keep the deer out which cost around $600. I use chicken wire in just the chicken area which is smaller and rusts out after 10 or so years. The plastic seems like a really smart idea. Has it been lasting pretty well so far? Callery Pears are hard to beat because like I said if you graft them high you can have 200 in the ground and come spring they will be untouched and you don’t need to do anything. Your trees look very healthy! Cottontails as you eluded to are contortionist and will go right through that fence in the picture but it works good for deer, goats, etc… I’m glad you brought that up for people reading this thread.
Thanks so much Clarkinks. I have deer but not a lot. Your fencing makes great sense for deer, cows and goats. Wish I could have those too. I love animals! (not more deer or voles though . The fencing lasts a really long time some of mine has been up for ten years, as mentioned, however you should also know to keep it in place I use ‘earth pins’ those large u-shapes pins for holding down landscape cloth. You can easily pull up the pins to weed and mulch then put them back into place to secure the fencing to the ground. Its great stuff!
Clark, it seems to me that you like to feed your rabbits . You have so much brush and you practically help to maintain their population. Just a thought.
I think that a good dog helps. It scares rabbits away, and they prefer to go somewhere else to eat. But it is not completely proof. After I had a dead rabbit that my dog killed laying in the snow for several days, the rabbits stopped coming in my yard (I do not see any tracks). But it bothered my neighbors so I have to remove it .
My trees are painted with white primer paint and they also protected with plastic chicken wire, like mrs. G’s. It is the third year and the rabbits did not touch the trunks, although they did chewed on everything else. One note though, the rabbits can chew through plastic mesh quite easily. When this same mesh surrounded my vegetable garden, it had multiple holes in it, and I had to replace it with the metal mesh. The leftovers from the plastic mesh was used to protect the tree trunks and it seems that rabbits do not bother to chew through it yet. I’ll make some picture when it gets lighter.
Clark, I’ve tried providing them with fresh apple wood clippings dumped between my trees and where they are hiding, but they still wind up eating both before my offerings have been worked on all that much.
You also have to keep all protection well above the snow line, but at least if a tree gets girdled 2’ up it will usually grow back fairly quickly (not peaches).
Last year parts of my property were like a stockyard and I could blame my ample brush piles- they obviously favored them, but they were an epidemic all over the area regardless of the presence of brush piles.
I’ve read they have huge crashes in population after booms because of disease, and that apparently has happened here. They were all over my property into early fall and now I’ve seen no evidence of them for 2 months, and I know what to look for by now. Of course, I have no way to be certain what killed them.
It seems the moment they made their exit the squirrels here have returned with a vengeance. I’m not sure if that is a coincidence or God’s way of letting me know that heaven is reserved for the righteous and not found on this planet
We got our first good crop of acorns in years this fall.
It is a darned if you do and darned if you don’t kind of a thing . Although I think the population is mostly controlled by a lot of other factors than available food (and cover to a lesser extent ). I have found that doing what Clark is doing (providing food and cover away from his fruit trees ) can be quite effective . Rabbits tend to hold real close to these pockets if their needs are met in that small area (even more so with deep snow on the ground) . I have had owls move in and virtually wipe out the rabbits in a short time during winter on many occasions. But what I have found to be the most effective predator (summer time ) is feral cats (or even tame ones if the owners let them run free). They are very effective at wiping out the baby rabbits almost as fast as they are born.
The hunters, feral cats, the neighbors dog, the big pack of coyotes, and the owls all help. The most effective predators are my bobcats but they are hunting my outer fields and lower orchard right now. When the food supply of rodents decreases there they will be back in this orchard.