Fielding Questions: One last rabbit damage photo, woodpeckers injury, when can we plant

Now that spring is here, the question on many people's minds is when it's safe to plant. Gardening columnist Don Kinzler answers that question and more in this week's column.

apple tree damage May 6, 2023.jpg
The bark of apple trees is a flavorful treat and deep snow gave rabbits an easy access ramp this year. Gardening columnist Don Kinzler writes that in some cases the damage is so bad there are no paints, sealers or wraps that can replace the vital tissue that rabbits have eaten. Trees can’t regenerate that tissue under these circumstances.
Contributed / Mary Jo M.

Q: Is there any hope for this apple tree, and is there anything we can do to help it? — Mary Jo M.

A: I couldn’t resist publishing one more rabbit injury photo, because the damage is about as bad as it can get. Rabbit injury to apple trees reached epidemic proportions this winter. Snow came early and stayed late, deeply covering rabbits’ summer and fall food supply.

With little else to eat, rabbits turned to woody plants for survival. Tree and shrub damage is a yearly event, but this winter was among the worst. The bark of apple trees is a flavorful treat and deep snow gave rabbits an easy access ramp.

When rabbits eat away the bark of trees, exposing the tannish white wood below, they’ve not only consumed the outer bark, but also the thin layer of growth and conductive tissue located immediately under the bark. If the damage extends entirely around the trunk or branches, the flow of life support is broken.

What can be done? There are no paints, sealers or wraps that can replace the vital tissue that rabbits have eaten, and trees can’t regenerate that tissue under these circumstances. Damaged trees sometimes have enough sap in the upper branches so buds will open, but leaves quickly collapse when water and food can’t reach upward.


One can wait and see what happens, but it would take nothing short of a miracle for such badly damaged trees to survive.

Q: How do I keep woodpeckers from drilling into my maple tree? It’s drilled about eight holes in a row across the trunk and another one on a branch. I’m afraid if it keeps that up, I’ll lose the tree, which is well established and about 20 years old. — Pam V.

A: Woodpeckers can damage or kill trees, because the holes they form interrupt the tissue that conducts water and nutrients inside trees. The danger increases when the birds continue to drill around the trunk’s circumference.

Hopefully the woodpecker activity is within reach. If so, wrap the area with aluminum foil, or apply sticky Tanglefoot to the area.

If the area is out of reach, try Mylar helium balloons, which can be effective at scaring the birds, at least until they grow accustomed to them. Reflective aluminum pie tins or ribbons tied in the tree can be tried. Random items hanging in your tree might not be the most aesthetic, but it might spur conversation in the neighborhood and hopefully discourage the birds.

Q: How will we know when it is warm enough to plant this late spring? — Teri S.

A: Although winter lingered long, the growing season can do a quick catch-up with the right combination of temperature and moisture.

When is it warm enough to plant? My longtime favorite window for gardening in the Fargo area, including both flowers and vegetables, is the 10-day period from May 15 to May 25.


That 10-day period is when my wife, Mary, and I plant almost everything, including flowering containers, vegetable garden and flowerbeds. If spring lags a little, we plant closer to May 25, or even a few days later.

Timing of planting depends on both soil and air temperature, plus likelihood of killing frost. A few garden vegetables can be planted in late April or early May because they will grow in cool soil and can tolerate frost, such as peas, radish, lettuce, onions, spinach, carrots.

Other vegetables require both warm soil and warm air temperatures and are killed if the thermometer approaches 32 degrees F. Included are tomato, pepper, squash, pumpkin, cucumber and melons.

Although we sometimes plant a few early frost-tolerant vegetables, our 10-day planting window has served us well for decades. By May 15-25, the soil temperature is warming up and the likelihood of killing frost diminishes with each passing day.

With the slower start to spring, Mary and I will probably be planting closer to May 25.

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If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at . Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
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