If a tree or shrub suddenly turns up dead or is rapidly declining, there may be many possible causes. The mystery will not be solved until the tree or shrub is under close observation. One possible culprit, a situation, which is becoming more noticeable, is a small mammal chewing on the tree and disrupting nutrient flow.
Mice, voles and other small mammals can end up chewing on trees and shrubs when food is scarce. The small mammals feed on the vascular tissue of the tree, the vein system, which transports water and nutrients. If this is disrupted, it can cause the canopy to die back. Often, chewing damage occurs where the trunk meets the ground, or the root flare. If the root flare is hidden by various ground covers, this can serve as protection for small mammals. Mice and voles can also hide out in low growing shrubs and eat away at stems and twigs. Our arborists were called out on several sites this year to check out trees and shrubs in decline. On several occasions, the trees were surrounded by myrtle, ivy, or pachysandra. The ground cover was pulled away exposing a ring of feeding damage around the trunk.
Avoid this by not allowing ground covers to encircle a tree. Keep it pulled back from the trunk at least a foot. Critters are less likely to feed on the live tissue if they do not have cover. Also, monitor your landscape throughout the winter, which is when food for small mammals is scarce. We offer winter monitoring visits where our technicians come out in December or February to check the landscape. If you’re interested in learning more about this or if you would like a free quote for winter monitoring visits, please call our office at (616) 301-1300 extension 118 to schedule an appointment with one of our certified arborists.