Of Mice and Man, and Shrubs

Small shrubs have been particularly hard hit in the Metro Region by those small furry rodents that thrive under the warm winter snows. Deep snow cover came early this year to many areas and the winter pleasantly lacked the brutal cold of the past few. As a result, mice remained active through much of the winter. Active translates to activity, which translates to a need for food, which translates to nibbling the bark from almost anything with bark near the ground. Favorites seem to be lilac and burning bush, but a wide variety of species have been affected. Prognosis?

The part of the place above the girdled areas are toast. They are likely to sprout and grow leaves for a while, but in the long run they will discover that bark is a critical organ involved in translocation of nutrients, largely DOWN from the leaves to the roots. Soon enough the roots will run out of food, starve for energy, and die. The tops will pick up on the trend really quick at that point. Treatment is simple. I can't remember the sage that said "When you come to a fork in the middle of the road, take it!", but the advice fits well here. If the root system sprouts, use it. The tops will ultimately die. Look at it as a way to rejuvenate those shabby shrubs.

A word of caution, however, on ornamental trees. Ornamental trees are commonly propagated by grafting a single bud from the desired tree onto another tree with a "better" root system. Ultimately the "other tree" is removed leaving the ornamental tree as a combination of a genetically different top and bottom. Commonly when the top is killed, the sprouts come from the root system. They are NOT the plant you planted, but rather the top part of the root system. I have a classic photo of a two stem crab apple in my collection. One branch bears lovely pink flowers, the other branch bears non-descript, white flowers. One is the original plant, the other the root stock. Guess which is which. The bottom line is simple, if the tree was from grafted stock, removal is warranted. If it was from seed origin, keep it.

Oh, a quick easy way to tell grafted from seed origin stock is to look at the shape of the stem just above the ground line. Grafted trees usually have a distinctive crook, similar to a bent golf club. Seed origin trees should be straight.