Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Fruit Production
Snow leading to increased rabbit damage


March 5, 2014
By Amy Irish-Brown Michigan State University Extension

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March 5, 2014 – The 2013-2014 winter precipitation level has been higher than normal over much of Ontario.

Michigan is no different with more than 90 inches of snow have fallen on the Ridge, a well-known tree fruit growing region located northwest of Grand Rapids, Mich. Michigan State University Extension colleagues in the northwest region of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, a region known for growing over 70 percent of the nation’s tart cherries, have had more than 180 inches In the Grand Rapids tree fruit area, snow cover is up to the lowest scaffold limbs in many tree fruit orchards, something that hasn’t been seen for many years.

Every morning after a little light snow, fresh, new rabbit tracks, trails and droppings can be seen from their overnight activities. Rabbits do not hibernate in the winter and they are actively looking for food sources. When snow levels are not high, rabbits feed on vegetation at ground level. As the snow gets deeper and food sources are limited, rabbits travel and feed on vegetation near the surface of the snow. Therefore, rabbits will likely find apple limbs that are near the snow surface to be great food sources.

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Feeding damage is already being reported in orchards this year. In the winter, rabbits strip bark and debud fruit trees, conifers and other trees and shrubs. Trees clipped by rabbits have a clean, knifelike cut on the stems. Rabbits can clip stems 0.25 inches in diameter and can be especially damaging to nursery trees.

In commercial orchard systems, painting tree trunks and scaffold limbs and using repellents may deter rabbits from causing damage, but these methods aren’t feasible during the heart of the winter months. Trapping and hunting are the only viable management methods for rabbit population management during this time of year. Rabbits rely on dense vegetation such as hedges, brush piles and overgrown stream banks for protection from predators. Eliminating these helps to reduce rabbit populations.