Having a food forest with lush undergrowth is a blessing in Southland as we have a rabbit and hare problem. Not one of our fruit trees in our forest garden has been ring barked or eaten back by them. These creatures don't like 'wild' undergrowth and prefer pasture, lawns to get around on.  On a research orchard on land we lease the owner is kindly letting us keep the grass long around the edges as he noticed himself the ones on the mowed side were were the only ones eaten back; since then we have had no further damage.  Another orchard we manage for a local arboretum is not so lucky.  The mowed grass that is required there opens up a snack bar for them.  Last spring they nibbled about 10 of the 30 trees nearly back to the graft and really set them back.  Stakes and chicken netting have protected them so far but yesterday I was shocked to see they got under the netting and  ate the bark at the bottom of the tree like we would eat sweet corn.  One is completely ring barked and another four only have 1/4 strip left intact which may or may not be enough to keep that tree going.  Has anyone got suggestions on how they stopped this damage with young trees in this setting besides creating stronger forts?

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Probably not much help but our two fat cats do a pretty good job here...

Didn't I hear moth balls, or is that to keep cats off the garden?

Thanks for the great tip about rabbits and hares not liking thick undergrowth.

I was reading Sepp Holzer's "Permaculture" (English edition, 2010), pp129-130 about bridge grafting as a way of rescuing heavily damaged trees. He says, "trees treated in this way are better protected from sources of damage (like browsing) in the future, because they are no longer easily accessible." Place at least three scions, evenly spaced around the damaged trunk. The scions are double-ended and cut as for cleft grafting. They bridge the damage. Clean up the edges of the wound, and make T shaped slits as per bud grafting. Seal the wounds with rafia and grafting wax as normal, avoiding buds.

That book was a most welcome birthday present! It might be in your local library. It's definitely in ours now because we used their requests system!

Thanks Peter I did look into bridge grafting for the ones that have 1/4 still there, may be worth it. I went into our hardware store and worked out that gutter guard would be the cheapest way to protect the young trunks and first branches and wondered about a chilly pepper spray for the tops?  I wonder what the length of a hare's memory is and how far up they can reach.  The other action is to put us substantial netting and stack protection which will be expensive.

Thank for the link Andy will have go at that too!

Have been doing some research and now know that the best thing is to plant trees with 70cm 'trunk' and wrap the trunk in some form of plastic mesh guard.   Gutter guard works well laced up with rubber strips.  Unfortunately some of the trees had been eaten back last year on the tops so now are too short so they will always be a target so I will swap them for taller ones rather than having to net them forever.   Rabbits reach is abut 55cm and hares 70cm....  so if it snows deeply they can still do damage but luckily down on lowland Southland we never get more than a couple of cm every few years.

Like you, we have solved a rabbit problem simply by letting the grass grow long, very long. We had a serious warren when we arrived a year ago and now, every burrow is abandoned.

I'm not certain about preventing rabbits from ring-barking seedlings but we are using tyres to protect our seedlings. I cut the sidewall out of one side of the tyre and, using the ring of heavy rubber it produces, stapling chicken wire over it.

Then put the cut side of the tyre down and plant the seedling inside it, covering with the netting sidewall which fits perfectly over the top. As the seedling grows we simply add another tyre.

Benefits appear to include keeping random browsers out, including the Pukekos, partially shading the seedling which has been a boon this summer, protecting the seedling from wind and, though I can't prove it, the tyre holds water and may be providing a more humid microclimate around the tree, reducing transpiration.

We planted a whole bunch of flax, tagasaste (VERY tasty for browsers) Manuka, fig and some herbs this way in November and December and so far we have lost only one Manuka.

I'm guessing that we can stack the tyres maybe 3 deep which will provide a disincentive at least for browsers. Once the tree can fend for itself we plan either to lift them off or cut them away.

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