Now that the snow is finally melting here in Central Iowa, the extent of damage to shrubs from rabbits is woefully apparent. Snow cover was deep for so long that bunnies fed on almost any plant that protruded from the white stuff.
It’s discouraging to look at receding snowbanks and see glaring white stems of shrubs stripped of their bark. Often, the shoots near the ground are fine because they were protected under the snow.
It’s too late to protect these shrubs now. But they can be salvaged with a little pruning. If stem tips are gnawed, cut the remaining stem just above a bud. A new shoot will emerge from that bud. If the bark of larger stems is damaged, the amount of pruning needed depends on the extent of the damage. The rule of thumb that I use is, if the bark is stripped more than half way around the stem, remove that shoot. If damage extends only 1/4 (or less) of the way around the stem, it will probably continue to grow fine without any care.
I usually opt for removing damaged stems. Shrubs with multiple shoots resprout readily from the base and grow back fuller and lusher than ever. It’s a great opportunity to rejuvenate old, overgrown shrubs. Make cuts 6 to 12 inches above the ground. If you make the cuts higher, the shrub will develop tufts of new growth at stem tips and be relatively bare at the base.
One technique that I’ve used to protect shrubs from rabbits is to place homemade tomato cages around smaller shrubs. They’re cylinders made of rabbit fencing. The lower wires are close together, preventing rabbits from getting in. Wider wire spacing at the top allows easy access for tomato harvest in summer. Normally this trick not only solves the problem of where to store cages over winter, bit it also prevents rabbit damage to the shrub it encircles. However, deep snow this year let the rabbits wiggle through the wider wires. Next year I’ll be more vigilant and spray rabbit repellent in addition to fencing off favorite plants.
Viburnums truly are plants for all seasons. I’ve added half a dozen different kinds to my yard because I love their pink or white flowers in the spring, their pink, red, blue, or black berries summer through early winter, and outstanding fall color. Brandywine viburnum, pictured above is a type of possumhaw viburnum (I love that common name!). Those with more refined tastes may refer to it by its alternate common name, smooth witherod. This particular variety is known for its spectacular display of pink and blue berries. Mine is only in its second year, so hasn’t bloomed and fruited yet, but the fall color this year has been gorgeous. I’m hoping that by next year it will have some of its fragrant white flower clusters, and produce some berries. But I’d grow it for the fall color alone.
The American highbush cranberry viburnum (left) has white flowers in spring and red cranberry-like fruits from mid-summer into winter. Berries are tart, but edible, similar to its namesake fruit. Unless you’re a lover of pucker-producing fruits, it’s not likely to become your favorite, but the flavor is acceptable. Birds usually leave the berries alone until the fruits have frozen a few times. I’ve been told that winged wildlife like them best fermented on the shrub. This time of year, the rich red, three-lobed leaves set off the ripe fruits nicely.
Another viburnum with great fall color is the compact Korean spice viburnum (right). It kicks off the spring season with extremely fragrant clusters of pinkish white blooms that develop into red fruits which ripen black. Fall color is bright red with touches of yellow and orange, creating a warm glow from within the center of the shrub.
The doublefile viburnum (below) is sometimes mistaken for dogwood in the springtime with its large white blooms on horizontal branches. The flowers develop into red berries that ripen black. This time of year, it puts on another display in fiery hues. Because its leaves are covered in fine hairs, it lacks the glossy showiness of the Korean spice or possumhaw viburnums, but it puts on a nice show nonetheless.
Other viburnums in my yard are less showy this time of year. Leaves of Blue Muffin arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), for example, turn subdued yellowish brown. Others, such as the lantanaphyllum viburnum (Viburnum X rhytidophylloides) are semi-evergreen, keeping their green color until their leaves drop.
I’ll keep on the lookout for other viburnums to add to the landscape. Although there’s not a lot of space left, I’ll find a way to cram in a few more of these showy shrubs because they are so attractive in several seasons, are easy to grow, and virtually trouble-free.