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Jackrabbits - tree destroyers

Perry Way

Joined: Nov 07, 2010
Posts: 65
I am devastated over the loss of trees on my site.  My site is remote. I can't get there but once a week. I thought I was doing good by planting Cypress and Pine as pioneers on the open salted plains of Carrizo Plain.  I lost fruit trees earlier in the season. Suckers from the Pomegranates keep getting eaten down to the stump of the tree which died from poor drainage.  Could be pocket gophers, could be squirrels, could be kangaroo rats too, and it could also be jackrabbits. 

After losing lower branches, eaten all the way down to the wood, half inch and greater in width I've been perplexed. What animal on this earth would eat Cypress? Well I heard that some animals eat the plants that we have been hammered over the head with that no animal would want to eat, like trees with pitch (Pine, Fir, Spruce, Redwood, Sequoia, Cypress, Juniper).  But one of these animals did in fact eat more than the lower limbs on big trees, they also ringed all my junior trees I planted in spring. 10 out of 11 of them.  Probably by next Saturday they will all be dead, including the older trees because I saw where they began nibbling on them as well.  I am thinking it has to be jackrabbits from all the signs.  pocket gophers don't go beyond a few inches to a foot from one of their holes, and they don't climb. Kangaroo rats don't climb up to knee level. Ground squirrels don't climb vegetation, I've watched them hours on end.  Jackrabbits stretching vertically are the only rodents in the area that could reach as high as was reached.

I'm heartbroken over this.  I feel a giant setback on my project.  I don't know if I have the will to continue.  I was banking on these trees not needing irrigation next year. I've been such a good caretaker, diligently arriving each weekend and spending up to an entire day caring for the trees and now 1/3 of all my trees are gone, the other 2/3 are likely dead now as I write.  I am just an average Joe, I don't have a big budget. Half of my budget is taken up by fuel to reach my property.  I can't afford to make this mistake again.

So I'm asking for help.  I didn't think I would have to coddle Pine and Cypress trees, but if that's what I have to do then I guess that's what I have to do.  I see already, my budget is blown next year, simply due to the extra wiring I'll need to cage any tree I plant.  Man that is so ugly, cages around trees. I have the biggest knee jerk reaction to the idea, it just makes me feel like I'm doing something I should not have to be doing if I was doing something right.  Wire caging is permaculture?  It just doesn't fit to me.

If it were as simple as good perimeter fencing... but I can't take that route.  One reason is these creatures are burrowing creatures so if they really want in to eat the nutritious and delicious Cypress delicacies, they will dig under the fence. But there's a legal reason. The County (San Luis Obispo) has declared the whole general region of the east county as Kit Fox mitigation area.  What this means to property owners is you cannot have fencing on your property the prohibits the Kit Fox from walking right in, and going where they want to. You have to have periodic places in the fence where it's completely open to critters up to I think 18 inches off the ground.  The County here are environmental nazi's.  They will throw someone in jail for not tearing down their fence that keeps the Kit Fox out of their chicken coop. Everyone who has battled against the County has lost big time $$$ or gone to jail, and there are some big national stories right here on that topic. But if you're a big corporation with lots of $$$ to buy off the County, you can come wipe out huge sections of Kit Fox habitat area and call it a Solar Power Plant.  But I'm like almost dirt poor here, but I'm trying or have been trying with all my might.  So, at this point I'm thinking to myself, I'm plain stupid for wasting my energy in attempting to improve this junk property.  In fact, perhaps it might be wise to sell this land, and scrape together everything I have and sell what I'm not using and save for another few years and then maybe I can afford a down payment on a piece of property closer in that I can visit more often.  And then I can be in debt for half of my remaining years, slaving at the office so I can afford to spend a few hours in nature on my time off.  Oh dear god, my whole future life is upside down. I don't know how I'll ever arrive at a place of independence (from jobs). I just don't know how to set things right. What should I do?  I can't kill every jackrabbit, but boy you can sure believe I had those fantasies the last two days.
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5736
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
I know the feeling.  It's impossible to grow things here without taking all kinds of trouble about the varmints.  An armadillo just got into my kitchen garden last night and plowed it up, and this is with a fence - he keeps finding places to root under it.

Because I have a "no-kill" philosophy, or rather a "you kill it, you eat it" philosophy and I have no desire to eat armadillo, I have to figure out how to keep him out of the garden.

Every tree I plant has to have a fence around it, staked into the ground, with mesh small enough to keep out the smaller varmints, and sturdy enough not to be pushed over by deer.  Ugly - you bet - expensive - too much!  But it's the only way to grow things where you have critters.  Killing the critters is out of the question, in my opinion.  They were here first!

I wish I could be more encouraging.  You could try making fences of wood, if you don't like wire.  But in my opinion you'll need to have some kind of fences.   

I make my fences from 5 foot high concrete reinforcing mesh and chicken wire, with re-bar stakes.  The reinforcing wire is rust colored so it blends in to the background pretty well and it can hold itself up over a fairly long span so you can fence in a circular area for several trees at once.  We use it for the perimeter fence around our house. 

Idle dreamer

Abe Connally

Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1492
Location: Chihuahua Desert
what about electric fences?  Could you put a few wires close to the ground and keep the animals at bay?

The other alternative is to get a natural predator of the jackrabbits to hang out around your place.  Maybe dogs or coyotes or hawks or something. We have jackrabbits here, but I've never had an issue with them, but we have 2 dogs. 

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Kay Bee

Joined: Oct 10, 2009
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
OTG - very sorry to hear of the damage to your trees.  I've felt the same way when deer or gophers have done damage to our trees.

I am currently using the wire fencing route at our place and so long as I get the gates shut at night, it has worked well.  Your scenario with the restrictions on fencing sounds like it will have additional challenges...

I'm also surprised that the critters would find pine and cypress interesting to eat.  What else do they have on your place as options?

This past week, I had a forester out to our property for an assessment and he shared a story that I thought was interesting.  Another local landowner had put in several hundred pines a few years back as part of a restocking project and was surprised to find that they were eaten down to nearly the ground after only a few weeks had gone by since planting.  Deer don't usually bother ponderosa pines even when small (that I've heard of), so the landowner was wondering what may have made the deer find them interesting.   The best they could figure, some fertilizer or other nutrient that the trees had taken up at the nursery made them more attractive than typical ponderosa pine saplings.

Not sure how credible this option really is, but I'm wondering if the extra care you have given the trees (any applied fertilizer or diference in the planting hole soil?) may have enticed the deer or jackrabbits...

"Limitation is the mother of good management", Michael Evanari

Location: Southwestern Oregon (Jackson County), Zone 7
Kay Bee

Joined: Oct 10, 2009
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
couple other thoughts... 

Have you considered the Holzer style animal repellant concoction?

Could you use this winter to start establishing some green manure "patches" around the property to encourage the deer and rabbits to focus their browsing in these areas rather than on your trees?  Basically bribe them with something better tasting.

I'm sure feeding them intentionally is the last thing you want to think about, but it may be a long-term compromise until you can get set up out there full time.

Deer especially are wandering browsers, so if you can get them to hit a couple of "non-valuable" options as they pass through, maybe you can escape further hits on your evergreens.
Jordan Lowery

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
have you considered tree tubes? this will protect the trunk of the tree. they vary in size depending on what you want. ive seen them up to 5 ft tall. they are made from various materials. most are made to be 100% biodegradable after a few years while the plant establishes itself.

the other benefit is they are cheap. you can get like 3000 of them for 60-80$

just google tree tubes and go to images for examples.

and not to be rude but i dont think cypress and pine are the best things to start with. deciduous trees build soil much faster. is there anything else growing there?

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
just about anything that keeps the rabbits from getting to the trunk will work, of course the tubes and wire ....i use those..but you can take just about anything cut in the right size strips and a stapler out there and staple protection together around the trunk..plastic, cardboard, bubble wrap, whatever you can come up with..I've even wound caution tape around the trunks and up into the branches to keep rabbits off


Bloom where you are planted.
Amit Enventres

Joined: Mar 24, 2011
Posts: 122
Hi there,

I'm sorry for your loss. It's amazing the damage varmints will do to trees. Those little rodents look so cute from a distance and so dispicable the next morning when your fresh plantings are partially eaten. If only you could explain to the little buggers that if they wait long enough, there will be plenty for them and you to live off of comfortably. Oh well...

The Carrizo Plains, if I remember correctly, are pretty bare of any sort of vegetation. Probably anything even slightly resembling a green plant drives the critters to salivate. I'm guessing there's no way you can feed the entire herbivor population of the area - if you could, I'd suggest that. In fact, probably your best time to put out young delicious plants is when the wildflowers are in bloom. But, since that's a short time of year, you'll likely need to work on detouring and discouraging them. You have to make your greenery less desireable than the surrounding brownery. So, maybe a combo of roddent-eating pets and protective barriers around the parts of the trees that can't handle animal trimming. Those jack rabbits are pretty tall, if I remember correctly - and aren't there also deer? Maybe you can also talk to the county about being able to put up small amounts of temporary fencing (2-3 years per 1/4 acre) to get plantings established. If they are so excited about conservation, they might take to it...

Good luck!
Matt Smith

Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
+1 on tree tubes. I learned very quickly the first few years planting baby trees which ones the rabbits around here enjoy. Most any small fruit tree without trunk protection will have the bottom 24" entirely debarked in a winter's season. I was lucky to have a few regrow above the graft but most were just toast.

I was heartbroken when this happened the first year. I use Tubex tree tubes from Oikos which have worked extremely well.
michael mcburney

Joined: Mar 29, 2012
Posts: 2
is there anything in your area that preys on varmints? maybe build owl houses or even encourage a coyote den in the area?
subject: Jackrabbits - tree destroyers