Your favorite fruit trees are going to die soon in Montana if you see any damage similar to these pictures. A long winter with deep snowbanks made for the perfect "storm" of destruction by a hated rodent - the vole.

My neighbor and were nearly in tears as we toured our yards the other day. Several of our fruit trees (along with dozens of others in the neighborhood), had been attacked by something over the winter. The bottom several inches of bark had been COMPLETELY gnawed 6 or 7 inches of nakedness around the entire tree. Zero bark left. Only soft, orange, unprotected, raw tree remains.

According to local experts, this is the kiss of death for these wonderful, decades-old fruit trees. I spoke with Cashman Nursery about the damage and the response was sympathetic but not good. That protective layer of bark that the voles had eaten away while the tree bases were buried in snow, is crucial to the health of any tree.

If you too have this kind of damage, the remaining life of your tree is probably a year or two. Three, if you're lucky. They just can't survive without their bark. This year's damage is widespread across the entire state, but places such as Bozeman that remained colder, longer, with deep snow banks faired the worst.

photo - Michelle Wolfe
photo - Michelle Wolfe

According to Pennsylvania State University: "The most common form of tree injury caused by meadow voles is trunk girdling at or near the ground surface. Since voles burrow in the snow, they may damage tree trunks as high as snow accumulates. Young trees are especially susceptible to attack."

The problem is so bad this season that voles even gnawed on species they normally wouldn't bother with. Lilacs and even spruce trees revealed damage by voles. Fruit trees are generally the victims, but this year was epic and the furry bastards weren't that picky, apparently.

Most of us in Montana are familiar with some vole damage to our laws revealed each spring, but unfortunately this year may change the landscape of may our yards. If you notice this kind of tree damage, you have my sympathy...but there's really nothing to remedy the problem. It's just a waiting game until our trees give up in the coming couple of years.

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