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Disaster! Girdled nursery stock ...

Posted by Shadiya Kingerlee 
Disaster! Girdled nursery stock ...
March 12, 2014 08:57AM
I've had fruit trees waiting to be planted over the winter, earthed up in the veg garden, safe from deer but it transpires, not from rodents. We're planting now and when I went to get the first lot of trees out, I discovered that what looks like a whole village of rodents have made their homes in the roots and surrounding area and many of the trees are completely ring barked. Other than beating my head against a wall, is there anything sensible I can do? My thinking so far is to plant out anything that still has some bark cover and pray. I'm going to try comfrey salve, as I read of its use on a tree with good results, desperate times call for desperate meassures and all that. I wondered whether I could try grafting some of the tops? I don't have any rootstocks but may be able to source some but I'm not sure whether, given my lack of experience, (I just did a course a few weeks ago so two trees to date) this would be throwing good money after bad. I could really use some advice from some more seasoned orchardists.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/12/2014 11:25AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Disaster! Advice please...
March 12, 2014 10:38AM
This is quite straightforward: trees ringed more than 50 or 60% don't survive in my (unfortunately extensive) experience. You have not specified whether we are dealing with grafted trees or rootstocks, but I infer that these are already grafted from your reference to being able to get rootstocks. The other question is what state they are in - still dormant or broken dormancy. Let's deal with various scenarios: 1) bark gone below graft union, and graft union sufficiently high that you can plant the tree deeper, burying area where bark is gone, but still leaving union above ground. Recomendation: plant deep. There is a good chance that new roots will form at raw edges of denuded bark. (But not guaranteed) 2) Bark gone below graft union, but right up to it. Suggestion: plant deep, burying graft union. Top may sprout roots. Note that this will result in a full size tree growing. If the rootstock was a dwarfing stock, you will lose the size control and precocity of bearing. In both these cases, I think I would cut back the top to only a couple of buds, to reduce the demand placed on the understock until it has a chance to grow new roots. 3) Trees completely ringed but still dormant: without question, cut scionwood from tops, get new rootstock and graft in spring. (Personally, I have had the greatest success with actively growing rootstocks.. What I would do in these circumstances is put the scion wood in the back of the fridge now, plant out the rootstocks in the field, wait until the buds are swelling on the rootstocks, and graft in the field.) 4) Everything has already broken dormancy, and trees completely ringed. here again, I think I would do the same as in #3, but I would further wrap the entire newly grafted scion with Parafilm right out to the end to prevent it drying out before it can re-establish vascular connections to the understock. The books are clear that the scion must be dormant at the time of grafting, but I have successfully grafted scions which were showing green, using this method. I suspect one could get the same effect by enclosing the entire scion and graft in something like a Baggie sealed snuggly, perhaps with a covering to stop the greenhouse effect heating the scion itself.
An additional comment: the ringed rootstocks can still serve a very worthwhile purpose. Plant them in a nursery bed. They will sprout from the roots, and you wil have made your very own stool bed, from which you can harvest rootstocks yourself for the next 20 or 30 years.

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
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