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Extension > Garden > Diagnose a problem > What's wrong with my plant? > Deciduous Trees > Elm > Bark chewed or removed

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Elm > Trunk/Branches > Bark chewed or removed

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  • Image: Woodpeckers 1
  • Image: Woodpeckers 2
  • Image: Woodpeckers 3


  • Bark often removed around holes
  • Holes are round and range in size from 1/4 to 1/2 inch
  • Larger holes, 1 1/2 or more inches may be nesting holes and suggest softer heartwood inside the tree
  • Woodpecker probing may indicate presence of wood boring insects under bark
  • Repetitive tapping or drumming heard
  • Birds of varying black and white patterns, often with some red, seen tapping on trees
  • More information on Woodpeckers
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  • Image: Dutch elm disease 1
  • Image: Dutch elm disease 2
  • Image: Dutch elm disease 3

Dutch elm disease
Ophiostoma ulmi and Ophiostoma novo-ulmi

  • Woodpecker holes with bark loss is common on trees killed by Dutch Elm Disease
  • Peel back bark on symptomatic branch to reveal brown streaking on wood
  • Leaves turn yellow, wilt or shrivel, turn brown, then fall off the branch
  • Initial infection occurs on one branch; disease may quickly progress to all branches
  • Healthy elms neighboring infected elms soon show symptoms due to spread through root grafts
  • American, red or slippery and rock elm are highly susceptible
  • More information on Dutch elm disease
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  • Image: Rabbit feeding 1
  • Image: Rabbit feeding 2

Rabbit feeding

  • Bark is completely removed from the main trunk
  • Regular scraping the size of a spoon tip can be seen in the wood
  • Small twigs are cleanly cut off with a sharp edge, at a 45 degree angle
  • Damage can occur from ground level to several feet up the trunk depending on the depth of winter snow
  • Majority of damage occurs in winter and early spring
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  • Image: Deer rubbing on young trees 1
  • Image: Deer rubbing on young trees 2
  • Image: Deer rubbing on young trees 3

Deer rubbing on young trees

  • Long lines of shredded or peeled off bark along main trunk up to 3 feet off the ground from antler rubbing
  • Wood may appear shiny or "polished"
  • Leaves and small branches (less than 1" in diameter) cut off with a rough or ragged edge — not a clean cut!
  • Feeding occurs from the ground up to 6 feet or slightly higher. Ragged edges, same as above, also if the bark is removed by a deer there will be no sign of teeth marks
  • More information on deer injury
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  • Image: Vole feeding 1
  • Image: Vole feeding 2
  • Image: Vole feeding 3

Vole feeding

  • Bark is completely removed from the main trunk in irregular patches
  • Scraping the size of a fork tine can be seen in exposed wood
  • Damage occurs during winter from the ground level up to winter snow depth

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