Who is pruning my shrubs?

Annabelle hydrangea - pruned by squirrels?
Annabelle hydrangea before I pruned it myself.

Someone’s been pruning my shrubs over the winter, and it definitely wasn’t me. When I first saw all this damage, I thought it might be from the heavy snows we’ve had this winter, but the stems don’t look broken.

Oakleaf hydrangea - pruned by squirrels?
I don’t prune my oakleaf hydrangeas, but someone does.

All of my hydrangeas – both oakleaf and Annabelle – show this damage, as does the mapleleaf viburnum.

Mapleleaf viburnum - pruned by squirrels?

Has anyone else seen this? Do you think it might be squirrels or rabbits? It could even be raccoons or opossums, since we have a large population of those as well. I don’t really care about the Annabelles since they do better with a pruning, but to lose so many branches of the mapleleaf viburnum and oakleaf hydrangeas really hurts. Perhaps everything will grow back bigger and stronger, but I’ll have to wait to find that out until summertime.


16 responses to this post.

  1. that’s terrible. are these in an enclosed yard or out in the open? most of them look like clean cuts made with something sharp.


  2. We have had the same problem with the annebelle and oakleaf hydrangea. There will be few blooms on the oakleaf. Aronia and a young spirea were affected and even the hollies were clipped although not as bad. Thankfully whatever did the damage did not like the red osier dogwood. A hawthorn with several suckers had the suckers cut back and bark gnawed
    My best guess would be rabbits from looking at the damage. Snow cover lifted the rabbits to thinner areas on stems, plus that angled clear cut looks like rabbit.
    When we first planted the oakleaf hydrangea they were enclosed by wire cages over the winter. After growing taller and stems thicker the problem all but disappeared. Never had the annebelle clipped before this winter. The snow must have had the creatures very hungry.


  3. Posted by lakechicagoshores on March 22, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Gina, they’re all in our backyard. We do have a wooden fence around it, but it wouldn’t keep out any determined person or animal.

    Gloria, it’s some comfort that it’s not just me! I think the cold winter means a lot of hungry critters out there. I might have to get some cages for my smaller shrubs for next winter.


  4. Those look like clean cute to me too — do rabbits and squirrels have teeth that resemble an anvil pruner?


  5. Posted by Kim on March 27, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Interesting that they only get the tips of the branches and not any other places. Hmmm??! 😦


  6. […] The natives oakleaf hydrangea (above), mapleleaf viburnum (below), blackhaw viburnum (below that), and wild geranium (bottom) are contributing their color as well. The mapleleaf has certainly bounced back from its rabbit/squirrel pruning this past winter! […]


  7. It definitely looks like the rabbits did your prunning – very characteristic.


  8. Definitely the rabbits. That’sexactly how they do their browsing. When they are hungry during snowy winters they wll get through smaller openings than you would think possible under your fence.


  9. Posted by josh on April 26, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    This is deffinately not rabbit damage. I am a landscaper and specialize in prunning shrubs from the looks of the picture those are perfect flush cuts. Plus judging at the height of those theres no way that a rabbit could even reach those branches but ya you might wanna keep a close eye on your yard next year hope this helps 🙂


  10. Posted by lakechicagoshores on April 27, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Well, those cuts were made when there was at least a foot of snow on the ground, so they were a lot closer to rabbit or squirrel height. The same thing happened this past winter, so I’m going to try caging them this fall. If they still get cut, then I think humans shoot to the top of the suspect list!


  11. Posted by John on January 14, 2010 at 7:44 am

    You have either rabbit or ground hog eating there. Check for droppings.


  12. Posted by elisha on March 12, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    i had the EXACT same thing recently. we had 2 snows within 3 weeks that were at least 9 inches, immediately after those I noticed very small branches lying around the bottoms of my azaleas, 2 small birch trees, and my 3 year old willow. Half of my azalea is gone! Last year I found the same damage on my willow and I swore someone must have been cutting it to get starts. They were perfect 45 degree cuts. Now that you mentioned the snow I remember there was a deep snow last year before I found small branches on the ground. I wish I had pictures; it looks just like yours. It has to be a rabbit, and it makes sense if snow was covering all the grass, there wouldnt have been much else for them to attempt to eat. This time there was just to much of it for it to have been done by a person, unless they were VERY bored and had A LOT of time!


  13. Squirrels. I keep a dwarf oakleaf in a wooden barrel on a 2nd story balcony (no rabbits for me) . But I have squirrels aplenty. I am constantly catching squirrels red-handed as they dig up my flower pots, chew on my pansies, even devour whole pumpkins that I set as decorative displays in the fall. And yes, my poor oakleaf suffered the same fate as yours….squirrel pruning. They chewed off the old leaves in the winter, & then returned last week & chewed off every single new spring leaf that had sprouted. I can’t wait for spring to bloom so that they will have something else to eat.


  14. Something to eat besides my hydrangea I mean.


  15. Okay, I am dealing with the same issue and posted a similar inquiry on UBC Botanicals. Now, let me get this straight: rabbits, possibly squirrels can do precision cut on branches?

    My azalea was cut down, leaving very few buds. My Japanese maple and silver leaf dogwood were also cut down. This all happened this past week, well after the snow had melted in Toronto. I found everything cut and underneath the shrub, not chewed, uneaten. Human or animal?

    Question: Were your branches eaten or did you find them on the ground underneath? Mine were all there, which made me think, definitely not animal…why wouldn’t they eat it? I also live in a suburb and there are many squirrels, but the rabbits hang out by the ponds, away from me.


  16. Posted by lakechicagoshores on April 13, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Wow, Trish, that sounds like some serious cutting. If you look closely at my pictures, you’ll see that the bunny/squirrel/? cuts are a little raggedy – are yours? I think most of the branches I lost were eaten or hauled off elsewhere. Do you have any deer around? If you’re near a creek or ravine, I know they can come up those and sneak into yards for a nibble…


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