Ask a Question forum: Something ate most of the buds

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Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
Feb 24, 2017 3:38 PM CST
Thumb of 2017-02-24/jsf67/eb309b

Sorry about the bad photo. My hands aren't steady enough, especially after heavy yard work, so I couldn't hold the camera still. I'll try again some day soon with a tripod if any buds are left.

I failed entirely to get a photo of the clean cut exuding a tiny white drop of sap where each bud used to be.

I sprayed some deer and rabbit repellent on it a couple times late last year and again when I saw the damage today. Damage is too high up for rabbits and I haven't seen any deer in my yard all winter (unlike all previous winters). So I think something else ate this. I hope deer and rabbit repellent discourages those as well.

I think the shrub is some kind of small leaf rhododendron. My wife bought it a couple years ago, and it looks and acts very different from all the other small leaf rhododendrons we have or had, but I think it is anyway. The leaves on this one turn reddish brown in the winter and look dead but don't fall. Now a few of the old leaves seem to be turning green again (as opposed to some of our other small leaf rhododendrons, where new green leaves come in, and old leaves that turned color without falling, eventually fall and don't turn green again).

I don't recall is this one ever bloomed (maybe the buds were all eaten last year as well). It was loaded with buds in Jan, but this is the first time I took a close look in Feb and it has only a few left.

The biggest leaves on this shrub are 1.25 inches long. The ones in this photo are a little smaller.

Any ideas how to protect it?

[Last edited by jsf67 - Feb 24, 2017 3:45 PM (+)]
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Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Feb 24, 2017 4:45 PM CST
jsf - do you have squirrels? If they're desperate, they'll go after the buds once they discover them. Do you have any netting that you can throw over your shrubs?
Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can't eat money. Cree proverb
Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
Feb 24, 2017 4:58 PM CST
We have a massive number of squirrels. I doubt they're desperate. They spend most of their time on warm winter days chasing each other, not foraging.

I don't think netting would be practical.

Even if the deer and rabbit repellent doesn't directly discourage squirrels and chipmunks, I think the overwhelming smell of cloves would stop them from re-identifying any food they had found they like, because they do so mainly by smell.

I would guess birds are more likely for this damage, but that isn't much more than a guess. I would not guess they care whether it smells like cloves (with supposedly rotten egg smell as well, but I can't detect any other smell past the overwhelming clove smell, which for humans fortunately isn't unpleasant).

Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
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Feb 24, 2017 5:38 PM CST
Can you be certain a deer hasn't sneaked in when you weren't looking, like overnight? Is the ground soft enough that you'd be sure to see hoof prints?
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Feb 24, 2017 5:47 PM CST
Sooby - that would have been my next guess. The deer will forage in the dark here.
Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can't eat money. Cree proverb
Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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Feb 24, 2017 6:04 PM CST
Squirrels don't have to be desperate to do this; they enjoy eating the tasty buds of plants such as Rhododendrons. They even ate some of the leaf buds from my fig trees this year.

If it is the deer doing the damage the buds will be gone at "deer height" and no where else.

You can mix up sprays using things like hot peppers and/or garlic and spray them on the plants. Always test in a small area to be sure the homemade spray does not damage the foliage.

I don't think it would be practical to make a net covering or something from hardware cloth to protect the shrubs.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"
Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
Feb 24, 2017 8:01 PM CST
This past summer, when the deer were eating my plants at night, they were also leaving behind fertilizer.
I don't know what Greene might mean about "deer height". The plants they destroyed in the summer were close to the ground. In previous winters foraging in daytime in my yard, what they ate was above fairly deep snow. They usually seem picky about some detail or other, but I really doubt it is height. In previous winters when deer ate ordinary rhododendron near that shrub, they ate the leaves. Whatever ate these buds didn't touch the leaves on this shrub nor the leaves on the ordinary rhododendron next to it.
Last summer was the first time I ever used deer and rabbit repellent. I applied it to almost everything in the area of this shrub. But there are woods just beyond so the deer should not have been desperate. I didn't use repellent on the Lily of the Valley nearby and was amazed to see two deer right outside my window eat all the red berries from a LOTV patch in daylight. Those are poisonous to mammals and apparently we don't have whatever birds should eat them, because nothing ever ate those berries before. That was the last time I ever saw dear in my yard (there had been a lot, so whatever happened to those two shouldn't be the reason they all stopped). All winter long I just saw one large male deer in the distance and not in my yard. Other winters a group walked through my yard every day.

I think a squirrel would have a hard time getting that many buds without doing more damage to twigs and leaves. A bird landing on the shrub would be light enough to do no other damage. A squirrel jumping onto the shrub to get buds would have torn twigs and leaves. But I'm not sure of that. It is more a matter that the squirrels were always there, and the buds were there a long time, untouched up to Jan.

If it was birds, I have no clue what discourages birds.
[Last edited by jsf67 - Feb 24, 2017 8:03 PM (+)]
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Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
Apr 21, 2017 9:06 AM CST
5 surviving buds are now becoming flowers. That is most (maybe all) the buds that were still there on Feb 24. Maybe respraying the deer and rabbit repellent worked, or maybe whatever ate most of the buds earlier in Feb was done by then.

Every place that had a flower bud eaten is now growing new leaves.

Thumb of 2017-04-21/jsf67/a25428

Thumb of 2017-04-21/jsf67/c94994

I still want to figure out how to protect the flower buds next winter.

I'd also like any suggestions on how to figure out which kind of small leaf rhododendron this is. Once the flowers are fully open, I think that should help.

I have several other kinds of rhododendron in my yard. This one is very different (and generally doing better) than any of the other small leaf rhododendrons.

I think it is the only one that has its leaves turn brown for the winter, but the same leaves (not just new ones) turn green again in spring. It is certainly the earliest flowering rhododendron in my yard.
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Cat Lover Heucheras Hellebores Container Gardener
Birds Region: New York Irises Garden Ideas: Master Level Avid Green Pages Reviewer Lilies
Apr 21, 2017 9:29 AM CST
I believe it's deer. They come in evening just after dark and early AM just about 4:00AM. Ihave tombs on my deer troubles.
I found the repellants only work for a few years or weeks ( some only a day DeerOff )
Deer become used to the oder and ignore it.
I started with Liquid Fence, worked about 3 years with twice a month applications.
Then Repellzall, same application the deer ignored it after 2 years.
Last year I applied DeerOff and DeerStop. Not much success.
I have a new repellant that had worked so far. I applied it ALL over the gardens to stop Daylilies,Crocuses,Tulips all emerging spring bulbs. It is working.
I will reapply in late May to save the hostas and lilies.
Deer seem to lobe the buds of Daylilies and other orientals and asiatics as well as phlox and hosta. Must be loaded with carbohydrate.

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