University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article
line
WINTER PROTECTION OF LANDSCAPE PLANTS FROM ANIMALS
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
With all the hard work gardeners put into planting and caring for trees and shrubs, including fruit plants, the last sight you want to see in spring is plants that have been gnawed by mice or eaten by deer.  A little time invested in some fall protection from animal browsing will help ensure your precious plants make it to spring.
           
Damage to landscape plants occurs when animals, trying to find food in winter, dine on plant bark.  This is where nutrients and water are shuttled through the plant, so when it is chewed off of trunks and stems, these die.  The more a trunk or branch is “girdled”, or with bark removed around it, the less chance the plant has to survive.
           
Mice tend to live in tall grass, straw, or mulch around plants, from where they do their damage.  So an easy control is to keep these away from trunks, and grass mowed around plants.  You can use mouse baits, but these poisons can harm non-target animals too, like pets or even children.  If using, keep in boxes or containers with small (one inch wide) holes that mice can enter but larger animals can’t reach.  Such containers are good for mousetraps too, baited with peanut butter. 
           
Rabbits, on the other hand, tend to walk on a compacted snow surface and feed from there higher up on plants.  So for them, you can wrap trunks with tree wrap, a plastic tree guard, or cylinder of hardware cloth mesh.  If using a wire mesh cylinder for mice, make sure it extends a few inches below the soil level and, for rabbits, 18 to 24 inches above the snow level.
           
You can spray taste repellents on plant stems too, but if the rabbits (or deer) are hungry enough they will eat even obnoxious tasting or smelling plants to stay alive. You may need to spray again in midwinter higher up on plants if the snow gets deep.
           
If you have a whole bed of shrubs, you can fence this in with chicken wire mesh.  Again, make sure this extends well beyond the snow level.  To keep rabbits from burrowing underneath, affix the mesh to the ground with “ground staples” you can find online or at complete home or landscape stores (6-inch long wire staples).  If there’s not much other food around, rabbits can dig underneath such mesh, so you’ll have to bury it several inches into the soil.
           
If there is alternative food nearby for deer, as in wild areas, repellents may be all that is necessary.  There are quite a few good commercial taste or odor repellent products you can buy and spray on plants, and that will last many weeks.  Some soak old rags in the repellent and hang among plants.
           
Alternatively, home remedies including hanging human hair in old socks or cloth bags among plants, or using smelly soap bars in these instead.  Just make sure not to hang the soap directly on plants, as the dissolving solution will attract mice to eat the bark.  Such smells work by interfering with the deer’s acute sense of smell and so of smelling potential danger nearby.
           
If there are many deer or they’re ravenous, repellents may not work and you may need to resort to fencing.  Start with some form of line about 4 feet high placed around plants, hung with white flagging (which simulates scared white-tailed deer in flight).  If this doesn’t work, you may need to resort to electric fencing (baited with peanut butter in foil wrap), or higher mesh deer fencing.   If just a few individual shrubs such as hydrangeas or fruits such as pear trees to protect, you can place stakes around them and wrap with 6-foot high mesh deer netting.

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