University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
WINTER PROTECTION OF LANDSCAPE
PLANTS FROM ANIMALS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
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
eaten by deer. A little time invested in
some fall protection from animal browsing will help ensure your
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
die. The more a trunk or branch is
“girdled”, or with bark removed around it, the less chance the plant
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
pets or even children. If using, keep in
boxes or containers with small (one inch wide) holes that mice can
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
eat even obnoxious tasting or smelling plants to stay alive. You may
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
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
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
attract mice to eat the bark. Such
smells work by interfering with the deer’s acute sense of smell and
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
white-tailed deer in flight). If this
doesn’t work, you may need to resort to electric fencing (baited
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
them and wrap with 6-foot high mesh deer netting.