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Animal Proof Your Plants For Winter

Remember last winter when the snow and cold weather turned your valuable landscape into a buffet for deer, rabbits, mice and other mammals? We don’t know what this winter will bring, but it’s best to follow the Boy Scout motto – Be Prepared.

This is the right time of year to begin planning your strategy for dealing with hungry animals. Depending on what method you decide upon, some pre-emptive action may have to be taken now, while the weather is still warm and the ground isn’t frozen.

The three peskiest mammals that we have to be concerned about are the whitetail deer, cottontail rabbit and field mouse. Each requires a different tactic to “discourage” them from destroying your valuable trees and shrubs. Regardless of what deterrent you select, it won’t prevent a starving animal from feeding on your plants. These animals that we like to see on our property in the summer become nuisances in winter because the snow covers their preferred food sources.

People express the most concern about deer feeding on their trees and shrubs in winter. That’s because they’re so big and eat higher up in the tree than the smaller pests. As a result, it’s easier to see the damage

The biggest danger actually comes from the smallest of the big three – the field mouse. These pests prefer to eat under cover of snow or mulch; it protects them from cats, birds of prey and other predators. They burrow down and eat the tender bark around the base of young trees and shrubs. If they’re hungry enough, or have enough companions, they can eat all the way around the trunk or stem, girdling and killing the tree.

The two best mouse deterrents are to be sure you don’t have any mulch volcanoes around your trees or shrubs and to keep the snow shoveled away from the base of trees. Like mice, rabbits also like tree bark. However, they don’t try to hide. Brazen rabbits will stand right on the snow and eat bark off your young trees. While deer will eat trunk bark, they prefer twigs. Pruning off any branches below six feet will discourage animals from browsing there.

Wrapping the trunks of young trees with hardware cloth and building a fence around shrubs will make it difficult for animals to eat the bark. Wrap the cloth as high as six feet above the ground, or above the anticipated snow height, and you have a deterrent for all the pests. Be sure to remove the hardware cloth in the spring to accommodate the trunk’s new growth.

While the hardware cloth is, arguably, the most effective method, some others include commercial preparations, fox urine, bloodmeal, domestic rabbit pellets, human hair and even a shower radio and a string of noisy cans. There isn’t much evidence that any of these tactics work well but anything is worth a try.

Black deer fencing is becoming popular, but fencing in a whole landscape can be expensive and there may be some liability factors associated with that. I recommend checking with your town and insurance agent before installing it.

Some plants are unpalatable to certain animals. I’m certainly not recommending that you rip out your current landscape and replace it with these plants. It would be a very boring landscape, but planting a few plants on the list near an especially prized tree or shrub will make animals think twice before coming near.

Our landscape designers have a list of animal-resistant plants and they would be happy to share it with you if you contact us.

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