If you emerged from last winter’s doldrums excited to get reacquainted with your landscape only to find that the wild animals had a feast at your expense, now is the time to take action before this winter.
For the most part, our uninvited dinner guests are rabbits, mice and deer. These pests may stop in for a quick snack in the spring, summer and fall, but they’re regular visitors in the winter when their other food sources are in short supply.
Your first step is to identify your unwelcome diners and then take appropriate action to deter them. Field mice eat tender bark around the base of trees and shrubs. They’re attracted to smaller, younger plants because they are most tender. Mice have been known to kill plants by girdling all the way around the trunk or stem.
Mice don’t like dining in public. They burrow under the snow when possible. When that’s not possible, they often dine at night. Rabbits, on the other hand, aren’t quite as paranoid. They’ll stand on top of the snow and eat bark and twigs. While they, too, tend to be nocturnal, they can also be seen dining by daylight at times.
Deer are probably the most serious problem. They’ve become so bold that they’ll rise up on their hind legs if necessary to reach a tender tree branch. When they’re hungry enough in winter, they aren’t fussy about their diet. They’ll even eat plants you wouldn’t think they could swallow – plants like holly and barberries.
There are a number of ways to discourage mice and rabbits. The most basic deterrent is to keep mulch and snow away from the trunk and stems. This open space will eliminate a hiding place so the animals (mice in particular) feel vulnerable dining at that restaurant. Barriers are popular and directions for making them are all over the internet, The easiest barrier can be made by wrapping the trunk with hardware cloth, plastic pipe or tree wrap. Some barrier directions say to offset the hardware cloth out from the trunk with wooden or PVC frames. There are also many chemical and natural sprays that you can apply. My personal choice is pulling snow and mulch away from the trunk and wrapping the trunk with hardware cloth.
Deer are more difficult to discourage. People try all kinds of deterrents but there’s no one technique or product that is near foolproof. With nature, nothing is foolproof. Fencing may be the most effective but it has to be at least eight feet tall. Netting is said to work on shrubs and small trees. There are also repellents, which can be purchased or made using household items, and deer resistant plants like herbs. Deer love tulip bulbs but not daffodils. There’s also the old method of stuffing socks or panty hose legs with human hair and suspending them over the plants you want to protect. Strategically placed motion activated lights may also work.
This is just a sampling of remedies. There is no one size that fits all. One deer deterrent may work for your neighbor but not for you. You’ll just have to experiment. If you find a way to control rodents and deer, I’d like to hear about it so I can share it with others. Send it to me in the comments section below.