Some of the smallest animals do some of the most serious damage to landscapes in the winter. That’s because their food sources are low to the ground, and their traditional food may be covered with snow.
The animals I’m talking about are mice, voles and even rabbits. The tips here don’t apply to deer. They graze higher up on the plants.
It’s important to blow or rake leaves. Leaving them where they fall provides rodents with hiding places. If the leaves are piled against a tree trunk or shrub stem, rodents love to hide under them and chew away at the tree or shrub. If they are piled against the foundation of your house, mice can hide there while they find a way into your house, where it’s warm and they can find food scraps.
Leaves left on the ground can also hide harmful insects who are overwintering under them. But that’s a two-edge sword. Fallen leaves can also provide a hiding place for beneficial insects. Unfortunately, you can’t decide which insects take up residence under your leaves. A good compromise is to retain a few leaves for the insects but keep them away from the plants to discourage rodents.
Besides removing leaves from around plants there are several other steps you can take to discourage bolder rodents who don’t mind dining in the open. The easiest is to wrap tree trunks with hardware cloth. Hardware cloth is a durable, plastic screening material. A rodent would have to be very determined or very hungry to try to eat through this material. You can also buy plastic tree guards or make them from plastic drain pipes. Be sure you don’t install tree guards tightly around the trunk. They should also be buried into the soil a couple of inches. And remember to remove the hardware cloth or tree guards in the spring.
Protecting your valuable plants from winter foragers is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Repairing the damage these creatures can cause is just the opposite.