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Still Time To Protect Valuable Plants From Hungry Wildlife

Your landscape trees and shrubs are worth a lot of money, and, as they grow, they increase the value of your property. To the wild animals living nearby, however, they just represent a tasty meal when the winter pickings are slim.

Dining in the wide open may not be their idea of a great experience. They may not even consider your trees and shrubs gourmet fare but when their favorite food is inaccessible, they’ll turn to whatever’s available.

Persistent as these critters are, you can take steps to discourage them from dining on your growing green investment. Deer are the most difficult to discourage. 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.

People try all kinds of deterrents but there’s no one technique or product that’s 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. Tenting can also discourage deer. Drive poles into the ground around the trees and wrap burlap around the poles and attach it with staples. These tents have to be at least 12 feet tall and should be left open at the top to allow sunlight and water to reach the trees.

One deer deterrent may work for your neighbor but not for you. You’ll just have to experiment. There are repellents, which can be purchased or made using household items, and deer resistant plants like herbs. Deer love tulip bulbs but not daffodils. Mixing the two types of spring flowering bulbs in a single bed may discourage them. Hopefully, it’ll be like one food on our plate making the entire meal distasteful. If the ground hasn’t frozen, there’s still time to plant such a bed.

Don’t concentrate all your effort on discouraging deer and forget the mice, rabbits and voles. These animals are smaller and sneakier, and they can kill a tree or shrub while deer usually only disfigure it. That’s because mice and voles eat tender bark around the base of trees and shrubs. Rabbits eat bark and twigs further up the tree or shrub. They’re attracted to smaller, younger plants because they’re most tender. Mice have been known to kill plants by girdling all the way around the trunk or stem.

Mice and voles 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. While they, too, tend to be nocturnal, they can also be seen dining by daylight at times.

There are a number of ways to discourage mice, voles 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. Barriers are also effective. 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. Installing barriers can be done now before winter arrives with its full fury. However, you’ll have to keep pulling snow away from the base of your plants after every snowfall.

There’s still time this season to take any of the actions presented here. But I wouldn’t wait too long. Any measure that involves pounding poles into the ground or digging has to be completed before the ground freezes.

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