Winter Protection of Trees and Shrubs from Wildlife

Protecting trees and shrubs from wildlife is an ongoing battle. At the present moment I am on a mission to protect several young shrubs in my yard from wildlife during the winter.  Earlier this fall, I planted new shrubs in an unprotected area.  They have established themselves well with all the fall rainfall.  However, with all the wildlife in the area, protecting these young, small plants from damage or worse before winter sets in is a must and the timing on this task is running short so I need to act soon. 

The two biggest culprits to my plants are likely to be deer and rabbits.  Deer can cause damage to plants by either rubbing or by browsing.  Male deer rub their antlers against young trees or stems to remove the dried velvet from their antlers and to mark their territory. Rubbing against stems and young trunks can cause girdling and dieback as it removes the thin layer of bark. Browsing may occur throughout the entire year but becomes more noticeable during late fall and winter, when other foods are less available. A hungry deer in a cold winter will eat anything and one adult deer can consume up to four pounds of woody twigs a day. 

Rabbit nibbling is also of concern.  Rabbits damage plants by eating small twigs and buds or chewing bark at the base of plants. The clipped twigs exhibit a clean, 45֯ slant or knife-like cut. Trunk damage is often scarred with paired gouges from the rabbit’s front teeth. Rabbits generally feed no more than two feet above the ground or at snow level. Clipping or gouging can severely alter or reduce the size of small plants.

Rabbit damage may be the easy part of the prevention equation as the most effective recommended method to prevent rabbit damage is to place and anchor chicken wire or hardware cloth fencing around the plants.  The recommended height of fencing is 24-36 inches–high enough that rabbits won’t be able to climb or reach over the fence after a heavy snowfall.  However, that will not prevent deer browsing.  I have had no luck in the past with spooking or repellents.  Deer fencing is the best option but I don’t find 8-foot fences aesthetically pleasing.  Therefore, I must come up with something else and hope that it works.   I’m giving thought to covering the top with additional wire or reducing the size of the top opening by gathering the fence top or stringing several wires crisscross across the fence opening.  I’m accepting additional ideas for my dilemma. 

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists provided more information on how to protect trees and shrubs in the home landscape in a recent news release, Prevent Wildlife Damage to Trees and Shrubs.  For specific questions or concerns, they can be contacted at hortline@iastate.edu or 515-294-3108.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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