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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Edible Landscaping – Landscaping with Taste

Creative landscape made with assorted organic vegetables.

The modern trend is to no longer banish the vegetable garden to the far corner of the back yard.  Rather, homeowners are now putting vegetables and fruit trees or bushes on display as part of an elegant, edible, landscape design.  So while this is a modern trend, an edible landscape is really an ancient practice dating back to medieval monks and ancient Persians growing a rich array of vegetables, flowers, fruits, and herbs for edible, medicinal, and ornamental virtues.  It was also a long practice of English gardens which was reinstated in 2009 by Queen Elizabeth when she had an organic edible landscape installed within the Buckingham Palace Garden which includes heirloom species of beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and other edibles.

While an edible landscape doesn’t need to be as elaborate as the Queen’s, an edible landscape does use attractive, food-producing plants in a well-designed garden plan around the home and/or living area in the same way that ornamental plants are used.  It may also incorporate ornamental plants. As a result, the edible landscape offers fresh, affordable food, a variety of foliage and colors, and sustenance for bees, butterflies, and birds.  As this trend grows, there are a growing number of professional landscape companies getting into the business of helping homeowners plan their landscape to include edibles, courses for certification as agriscaping educators and professionals, and any number of books and online articles providing information.  Interestingly enough, some subdivision developers now offer buyers a choice of either traditional landscaping or agriscaping for their new home.

Design is what separates edible landscaping from traditional vegetable gardening.  Whether ornamental or edible, design should be pleasing to the eye and draw one into the garden to experience it.  Instead of rows of vegetables which lead one away like a highway, the same space can be made very attractive (and edible) by incorporating basic landscaping principles  starting with a center of interest and then curving other plants around it—the same way one would plan an ornamental garden.  Add a few flowers, a trellis for beans/peas or cucumbers, an arbor for grapes, a bench, a bird bath, a fruit or nut tree, garden ornaments and voila!  It’s an ornamental edible landscape!

Planning an edible landscape incorporates the same design values of traditional landscapes. Carol Venolia writing for Mother Earth Living, says start small, choose plants appropriate for your climate zone, and offers the following design tips:

  • Create primary and secondary focal points.
  • Use plantings and hardscaping (such as paths and patios) to define spaces for various uses and experiences.
  • Work consciously with color, texture and seasons of blooming and fruiting when choosing your garden’s palette.
  • Pay attention to how you lead the eye from one part of the garden to another.
  • Except for featured specimen plants, create groupings of plants to avoid a busy, random appearance.
  • Explore the aesthetic potential of plants: Grow vines on arbors; create edible landscape walls with vines and shrubs; espalier fruit trees; use containers as accents; grow decorative borders of edibles.
  • Make plants do double duty by shading your house in summer and admitting sunshine in winter, reducing your home’s energy use.

For inspiration, one need not look far.  Following recent trends, many public gardens have incorporated edible gardens into their landscapes.  One of the best can be found at the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanical Garden.

So whether to save money, provide better-quality food for the family, know what you eat, reduce carbon footprint, involve family, or simply to try something different, edible landscaping is a trend that provides environmental benefits and returns a bit of sanity and security to chaotic times.  However you do it, Happy Gardening!

A few resources for further reading or to help get you started:

Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn by Fritz Haeg et al.

Edible Landscaping: Now You Can Have Your Gorgeous Garden and Eat it Too by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscapes (The Seed) by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension et al.

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

The Incredible Edible Landscape by Carrie Wolfe, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Landscaping with Fruit: Strawberry ground covers, blueberry hedges, grape arbors, and 39 other luscious fruits to make your yard an edible paradise by Lee Reich

Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables by Fred Hagy

 

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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Preventing Unwanted House Mouse Guests

Cool, fall weather has arrived and along with leaves and nippy mornings, bugs and rodents are scurrying to find warmer quarters.  Often times, those warmer quarters are in the home.  Of these invaders, the common or European house mouse is one of the most troublesome and definitely an unwanted house guest.

Droppings, fresh gnawing, and tracks are usually the first signs of mouse activity.  Other signs might include nests made from shredded paper or other fibrous material and their characteristic musky odor.  They are most active at night but it is not uncommon for them to be seen during the day, too.  Common locations for these critters are under the sink, in cabinets or drawers, on the counter, and under furniture with their trails usually running along the baseboards.

These little critters require minimal space to invade a home.  Mice can squeeze through openings slightly larger than ¼ inch, just enough space to get their whiskers and head through.  They are excellent climbers and can run up any rough vertical surface.  They are also “tight rope artists” in that can run horizontally along very thin wires, cables, or ropes.  According to Dennis Ferraro, Nebraska Extension Wildlife Specialist, mice can jump straight up two and half feet and across three feet or drop vertically eight feet and keep running at a speed of six miles per hour.

Further, mice have a tremendous reproductive capacity.  In a year’s time, a female may have five to ten litters of usually five to six young born 19-21 days after mating.  Mice reach reproductive maturity in six to ten weeks.  The life span of a mouse is usually nine months to one year.

So with these facts in mind, prevention is key and involves three components—mouse-proof construction, good sanitation or removal of sources of food and water, and population reduction.

Mouse-proof construction.  The most successful and permanent form of house mouse control is to prevent them from entering in the first place by eliminating all openings through which they can enter.  Conduct a thorough inspection of your home—inside and out.  Look for gaps in siding where the siding meets the foundation or where pipes and other utilities enter.  Cracks in foundations and loose-fitting doors without proper weather stripping are other obvious places where mice can get in.  Since mice are good climbers, don’t forget to check openings around the roof, including attic vents.  Use rodent-proof materials to close all openings such as steel wool, hardware cloth, galvanized sheet metal or metal flashing, cement mortar, caulking, and spray foam insulation or combinations of these materials.  For how-to-do details, see Rodent-Proof Construction and Exclusion Methods prepared by Cornell, Clemson, UNL, and Utah State Universities.

Sanitation.  Eliminating their food and water source is critical to controlling them.  Mice are opportunistic feeders that will eat any food discarded by humans.  Therefore, clean up spilled food or remove open food in cupboards, drawers, counter tops, and floors under stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers.  Place all accessible food in mouse-proof containers such as glass or store in the refrigerator or freezer.  Store pet and bird food in sealed containers.  Keep cabbage can lids tightly sealed.  Remove pet food and water dishes when not in use and do not leave a glass of water or dirty dishes sitting in the sink.

Outdoors, remove clutter and debris from the perimeter of the house.  Keep grass, shrubs, and other vegetation trimmed around the house.  Remove any container that could hold water.

Population reduction. Population reduction can be done through a combination of rodenticides, trapping, or by professional extermination.  Spring traps are the preferred method; baiting with peanut butter usually works well as long as you put the bait far enough in that the mouse has to work for it.  Baits or poisons used indoors should be avoided if possible.  Often pets and children are unintended victims of baits and poisons.  And mice usually die in the walls or some other hard-to-get-at location where they discompose for a month emitting a foul smell, shedding bacteria, and attracting maggots. Should you need to clean up after a mouse infestation, follow these tips.

A few steps now can prevent those troublesome and unwanted house mice from becoming your guests!

 

 

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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Hummingbirds

Several weeks ago, while washing dishes, I noticed a humming bird feeding on my Easter Lilies. I was pretty excited when I saw it several days in a row as we had never seen any hummingbirds in the 41 years we have lived on our farm. I wanted to encourage the bird to continue feeding in my garden and perhaps to bring some friends. I’ve seen the bird several times a week for the last month or so.

I remembered that we have directions for making nectar in our AnswerLine files and I purchased an inexpensive feeder. I’ve been making new nectar and cleaning the feeder weekly.  I’ve written the recipe for Hummingbird nectar at the bottom of the page.  My feeder is in the shade all day except for the early morning so I have not had any trouble with evaporation. I have only seen the one hummingbird, as far as I can tell, in the several weeks I’ve been maintaining the feeder. I thought that it would be fun to do a little research on humming birds.

I learned that hummingbirds do migrate. I won’t delay the birds from heading south by leaving my feeder full late into the fall. So I plan to put it away for the year when the first frost is predicted. I did not know just how early they return; now I know that I should get the feeder ready in late April. I also plan to plant more flowers that will attract humming birds next spring. The vibrant blue delphiniums in my garden seemed to be a favorite for the hummingbird.

I’ve also learned about hummingbird metabolism. I knew that they required a speedy metabolism to support the rapid fluttering of the wings but I did not know that they had the ability to hibernate.  Hummingbirds can go into a sort of deep sleep called Torpor.  When the bird is in the Torpor state, the metabolism is lowered by 95%.  Hummingbirds will use almost 50 times less energy in this state.

I tried to capture a picture of my hummingbird enjoying the feeder last night. He is a bit hard to see, but is on the left side of the feeder.  I hope to be able to share my hummingbird with my grandchildren the next time they visit.

 

Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

1 cup of water and ¼ cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Let cool in the refrigerator before using.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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