by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
There is a lot of work that gardeners put into planting and caring for trees and shrubs in the landscape. One of the most annoying things you can see in the spring is plants that have been gnawed by mice or chewed on by deer and rabbits. It’s not too late to put into action a few things you can do this time of year to help protect plants from winter time feeding by animals.
Nutrients and water are shuttled through the plant in the bark, so when it is chewed off the plant suffers. The more a trunk or branch is “girdled” (bark being removed) the less chance the plant has for survival.
Mice tend to live in tall grass or mulch around plants, so an easy fix would be to keep the mulch away from the trunk of a tree and to mow down the tall grass. Mouse baits can be used but it is best to keep the bait contained in a small box with a 1 inch opening or an empty soda can so that larger animals and children cannot get to it. Keep in mind that it is possible for pets to get sick or die from eating a bait-killed rodent.
Rabbits will walk on compacted snow and can do their damage up higher on the plant. A sure sign of rabbit damage is to find their tracks and small, pea-sized droppings next to the trunk. To protect your plants from them you can wrap the trunk with a plastic tree guard or make a cylinder of hardware cloth mesh. If using a wire mesh it should extend beyond the trunk by about an inch all around and be about 18 to 24 inches above the snow level. If possible affix the mesh to the ground with 6 inch wire ground staples. To keep mice from digging under the screen before the ground is frozen, bury it a few inches into the soil. Scattering dried bloodmeal or mothballs will discourage rabbits in a small garden area.
Mindful landscaping can help to reduce the number of rabbits in a given area. Removing as much cover or hiding places as possible, like trimming the shrubs up from the ground and removing wood piles that consist of discarded limbs and such.
If you have many trees or shrubs to protect, there are taste and odor repellants that you can use too. These repellants work by being sprayed on the tree or shrub. This will have to be done again after a rain. Soak some old rags in the repellant and hang them on the plants too. Such smells work by interfering with the deer’s acute sense of smell and so of smelling potential danger nearby. The down side to this is that if the rabbits or deer are hungry enough they will eat the bark anyway just to stay alive.
If all else fails you may have to resort to using fencing. It is the most reliable deer control solution, but not always the most practical or aesthetically pleasing. As we all know, deer are excellent jumpers and it is commonly recommended to use 8 foot high fencing to keep them out. With individual fruit trees or shrubs you can place stakes around them then wrap with mesh deer netting.
Wait until late spring to prune any questionable branches or plants. Give trees and bushes some time to recover if they have been nibbled upon. If no buds or green growth appear by early June, it is likely dead and can be removed.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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