Yard and Garden: Prevent Wildlife Damage to Trees and Shrubs

October 9, 2019, 1:52 pm | Richard Jauron, Willy Klein

AMES, Iowa – Protect trees and shrubs in the home landscape to limit damage done by wildlife during winter. Voles, rabbits and deer can cause severe damage to plants in the winter by feeding on twigs, bark, leaves and stems. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists tell how to protect woody plants. Wild Whitetail Deer by Steve Oehlenschlager/stock.adobe.com.

How can I prevent deer from rubbing off the bark on trees in the yard?  

In fall, bucks rub their antlers on trees to remove the dried velvet from their antlers and to mark their territory. This rubbing removes the thin layer of bark on small trees and can seriously damage or destroy them. Trunk damage typically occurs 1.5 to 3.5 feet above the ground.  

Damage caused by bucks rubbing their antlers on small trees can be prevented by driving three sturdy wooden stakes or fence posts around each tree in early fall. Space the stakes or posts about 18 inches apart.  

How do I prevent rabbits from damaging trees and shrubs in winter?  

The most effective way to prevent rabbit damage to trees and shrubs in the home landscape is to place chicken wire or hardware cloth fencing around vulnerable plants. To adequately protect plants, the fencing material needs to be high enough that rabbits won’t be able to climb or reach over the fence after a heavy snow. In most cases, a fence that stands 24 to 36 inches tall should be sufficient.

To prevent rabbits from crawling underneath the fencing, pin the fencing to the soil with U-shaped anchor pins. Small trees can also be protected by placing white corrugated or spiral tree guards around their trunks. After a heavy snow, check protected plants to make sure rabbits aren’t able to reach or climb over the fencing or tree guards. If necessary, remove some of the snow to keep rabbits from reaching the trees or shrubs.  

Damage may also be reduced by removing brush, junk piles and other places where rabbits live and hide. Live trapping and repellents are other management options.  

How do I prevent vole damage to trees and shrubs?  

The meadow vole is a small, brown, mouse-like rodent that is common throughout Iowa. Though common, the meadow vole is secretive and seldom seen by most individuals.  

Voles are herbivores. They feed on grasses and other herbaceous plants. They also eat seeds, fruits, tubers and bulbs. In winter, meadow voles may eat the bark on small trees and shrubs. Trees that are girdled (the bark is removed completely around the trunk) are effectively destroyed.  

Damage to young trees and shrubs can be prevented by placing cylinders of one-quarter-inch hardware cloth fencing around plants. Bury the bottom 2 to 3 inches of the hardware cloth in the soil to prevent voles from burrowing under the fencing. When mulching, keep wood mulches at least 6 inches from the trunks of small trees.  


Photo credit: Steve Oehlenschlager/stock.adobe.com


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