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How to Protect Your Trees from Animal Damage

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

Written by: Certified Arborist August Hoppe WI-477A

Homeowners work hard all growing season long to get their yards looking in good shape. Many of us take pride in planting young trees and shrubs to beautify their yards. And then,the animals come. It can be a real frustration to see your hard work get chewed up and destroyed by critters. The biggest culprits are deer, rabbits and voles. Fall and winter are often times that animals get hungry enough to venture into yards and feed. It’s important to act during autumn before damage begins. Here are some things that you can do to protect and limit damage to your prized plantings.


Deer can cause serious damage to trees and shrubs. Damage to tree trunks and feeding on new growth are common issues. If you live in an area with a large deer population, protect trees from buck rubs in the fall with trunk protectors. Trunk protectors come in many styles. Whichever is chosen, it’s important that the trunk guard is not in direct contact with the trunk. This can result in excessive moisture and trunk decay. One of the easiest and most effective ways is to use corrugated drain pipe up to a height of 4' to 5'. Cut a horizontal slit along the length of the pipe and wrap it around the trunk. This provides protection against deer and still allows airflow around the trunk. Feeding on branch tips can be a problem with deer as well. Evergreens such as yews and arborvitaes are most vulnerable to attack. Repellant sprays or physical barriers such as burlap can deter deer. When using a repellant spray, it often needs to be repeated applied throughout the season.


Rabbits chew the bark of young trees and shrubs. If they chew around the entire stem, the plant will not be able to transport any water to its tissues and eventually die. If the feeding does not get all the way around the stem, there is a chance of recovery for the stem. Aside from the damage to the stem’s base, small shrubs can also be eaten from the top down. Slanted-looking cuts staggered on the plant are signs that rabbits have been doing their handiwork.

The only surefire way to prevent rabbit damage is to make a physical barrier, a small fence. Hardware cloth surrounding the base of the plant is most effective. Use wire with holes that are no more than 1/4" in diameter, with a height of about 8”. Also, take note of heavy snowfall during the winter, since rabbits may be able to hop the fence by standing on deep snow. Prevent the rabbits from going underneath the hardware cloth fence by burying the lower portion of the fence (also effective against voles).

Altering the habitat can help prevent rabbit damage. Remove stacks of rocks, firewood, tangled brush and tall weeds from your property. This makes your yard look less hospitable to rabbits.


Voles are mouse-like creatures that chew the base of the tree, girdling it in a similar fashion to rabbits. Voles prefer thin-barked trees or young saplings, especially those with groundcover or thick plantings around the base, which create ideal cover for voles. Discourage voles by clearing away groundcover and plantings from the base of the tree. As with rabbits, the most effective deterrent is fencing. Be sure to install the fence 3" to 4” below ground to prevent voles from digging underneath it.

Extra Care for Damaged Trees & Shrubs

Plants that have experienced animal damage often need special care to help in their recovery. Adequate watering, fertilization and in some cases pruning can help restore a plant that has sustained damage. Contact Hoppe Tree Service to have your trees assessed this fall.

Since 1972, Hoppe Tree Service has been taking care of people and their trees. Join us as we celebrate 50 years of service to great customers in southeastern Wisconsin.

This post was originally published November 15, 2019 and has since been updated.

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