Updated: Apr 20
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 and destroyed by critters. The biggest culprits are deer, rabbits and voles. There are some things that you can do to protect and limit damage to your prized plantings. Fall-and-winter is often the time that animals get hungry enough to venture into yards and feed. It’s important to act during autumn before damage begins.
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, depending on the severity of the damage. Aside from the damage to the stem’s base, small shrubs can also be eaten from the top-down. Slanted-looking cuts staggered about the plant are signs that the rabbits have been doing their handiwork.
The only sure-fire 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 inch in diameter, with a height of about 18”.
Make note of heavy snowfall during the winter; rabbits may be able to hop the fence by going over it by standing on 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 or welcoming to the 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 ground cover or thick plantings around the base, which create ideal cover for voles. Avert the voles by clearing away ground cover and plantings away from the base of the tree. Similar to rabbits, the most effective deterrence is fencing. Be sure to install the fence 3-4” below ground to prevent voles from digging underneath it.
Deer can cause serious damage on trees and shrubs. Damage to tree trunks and feeding on new growth are common issues. If you live in an area with high deer populations, protect trees from buck rubs 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 4-5ft. Cut a slit horizontally through 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. If using a repellant spray, it often needs to be repeated applied throughout the season.
Plants that have experienced animal damage often need special care to help in their recovery. Adequate watering, fertilization and perhaps pruning can help restore a plant that has sustained damage.
Certified Arborist WI-0477A