By Melinda Myers
As the seasons change, we adjust our gardening tasks and plantings to match. Animals also make changes this time of year, often changing their eating habits and dining locations. These adjustments can impact your gardens. Reduce the risk of damage by starting in fall to protect your landscape from hungry animals this winter.
Take a walk around your landscape to evaluate plants and plantings for their susceptibility to animal damage. Look for pathways that animals use to access your landscape and areas of potential damage. Note new plantings, animal favorites and those special plantings you would hate to lose. Make sure these are protected.
Check mulch around trees and shrubs. Deep layers of mulch and mulch piled around the trunk of trees and the base of shrubs provides shelter for mice and voles. These rodents like to gnaw on the bark of trees and shrubs in winter. Pull mulch off tree trunks and stems and spread out deep mulch so it is only 2 to 4 inches deep.
Protect young trees and shrubs with a 4-foot-tall fence of hardware cloth sunk several inches into the ground to prevent vole damage at ground level and most rabbit damage. Mature trees are usually only bothered during years where the vole and rabbit populations are high and food is scarce.
Fencing around garden beds filled with animal favorites is another option. Make sure your fence is high enough, tight to the ground and gates are secure. You will need a 4-foot-high fence for rabbits and at least 5- to 6-foot high fence to keep deer out of small gardens. A fence of several strands of fishing line has proven to be successful for some gardeners.
Repellents are another less obtrusive option. These use smell or taste to discourage animals from dining in your landscape. Check the label to see if the repellent works on the animals and rodents you are trying to manage. For best results, apply repellents before animals start feeding. Then reapply as recommended on the label. Look for one, like organic Plantskydd (plantskydd.com), that is rain and snow resistant, lasting up to six months on dormant plants over the winter so you will need to apply it less often.
Scare tactics may be effective depending on where you live. In urban and suburban areas animals are used to human scents and sounds. Gardeners often hang old CDs and shiny ribbons in tree branches to scare hungry animals. If you opt for scare tactics, be sure to employ a variety of options and change their location to increase your chance of success.
Constantly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the methods used and check all plantings for damage. When animal populations are high and hungry, they will eat about anything. Be willing to change things up if one method is not working. Using multiple tactics will help increase your level of success.
Protect your landscape from hungry deer, rabbits, and voles this winter. Start preparing in fall before their winter dining habits begin. If you are vigilant and persistent, you can coexist with these creatures and still have a beautiful landscape.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the “Melinda’s Garden Moment” TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Tree World Plant Care for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is MelindaMyers.com.