Critter Damage

Critter Damage

Part of Ep. 202 Winter Garden Projects

Join wildlife ecologist Scott Craven for advice on preventing wildlife from damaging your garden during the winter.   Learn what steps you can take to keep your plants from becoming deer, rabbit and vole food.

Premiere date: Nov 30, 1993

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We've given you some ideas to make your winter landscape more interesting. Now we're going to show you how to protect that winter landscape from hungry critters.

I'm with extension wildlife ecologist, Scott Craven. And, Scott, I learned the hard way about protecting your plants. The first year I had a yard, I planted a lot of trees. I came out in spring and everything I owned was two inches tall. So it is important to plan ahead.

Scott:
It's very important to plan in late fall or early winter to plan to prevent mammal damage over winter.

Shelley:
What are the problem animals in Wisconsin?

Scott:
The big three are probably white-tail deer, cotton-tail rabbits, and meadow mice or meadow vole-- in that order.

Shelley:
Are there any general practices we should do to help prevent problems?

Scott:
In general, if people just keep a clean site. If you keep tall grass down around your plantings, no piles of prunings or mulch or wood piles or things like that-to the extent that you can minimize the habitat for the small animals like the mice and the rabbits, you can go a long way towards solving some of those problems.

Shellley:
Okay, and is there some place where people can get more information on this?

Scott:
Yes, absolutely. There are very thorough extension publications on both deer and rabbits and another one on meadow voles that will provide detailed information on trapping and talks on repellants and where they're appropriate.

Shelley:
We're going to talk about physical protection today.

Scott:
Right.

Shelley:
What's the first step?

Scott:
Well, the first step is identifying the culprit.

Shelley:
Knowing the enemy.

Scott:
If you don't know who the pest is by looking at the damage, you just can't apply the right kind of control technique. For example, if you had an apple twig that looked something like this with a fairly messy-- what looks like a messy, shreddy cut with a little bit of bark left behind. This is done by deer. Deer have no upper incisors so they make a rather messy cut. Rabbits and rodents on the other hand, make a very sharp angle, about a forty-five degree angle, a very clean cut. Looks like it was done with pruning shears. And on this raspberry cane, that's very visible. Mice also do most of their damage right at ground zero, right at the base of the tree, in this case a stump from a Scotch Pine. You can see that they've completely taken all the bark off with their sharp little teeth. Once the tree is girdled, it's doomed. And rabbits can do the same thing.

Shelley:
Okay, well looking at deer first, the tallest, what do we do to physically protect against them?

Scott:
Fencing is just about the only alternative. The good news is that for a small plot in the backyard, or a couple of fruit trees, a fairly low fence, even just snow fence material will sometimes work.

Shelley:
So, about four feet tall, then.

Scott:
About four feet tall. The larget the plot, you have to get up to the so-called eight foot deer-proof fence and that's really the only alternative other than some configurations of electric fencing that can also be very effective.

Shelley:
All right, well what about these two critters?

Scott:
In terms of protecting them, there are some things we can look at over here. If we visualize this as being a newly planted apple tree for example, to protect against both rabbits and meadow mice over winter, at the time of planting, you could've used a plastic tree crawler like this which just stays on the tree for a couple of years. Those are very effective. After the fact, a hardware cloth of various mesh sizes and widths. We want to make sure as you make a hardware plot cylinder to protect the tree that it's away from the trunk so they can't chew through it. And that it's well staked down and that you anticipate maximum snow depth.

Shelley:
Well, I had a question about that. Sometimes I don't get out there on time. Can I pull the snow away and still protect?

Scott:
No problem. As long as the damage hasn't started. Or even if it has, it's better to be late than not do it at all because again by spring, the tree can be wiped out. Even various types of commercial tree wrap that are put on for other purposes will at least help minimize the problem.

Shelley:
OK, now for something that is multi-stemmed, we're going to have to use the fencing or the caging.

Scott:
Right, depends on the size of the shrub you're dealing with. In some cases, more hardware cloth, but the stuff is relatively expensive. Regular chicken wire or rabbit guard fencing material that's 18 or 24 inches high could be used to make a cage around a larger shrub.

Shelley:
At what size can we stop worrying about them getting eaten?

Scott:
By the time most plant materials get to be, what we might say as mature, two or three inches in diameter in the case of apples and the barks become rather thick and plate-like, they tend to leave them alone.

Shelley:
All right, is there anything else we could do?

Scott:
Well, a lot of people favor the removal of the offending animal and a good live trap like this one. Baited and placed appropriately, you can catch lots of rabbits during the winter months when food's in short supply and just relocate them and the problem is solved.

Shelley:
Okay, great. Thank you, Scott. There are some animals that won't cause harm. Our next project, how to attract them to your winter garden.

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