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Chicago Urban Gardening

The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois
Deer

Prevent Wildlife Damage to Landscape

Posted by Ron Wolford -

Most of Illinois is rural with some heavily urbanized areas. It is also home to a large population of wildlife. The population of rabbits, mice and especially deer may be higher now than they have ever been. Now that snow has covered the natural browse, these animals are forced to feed on trees and shrubs–often on prized landscape plants. University of Illinois Extension Educator David Robson shares several ways to protect your plants from these animals.

Mice take up residence in snow or debris near the bases of trees and shrubs, gnawing away the bark all winter, girdling the plants. Fruit trees, pines and shrubs, such as rose tree of China or flowering almond, are most attractive. The mice will build a tunnel system under the snow from plant to plant so they can move and feed safe from predators. Remove debris around the bases of the plants, and walk down the snow so the mice can't tunnel up to the plants.

You can place a plastic tube or collar around some plants. Chicken wire fencing works as long as there is an inch gap between the bark and the wire to prevent the mice from getting their teeth on the bark.

Rabbits, too, will resort to eating bark when snow covers their normal forage. They may girdle trees, but normally eat only the ends of branches of shrubs. This haircut usually does no permanent damage. Preferred are roses, fruit trees and young plants with thin bark.

One way to limit rabbit damage is to place branches on the ground next to the plant for the rabbits to gnaw on. They may not be looking for the branches as food as much as a means of grinding down their teeth.

Mechanical protection for trunk of young trees is effective. Use cylinders of hardware cloth at least 1-1/2 feet taller than the expected snow cover. Commercially available rabbit guards of plastic, aluminum, etc., work well too.

Protect beds of roses or finite areas of small trees using fencing 3 feet high, with the bottom 6 inches bent outward and an inch or so below the ground to prevent burrowing.

Keep snow at least 1-1/2 feet below the fence or tree guards, or rabbits will hop over them.

Deer populations can be high throughout the urban area, especially as they become accustomed to humans. Deer fearlessly feed on landscape plants even in densely populated areas anywhere near forest preserves, rivers, streams or other natural areas where they can hide during the day.

Once snow covers the grass, deer start to feed on evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs, often removing everything from ground level to as high as they can reach. This can be especially damaging to evergreen hedges and foundation planting which may not grow back once all foliage is removed and also to dwarf fruit trees destroying the reachable fruiting branches.

Nothing seems to work 100 percent. Deer may be repelled by using bars of fragrant soap tied to 4-foot laths driven into the ground every 10-15 feet. If the deer are not wary of humans, this may not work. Some people report success with bags of human hair, easily obtained from hair salons and barbers.

There are some repellents on the market that give some satisfaction. Spraying plants with rabbit/deer repellent containing Thiram will usually prevent feeding by deer and rabbits. The material needs to be re-applied every month or so as it washes off.

Small areas may be fenced for seasonal deer protection. Fences must be placed so that there is insufficient take-off or landing room, or the deer will jump them. Snow fences may work in such cases. Large areas can be protected with electric fences where legal. Plans for such installation are available and must be followed carefully.

Source: David J. Robson, Extension Educator, Horticulture, drobson@uiuc.edu



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