University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Animal Damage to Plants in Winter

November 12, 1998

During the course of winter, rabbits and deer can cause considerable damage to trees and shrubs in the landscape. Shrubs may be chewed down to near soil level. Younger trees may suffer extensive bark damage. What can be done to protect plantings?

Repellents are one option to consider. Results of research on different repellents varies with location and even the specific year of the study. Perhaps the most important thing to remember concerning repellents is that they reduce but do not eliminate animal damage to plants. For example, properly installed barriers may eliminate rabbit damage to shrubs this winter, but a good repellent may simply reduce damage.

Repellents may be classified as either contact or area repellents. Contact repellents are applied directly to plants and repel by unpleasant taste for the animal. Examples of commercially available products include Big Game Repellent (BGR), DeerAway, Ro-Pel, Miller Hot Sauce, and thiram (a fungicide).

Area repellents are different in that they are applied in the vicinity of plants and usually repel by smell. Examples include Magic Circle, Hinder, dried blood, bar soap, and human hair.

Research studies show not every repellent works in every situation, but contact repellents are more effective than area repellents. Commercial products appear more effective than "home-made" remedies. Most need to be reapplied during the winter.

For more reliable protection for shrubs and trees this winter, consider fencing or other barriers. Initial costs are higher, but materials can usually be reused for several seasons. Barriers could be put up as fences around shrub plantings or cylinders around individual plant trunks or stems. Poultry wire or hardware cloth is a good choice for material to use. Make the barrier high enough to protect the trunk or stem even when there is snow cover. Provide support with a few stakes.

While effective, barriers have the drawback of being unsightly when used in landscape settings. In areas with high populations of animals such as rabbits, this inconvenience may have to be tolerated to help assure the shrub or younger tree is protected from serious damage.


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