With all the snow on the ground, critters had a difficult time finding something to eat. Unfortunately, many of them turned to chewing on stems and trunks of trees and in the landscape or orchard.

Looking forward to next year, there are only a handful of techniques for dealing with this problem. First, you can get rid of the critter. You may be able to live trap rabbits and take them many miles away but for deer, this is not a practical approach for most of us.

Second, repellants can work to persuade the critters to avoid your plants. These concoctions make things either taste or smell bad to the potential eater. Commercial preparations such as Deer Away, Hinder, Tree Guard and others have been reported to work in many cases. Home remedies based on peppers, human hair, soap, tankage and other products may be effective also.

Unfortunately, all the repellants tend to wash off over time and need to be periodically reapplied. This can be a challenge in the winter. Also, depending on how many critters you have and how hungry they are, the repellants may be effective in one landscape but not in another.

The third alternative often employed is to prevent the animal from having access to the plant. This can include putting up a temporary chick wire cage to plastic tree guards to protect the bark of tender young trees. The down size with these is that they need to be sturdy enough to prevent the damage by the animals and they must be in place before feeding takes place. Once two feet of snow is on the ground, it is generally too late for this approach.

What can you do for the plants that have been damaged? For the most part, you must just wait and see what happens. If an animal has chewed on the bark of a tree, the ultimate outcome is dependent on how deep they penetrated. If they damage the cambium layer beneath the bark, the plant will sustain long-term damage. If enough cambium is killed the entire branch or the entire tree may die.

Orchardists use a technique called bridge grafting or in-arching to try to save fruit trees. This is most effective when rodents have chewed around the circumference of the tree near ground level. Unfortunately, this is not an easy technique to master but, if you want to give it a try, contact our office and I can send you instructions.

Many deciduous shrubs such as forsythia, spirea, wiegela and others will grow back even if severely damaged. You can prune them back to shape them below the damaged areas and they should be back in shape in a year or two.

Evergreens such as arborvitae and yews may also grow back. The difference is that it might take much longer for them to fill in empty areas. Many of these types of plants have a single flush of growth per year and it may take several seasons for them to develop new buds to re-foliate areas damaged by critters.


Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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