Winter Varmint Damage

As the snow receeds this year and you head out to take those first yard walks of the season, I’m afraid that you may be met with a nasty surprise. It was a hard winter for the deer and rabbits to forage for food.  Deep, persistent snow cover this winter has provided a haven for hungry meadow voles and field mice as they feed on the bark of many trees and shrubs right at the soil line. At the same time, crusted snow has allowed rabbits to feed on the bark of the same plants two, three and even four feet off the ground.varmit Damage

Though hard to see in this picture, a new bud is just starting to grow at a point below the rabbit damage on this burning bush.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that most multiple-stemmed shrubs including redtwig dogwood, burning bush, viburnums, rhododendrons, etc. can recover from this type of wildlife damage. New buds just below the feeding damage will emerge (at the tip of my thumbnail in the photo at left), and within a couple of months a number of new shoots will have grown several inches to more than a foot in length (below, at right)!

By late spring, many rabbit-damaged shrubs will send up new shoots from buds just below the site of the feeding damage.Simply cut these plants back to a point just above the new shoots. Though drastically reduced in size, these plants will gradually regain their previous size and form, as if they’d undergone intentional “rejuvenation” pruning!

On the other hand, single-trunk fruit and ornamental trees will gradually decline and eventually die if most or all of theCompletely girdled by voles just above the soil surface, this maple tree will not survive more than two or three years. bark has been eaten from around the entire trunk, at left. Carbohydrates (plant food) produced in the leaves of damaged plants will not be able to reach the root system because the transport tissue (phloem) immediately beneath the bark will have been eaten, too! In fact, it’s this sugar-containing tissue that the critters prefer.

The only chance for saving a girdled, single-trunk tree is to perform a “bridge” graft. You can find good pictures and an explanation of this technique by clicking here. However, since bridge grafts can be tricky to perform, we recommend that you hire a certified nursery professional or certified arborist to perform the procedure if the damaged plants are extremely valuable. If it’s not a valuable plant and you feel like experimenting, go ahead and try it. If the tree is severly girdled, you have nothing to lose.

One of the best protections for your single stemmed trees is Wrapping the trunk

Plastic drain pipe can prevent voles and rabbits from girdling young trees over the winter months. Do, however, remember to remove the pipe after the snow melts.You can reduce the chance of this type of damage to plants in your landscape in the future by enclosing the trunks of young trees in protective cylinders fashioned from ¼ inch mesh hardware cloth or plastic drainage pipe, at right. Bury the bottom of the cylinders under several inches of soil to prevent mice and voles from burrowing under them. Also make the cylinders tall enough to cover the trunk all the way up to the lowest set of branches to prevent rabbits from getting at the bark while perched on top of crusted snow that may be several feet deep.

And, finally, as tired as you may be after shoveling out your driveway and sidewalks, it’ll also be a good idea to wade out and shovel the snow away from the base of valuable single-trunk trees in your landscape. Mice and voles will not feed as heavily on exposed trunks, and rabbits won’t be able to gnaw on branches above the hardware cloth or drainage pipe barriers while perched on top of a snowdrift.

If you have suffered irreparable damage from the critters and feel you need to replant, you might want to think about deer resistant plants. Click here for a list of plants deer are less likely to eat. Keep in mind the word “resistant”. When the animals are hungry enough they will eat anything!!!!!




Deer resistant plants

DeerFirst, what is deer candy? Deer love narrow-leaf evergreens, especially arborvitae and fir, and show a preference for hostas, daylilies, and English ivy, according to researchers in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, who have studied whitetailed deer damage to nurseries in the Northeast and report heaviest browsing from October through February.

And several growers who participated in the study noted that deer seem to prefer plants that have been fertilized.

Which plants do deer dislike?

  • Not surpisingly, deer stay away from poisonous plants! Daffodils, foxgloves, and poppies are common flowers that have a toxicity that deer avoid.
  • Deer also turn their noses up at fragrant plants with strong scents.  Herbs such as sages, ornamental salvias, lavenders, peonies, and bearded irises are just “stinky” to deer.
  • Would you want to eat something prickly? Neither do deer (unless they’re desperate). Plants such as lamb’s ear are not on their preferred menu.
  • Our favorite deer-resistant perennials are bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis). They are popular with us, but not deer!

Keeping in mind that the first rule in deer proofing is that there really are no deer-proof plants, here is a chart with some plants that deer rarely or seldom severely damage:

Top Deer-Resistant Plants

Botanical name Common name
Achillea filipendulina Yarrow
Aconitum sp. Monkshood
Ageratum houstonianum Ageratum
Allium sp. Onion
Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
Antirrhinum majus Snapdragon
Armoracia rusticana Horseradish
Artemisia dracunculus Tarragon
Artemisia sp. Silver Mound
Arisaema triphylum Jack-in-the-pulpit
Asarum canadense Wild Ginger
Asparagus officinalis Asparagus
Aster sp. Aster
Astilbe sp. Astilbe
Berberis sp. Barberry
Borage officinalis Borage
Buddleia sp. Butterfly Bush
Buxus sempervirens Common Boxwood
Helleborus sp. Lenten or Christmas Rose
Cactaceae sp. Cactus
Calendula sp. Pot Marigold
Caryopteris clandonensis Blue Mist Shrub
Centaurea cineraria Dusty Miller
Centaurea cyanus Bacherlor’s Buttons
Cleome sp. Spider Flower
Colchicum sp. Autumn Crocus
Consolida ambigua Larkspur
Convallaris majalis Lily of the Valley
Coreopsis verticillata Threadleaf Coreopsis
Corydalis sp. Corydalis
Cytisus sp. Broom
Daphne sp. Daphne
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding Heart
Digitalis purpurea Common Foxglove
Dryopteris marginalis Wood Fern
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Echinops ritro Small Globe Thistle
Endymion sp. Bluebell
Eranthus hyemalis Winer Aconite
Euphorbia marginata Snow-on-the-Mountain
Euphorbia sp. (except ‘Chameleon’) Spurge
Festuca glauca Blue Fescue
Fritilaria imperialis Crown Imperial, Fritilia
Galanthus nivalis Snowdrops
Gypsophila sp. Baby’s Breath
Helichrysum Strawflower
Heliorope arborescens Heliotrope
Hyssopus officinalis Hyssop
Ilex opaca American Holly
Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly
Iris sp. Iris
Juniperus Juniper
Lantana sp. Lantana
Lavandula sp. Lavender
Limonium latifolium Statice
Lobularia maritima Sweet Alyssum
Marrubium vulgare Horehound
Melissa officinalis Lemon Balm
Mentha sp. Mint
Monarda didyma Beebalm
Myosotis sp. Forget-Me-Not
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry
Narcissus sp. Daffodil
Nepeta sp. Catmint
Ocimum basilicum Basil
Osmunda Fern
Pachysandra terminalis Pachysandra
Paeonia sp. Peony
Papaver Poppy
Perovskio atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Picea glauca ‘Conica’ Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Pimpinalla anisum Anise
Pinus Pine
Potentilla Cinquefoil
Ranunculus sp. Buttercup
Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac
Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary
Rudbeckia sp. Black-Eyed Susan
Ruta sp. Rue
Salix Willows
Salvia officinalis Garden Sage
Stachys byzantina Lamb’s Ear
Syringa vulgaris Common Lilac
Tanacetum vulgare Common Tansy
Teucrium chamaedrys Germander
Thumus sp. Thyme
Yucca Yucca
Viburnum dentatum Arrowwood Viburnum
Zinnia Zinnia

List courtesy of Outwitting Deer by Bill Adler Jr.