Take proactive approach to protect trees

Rob Zimmer

Now that the winter season has officially arrived and the snow is beginning to accumulate in our yards and gardens, it is time to prepare valuable trees and shrubs for the rest of the winter.

Garden trees and shrubs that are especially valuable and used as specimen plants in the yard and garden should be protected from a variety of winter hazards. Perhaps the most destructive is damage caused by hungry rodents, such as rabbits and voles.

Rabbits and voles may cause girdling damage to decorative trees and shrubs. Girdling is where is the entire base of the trunk of the plant is debarked, or gnawed completely bare around the entire perimeter. This is destructive to the plant because valuable nutrients are carried through this bark layer. Once it is completely removed around the entire base of the tree, the plant has a hard time recovering and will potentially die off within a season or two.

Another potential hazard is feeding by deer. Deer can cause extensive damage in a short period of time if they move into the yard or garden and begin to nibble away at twigs and branches loaded with buds already for the spring season.

While in some cases, a little natural pruning is fine, feeding deer can do quite a bit of damage to expensive specimen plants that are not protected from their feeding activity.

There are a variety of options for protecting trees and shrubs from feeding wildlife. Tree guards, tree wraps and caging are among the most popular. These options come in a number of styles and forms; you can either purchase premade guards and wraps or create your own from items you may have around the home.

Tree guards are often made out of plastic or PVC and are a popular and easy-to-install choice for valuable trees in the garden, as well as newly planted trees that need protection for their first few years while the base of the trunk is young and tender.

It is important that the guard is sufficient in length, or height. Many people install tree guards that are much too short. For maximum protection, estimate how deep the snow will be around the tree, then be sure your tree guard stands a minimum of 18 inches above that anticipated snow line. Three feet higher than the snow line is a much better safety measure.

Tree guards can be installed at the time of planting and left in place during all four seasons for further protection from feeding rodents. Or they can be installed anytime for seasonal protection from wildlife.

Some tree guards are flexible and can remain on the tree for many years. Others, however, are rigid and must be removed or replaced as the tree continues to grow.

Another option for winter protection is to install tree wrapping around the base of the tree or shrub. Tree wraps are available in a variety of materials including metallic foil, corrugated plastic and heavy duty tape. These wraps are easy to install as you simply wrap them around the tree to a desired height for protection from gnawing rodents. Follow the label instructions for proper attachment. Some varieties are adhesive while others are not.

Installing wire cages around trees or shrubs is another option for protecting from predators. Caging can be done seasonally before the snow begins to pile up, or left permanently until the plant is large enough to withstand feeding wildlife.

You can purchase premade plant cages, or create your own out of a variety of wire materials and hardware cloth. For vole protection, it is important to use the smallest wire mesh possible when installing a cage around the base of the tree or shrub. For rabbits, wire mesh or chicken wire with smaller openings is sufficient. Deer caging must be of sufficient height to protect the plant from hungry deer. Generally, this is at least 6-8 feet, depending upon the type of plant.

In some cases, notably some conifers, loosely wrapping the plant in burlap offers protection against deer, as well as against the desiccating potential from the winter sun.

There are gardeners out there who swear by the use of cut up soap chunks, especially Irish Spring, or mesh bags filled with dog or horse hair hung from valuable trees and shrubs in the garden for protection from deer and rabbits during winter. Use these methods at your own risk, preferably in combination with cages or wrapping in case they are not dependable.

There are also a number of repellents on the market, from granules to sprays to sonic repellents to keep feeding rodents and deer at bay during the winter season. A physical barrier always offers more reliable protection as some of the others need to be reapplied frequently throughout the season.

Find Rob Zimmer on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors. Listen to “Outdoors with Rob Zimmer” from 4-5 p.m. Fridays and 7-8 a.m. Saturdays on WHBY.