As fall starts to turn to winter, gardeners are always looking for ways to curb animal damage to our plants. We should also include other forms of damage that can occur such as heavy snow load, ice damage and salt damage too.
For the most part, the U of M Extension recommends the use of either all white tubing or tree wrap for those more sensitive plants that we worry about, which generally are those trees that are less than 5 years old. The use of black tubing is never a good idea as it can heat up the bark on one side of the tree, which will cause the bark to crack and break, eventually weakening the tree over time.
Deer and rabbits are probably the most asked about problems that gardeners contend with during the winter months when it comes to the amount of damage that has been caused on our plants. The U of M Regional Sustainable Development Partnership tried a few practices to see which practice would work best in keeping deer away from certain trees such as apple and maple trees. A micro-enclosure worked best to help keep deer away from plants that they may browse and eat over the winter. The smaller enclosure makes it more difficult for them to get in and get out, which the deer apparently do not like so it helps to deter them from browsing on important plants. For more information, go to the following link https://extension.umn.edu/central/protecting-plants-deer#construction-1555663
Rabbits can also be a nuisance, as can their partners in crime: moles, voles and mice. The best way to deter them as best as you can is to leave them little in the way of hideouts and nesting areas. The important part of using a barrier such as a fence is that to deter mice, the fence needs to be about 2 inches under the ground and the top of the fence must be at least 18 inches or so above the snow level. Temporary tree guards can also be used for smaller trees and shrubs if they will fit. Checking the area during the winter months to make sure that animals have not found a way into the fenced in area will also help to keep things under control.
For ice damage or snow damage, it is important to pay attention to where de-icing products are used the most and try to reduce the use of these products as well. For snow damage, don’t completely cover the plant but tie the plant together with pieces of carpet or old nylon stockings to help keep the plant from splitting down the central leader of the plant.
Try to mulch newly planted trees (anything under five years of age) with at least 4-5 inches of mulch after they have had a big drink of water. This will help decrease the chance of root injury. Don’t put the mulch right up against the tree trunk but leave at least 6 inches so that newly formed roots don’t try to grow around the base of the tree, which can cause the tree to become girdled.
And finally, if you have trees, shrubs or other plants that are not a zone 4b plant, making sure that plant is placed in a location that is sheltered will help to get it through our Minnesota winters. Trying to raise any plants above 4b will be a challenge and those in zone 5 or higher, may not make it in our colder climates. Heavily mulching these types of plants along with planting them in a sheltered location will give gardeners a leg up on giving it a try. For more information on protecting plants for the winter, please go to https://extension.umn.edu/planting-and-growing-guides/protecting-trees-and-shrubs-winter#sunscald-1263860