Protect trees and shrubs from winter wildlife damage: It’s a good time now, before the snow flies and the ground freezes, to put protective fencing around trees and shrubs that often experience damage from deer, rabbit, vole or mouse feeding over winter. Fruit trees, crab apples, burning bush shrubs, shrub hibiscus, low-growing junipers and arborvitaes are among the plants that are most commonly damaged. One material to use is ¼-inch mesh-size or ½-inch mesh-size metal hardware cloth. It works better than chicken wire, which has holes large enough for voles and mice to slip through. Hardware cloth is usually available in heights of 24 inches and 36 inches (also the ½-inch mesh is available in 48-inch height) and can be purchased in rolls, at most home improvement stores. Some hardware stores allow you to cut it to custom widths if you only need a small amount. I prefer to use the 36-inch-tall or 48-inch-tall mesh in case the snow is high; it also offers the most protection against buck-rub deer damage on tree trunks. You can splay the mesh out around the bottom of the trunk so it is flat to the ground. Use sod-staples (also called landscape stakes) that are U-shaped to pound through the holes in the mesh into the ground to prevent rodents from tunneling under the mesh. You can also mound a couple inches of bark on top of the area where the wire and ground meet for extra protection. The edges around the sides of the cylinder can be attached with thin rubber-coated wire or cable ties threaded through the mesh for easy removal in spring. Here at the Teaching Garden at the Dane County UW-Extension office we even screen over the top of the shrubs if deer have been an issue.
Lisa Johnson, Dane County UW-Extension horticulture educator