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Protect your plants from animals over the winter

A cage around a young tree
December 1, 2016

Tiny furry creatures that huddle under the snow may be cute in children’s books. But animals that need food to survive the winter can take a toll on perennials, shrubs, and young trees. Simple steps can minimize the damage.

Protect young trees and shrubs. When they are small, their bark is tender and their twigs are tempting to rabbits and other animals. Rabbits are especially fond of certain species, including Japanese kerria, oak leaf hydrangea, and fothergilla, according to Peter Linsner, who is in charge of animal control at The Morton Arboretum. The best way to protect a plant is by fencing it with a well-anchored cylinder of hardware cloth.

Don’t pile up mulch. If it’s too deep around shrubs and trees, mulch can provide cover for mice and voles, Linsner says. Spread it in a wide, even layer just 2 to 3 inches deep, and keep it a couple of inches clear of the stems or trunk.

Clear snow. Deep snow also can provide cover for tunneling animals, so it’s a good idea to clear it away from the bases of especially vulnerable plants.

No plant is animal-proof. If rabbits, deer, and other animals are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything. But “there are plants that animals don’t favor; if there’s plenty of food around, they’ll leave them alone,” Linser says. Most of them have a strong odor or a fuzzy or prickly texture. Find a list of plants not favored by deer.