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Onen Markeson/Master Gardener: Gardeners can protect plants against wildlife during winter

As the beautiful colors of fall leave us and the white of winter is in our thoughts, keeping our yards and gardens primed for the green of next summer tends to be forgotten. However, our wildlife tends to find some of our plants to be winter survival food, so protection should be considered for those plants.

Much wildlife has their young fairly early in the year when food is plentiful; then the young spread out to find a territory for food. Due to the young looking for new territory each year, it is not always effective to simply kill off or remove one member of the species in just your yard. A generally more effective way is to repel them from the area can be to install a barrier or to alter the habitat in some way to keep them away from your valuable plants.

Repellents that use smell, taste, audible noises or other visual frights for wildlife can work for generally short periods of time. These remedies tend to be less effective if the wildlife is already established on your property. Many repellants have to be re-applied frequently, although some (such as Repellex are absorbed into the entire plant in the spring so that all the plant tastes like hot pepper.

Voles are a fairly small animal that can cause quite a bit of damage. They are sometimes called field mice or meadow mice. Voles are vegetarians, and they do like consuming the lower level bark of small trees and shrubs. In general, valuable young trees that are less than four inches in diameter should be protected with hardware cloth, a plastic tube wrap or metal window screen material to a level that is as high as the snow cover is going to get (an unfortunate variable). Voles do like refuge in straw, so be careful if mulching plants with straw close to young trees, shrubs or grape vines.

Rabbits will eat buds of small trees and shrubs. They will occasionally eat the bark around the base of a tree, which is called girdling, and this can kill a tree. Rabbits tend to like trees with relatively thin, sweet bark — such as fruit trees or maple trees. If a rabbit is eating the bark of a tree, there will generally be side-by-side teeth marks that are one half inch or more. If the teeth marks are smaller, it is probably due to voles. There are a number of options for protecting plants from rabbits. If you have a larger planting or a low shrub, a temporary fence of either one inch wire mesh that is eighteen to twenty four inches high should be effective. If you have a young tree that you want to protect, consider wrapping the one-inch wire fence or wire mesh around the base of your tree, or use a plastic cylinder. Quarter-inch hardware cloth encircling a trunk and joined with plastic zip-ties will protect the tree from girdling by both voles and rabbits.

Deer are a fairly significant problem at times, even in a city setting. For a relatively small garden, a four-foot high fence can be effective, as deer do not like jumping into small areas. For larger areas, eight feet (or higher) electric fence is more effective. A less common fence system, but reportedly very effective, is to have a six- foot high fence with a top section angled 30 degrees from the area to be protected. This is effective as deer are afraid of becoming entangled in the fence after they leap over the highest section.

For further reading about horticulture issues go to the University of Minnesota Extension website

> Local Master Gardeners will answer your questions or direct you to further information if you call 218-444-7916, a voice mail service provided by these volunteers. Leave your name, number, and question and one will call you. This free service will continue until the end of October.