Don’t wait until you see damage on your trees and shrubs to put up winter protection. Do it now,
Deer, rabbits and mice can damage the tender bark of new trees and shrubs, which can be the difference between life and death for the plants. Open wounds on the bark may not kill a tree outright but the winter weather can make the condition worse. Dry winter winds and extreme winter temperatures can dry out and kill living cells around the wound.
The living part of the tree, the xylem and phloem, which transport water and nutrients back and forth from the leaves to the roots, are directly under the trees protective bark. When the bark is chewed off, rubbed off, or torn off and damage occurs to the xylem and phloem, the leaves and roots no longer get the water and nutrients they need to survive. The kill can be partial or total.
Tree wraps or tree guards will discourage deer from rubbing the bark off trunks and will physically keep rabbits from chewing on the bark. There are three types of tree wraps available at local garden stores. The old-fashioned wrap is a paper and tar base roll. It is wrapped on the trunk like you would wrap a sprained ankle. Start at the base of the trunk and wrap upward, overlapping the paper as you go. The second wrap is a plastic spiral that you twist on small trunks. Air can move through the small holes in the plastic. The last tree wrap is made from heavy black plastic tubing which is slit open on one side making it easy to slip over the trunk. This wrap is used on larger diameter trunks. Wraps need to go on now and taken off before next summer. Do not leave tight wraps on year round as they can restrict grown and keep the bark too moist during the growing season.
In areas where deer are a serious problem, more protection is needed for young trees. Three fence posts driven into the ground two feet from the trunk in a triangle will discourage deer rubbing. Deer do not like tight spots, and they will not risk sticking their heads between the steel posts. The posts can be left in for several years protecting the trunk from scrapes from lawn mowers. Mulching trees also helps keep the lawnmower from hitting the base of the tree.
In the garden, deer can be discouraged if you hang bars of Ivory or Irish Spring soap. Place a bars of soap in mesh bags and hang them around the garden. The animals are discouraged by the smell. Human hair from a barber shop will also discourage wildlife; however, it will lose its scent after being in the rain and snow.
Japanese maples, tender conifers, rhododendrons and azaleas exposed to north winter winds benefit from a burlap windbreak. Any fabric that will not suffocate the plant will work. Do not use any form of plastic or plastic container. Hardy landscape roses benefit from extra wood mulch raked up around the base of the plant to hold in winter moisture and regulate the temperature more evenly. More protection is needed for hybrid tea roses.
Years where the soil is dry from lack of fall rains it is important to water new trees and shrubs well right before the ground freezes. All plants survive the winter months with moisture in the soil. Snow is a good insulator from extreme cold weather and helps provide some soil moisture and humidity during the winter.
Bickelhaupt Arboretum’s last workshop of the year will be our “Fresh Wreath Workshop” on Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Arboretum, 340 S. 14th St., Clinton. We will have three sessions: 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon. Pre-registration is required. Call 242-4771. Cost of the class is $25.
Margo Hansen is the Director of Programs at Bickelhaupt Arboretum.