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Winter animal problems     Send a link to a friend

[JAN. 4, 2005]  URBANA -- Voles, rabbits and deer are animals that can mean headaches for homeowners trying to protect trees and plants during the winter months, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"These are among several animals that can and often do cause injury or death to trees," said James Schuster. "Rabbits are the number one offender."

Rabbits can be found in almost any landscape, and the rabbit feeds on landscape plants when it can no longer get down to grass and other normal food supplies.

"The rabbit will walk on the surface of the snow," he said. "The higher the snow is, the higher the damage can be. The rabbit will eat buds, tender shoots and even the bark on the trunk."

When rabbits eat the bark on only one side of the tree, there may or may not be die-back in the crown of the tree. However, when the rabbit eats the bark all the way around the trunk, the tree has been girdled and will die.

"Some types of grafting can be done -- if done right away -- in order to keep the tree alive for several more years," said Schuster.

Rabbits will also eat a large variety of shrubs. Often these plants are girdled or eaten to the ground. This kind of damage on a shrub is not fatal. In fact, it often forces the homeowner to correctly prune and "restart" their shrubs.

"Rabbits are protected animals, so it is illegal to trap or kill them," Schuster explained. "It is legal to prevent them from eating the bark on your trees by placing a wire collar around the trunk. The wire collar should be in contact with the soil and be at least 2 feet higher than the highest snow level expected around the tree. Or the wire should be as high as the second-lowest branch on small trees. The lowest branch is sticking out through the wire."

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Chicken wire, he added, makes an adequate protection or collar. The wire collar should be at least three inches out from the trunk.

"Another damaging animal is the vole," Schuster said. "This animal usually eats the bark off plants at the soil line but sometimes can eat its way up the plant. Voles easily pass through chicken wire, so one-quarter-inch hardware cloth is recommended.

"It is very important that the wire is anchored well to the soil so that the vole cannot get under it. You can also keep voles away from plants by keeping the snow shoveled away from the base of the plants. Shovel at least a two-foot area out from the trunk all the way around the trunk."

Deer can also be pests. They cause damage by rubbing their antlers on the trunks of trees and rubbing the bark off. They also eat buds and tips of branches off the tree.

"Protect trees by using heavy-gauge fencing out a foot from the trunk," said Schuster. "Use stakes to support the fencing. The wire needs to be 5 to 6 feet high to minimize damage. Deer are also protected animals."

Voles and deer, he added, are more likely to cause damage in landscapes near areas like forest preserves, railroad tracks, stream banks and naturally landscaped yards.

[University of Illinois news release]

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