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Still time to protect trees and shrubs from rodent damage

Rodent damaged tree trunk

MOORHEAD, Minn. (12/04/2014) There is still time to protect your valuable trees and shrubs from the teeth of rabbits, mice, and voles. These rodents cause damage by feeding on twigs and bark, voles will also eat roots.  If feeding damage is severe enough it can result in plant death. 

A good way to protect the bark of trees is to place a tree guard made of quarter-inch hardware cloth or a plastic tree guard around the tree base. The guard should extend an inch or two below the soil surface and extend to the lowest branch or two feet above the anticipated snow line. I realize it may not be possible to get the guard in the soil, if this is the case make sure the guard is firmly on the soil surface with no gaps that would allow rodents underneath. Guards should be checked throughout the winter to insure they are at the proper height. Hardware cloth can be left on year-round as long as it is larger than the trunk to allow for growth. Plastic guards should be removed in the spring. 

Shrubs can be protected from rodents by placing a screen made of quarter-inch hardware cloth around the perimeter of the shrub. Place hardware cloth the same as you would for a tree. Support the hardware cloth with posts if necessary. It is a good idea to check screens periodically for damage and to make sure no animals have entered the enclosed area. I want to stress, if using hardware cloth make sure openings are no larger than a quarter-inch. Last fall I ran out of quarter-inch hardware cloth so I used a wire mesh with one inch openings to protect my remaining two apple trees. I was saddened this spring when I checked the trees protected by the wire mesh only to find them girdled by rodents. I suspect the culprits were voles or mice. The trees protected by quarter-inch hardware cloth were fine.

Repellents may also be used to protect trees and shrubs. Generally these products are applied directly to the plant or near the plant to be protected. Repellants work by making the plant undesirable through taste or smell. It is important to remember that the effectiveness of any repellant will depend on weather conditions, animal hunger, and the availability of palatable food.     

If you have questions regarding this article please call the University of Minnesota Extension office, Clay County at 218-299-5020, 1-800-299-5020 or email me at The University of Minnesota, including the University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line: Randy Nelson is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator in Clay County.


Randy Nelson
Extension Educator, Home Hort & Ag Production Systems
(218) 299-5020
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