The last thing I want to see in the spring is winter damage to the garden. By investing a little time in the fall, winter damage and vertebrate browsing can be prevented most of the time.
Ice and snow can cause branches to break. Proper plant selection and proper pruning will best prevent damage.
Winter dieback and frost damage are best prevented by avoiding pruning and fertilizing in late summer. Plants need to have time to harden-off for winter.
Winter burn or desiccation is best prevented by continuing to water plants in the fall until the ground freezes.
Frost heaving occurs when periods of soil freezing and thawing push shallow-rooted plants out of the ground. This exposes the roots to winter, causing desiccation. Heaving is best prevented by adding a winter mulch, which keeps the soil at constant temperature, preventing the freezing and thawing cycle.
Salt not only injures plants but also changes soil structure, causing compaction. Prevention methods include not piling snow containing salt near plants. Be careful when applying salt to surfaces, and plant salt-tolerant plants near sidewalks, driveways, and roads. Consider using sand or sawdust instead of salt.
Mice, voles and rabbits chew the bark off of plants. Habitat can be modified by removing brush piles or continuing to mow the lawn as long as the grass is growing. The final mowing of the season should be at 1.5 to 2 inches. The most effective method is the use of trunk guards. Plastic tree guards or wire mesh are placed around the trunk and secured at the base to prevent critters from going under it.
Shrubs have multiple trunks, so placing a piece of wire mesh (chicken wire) around the entire plant is the best way to prevent damage. Rabbits will walk on top of the snow and feed higher up on the plants, so the guard must extend 18 to 24 inches above the snow line. We battle rabbits in the RCTC SMART Garden.
Deer create damage by browsing and by bucks rubbing their antlers. Buck rubs are prevented by surrounding the tree with a sturdy 6-foot-tall barrier. If there is an alternative winter food source, repellents might prevent browsing. Repellent products do need to be reapplied periodically. Spray directly on the plants but also soak rags in the repellent and hang on the plants.
If commercial repellents are not working, try coyote urine. Deer are skittish and have an acute sense of smell, so human hair, smelly soaps, or reflective materials like old CDs might work. If browsing continues, fencing may be needed. Individual plants can be wrapped with a 6-foot-tall mesh netting to prevent browse.
We have a problem with mink eating the fish out of the pond in the SMART Garden. Mink enter the pond through the opening in the ice created by the aerator. We have tried several methods, but placing a piece of wire mesh over the opening in the ice seems to work best.
Be vigilant: There are many hungry creatures out there looking for a meal.