Destructive ungulates

When we think of moose, deer or elk we conjure up pictures of majestic animals traipsing through the untouched wilderness.


When we think of moose, deer or elk we conjure up pictures of majestic animals traipsing through the untouched wilderness.

Unfortunately, for many gardeners the animals that are fascinating to watch in the wilderness are very destructive in a garden.

These animals do not understand the time, money and energy that are put into gardens.

Instead they look at it as a tasty, free lunch. A quick nibble could be understood but large animals are not dainty eaters which results in permanent damage such as broken limbs and torn bark.

During the growing season trees and shrubs are largely ignored as the ground cover is lush and tasty but as the snow grows deeper the animals turn to browsing.

Protecting the garden during the cold months when there is often little human interaction is important.

The best way to protect the plants is to keep the animals out of the garden.

For many, it is impossible, expensive and impractical. The only guaranteed method is a deer fence. While this will work in rural areas towns have by-laws prohibiting tall fences.

Plants then need to be protected individually. One methods is to wrap the tree or shrub in chicken wire or plastic snow fencing. The animals can only eat what is sticking through the holes in the fence. As the material will be visible in the garden for a number of months, choose a colour that will enhance or blend into the landscape. Erecting a fence around all trees and shrubs can also be effective. The fence must be back far enough that the animal can not lean forward and eat the plants. The enclosure must also be small enough that the animal will not hop the fence as it will have enough room to get back out.

There are bitter tasting sprays on the market that will discourage browsing. The sprays will work for a time but they need to be reapplied regularly. Bad taste is not a match for hunger which means that the method is not fool proof.

Small animals such as mice and rabbits are also very destructive especially with young plants. These animals do not attack the tips; they remove the bark at the base of the plant.

Nutrients flow to all parts of the plant through the bark and a hole will slow down the process. If the plant is girdled, a ring of bark is removed, the branch can not receive nutrient and it will die.

This is the method that earlier settlers used to clear the land in Eastern Canada.

Young plants are the most vulnerable as their bark is thinner and more succulent. Tree guards can be placed around the trunks of young trees, putting a barrier between the bark and animals teeth. The same can not be done with shrubs.

Keeping the grass trimmed around the base of trees and shrubs is also effective.

Small animals are less likely to dine on a plant when they themselves are exposed to their predators. Trampling the snow down around these plants removes all under covered access during the winter months.

Often the yard is too big or the plants too numerous to protect every one. When this is the case choices must be made. Criteria will vary but size, variety and placement of the plants are important. Large trees are expensive to replace. Animals will usually eat fruit baring plants over ornamentals. Animals that are leery will not go into a secluded area with only one entrance. Taking time to protect plants when the weather is relatively mild can make a huge difference next spring. It is very discouraging to see carefully planted and cared for trees and shrubs ruined.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at

Just Posted

Alberta hiring more paramedics and buying new ambulances, none for Red Deer

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is not concerned the provincial government didn’t… Continue reading

‘My nightmare began again’: Close call as bus carrying Humboldt crash survivor rear-ended

CALGARY — A terrifying ordeal for Humboldt Broncos survivor Ryan Straschnitzki this… Continue reading

Halifax airport operations normalize after Boeing 747 runway overshoot

HALIFAX — The Halifax Stanfield International Airport has resumed normal operations a… Continue reading

Bentley family left without a home grateful for community support

Central Albertans are coming together to support a Bentley family left homeless… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP ready for new mandatory alcohol screening law

Red Deer RCMP are ready to enforce a new law intended to… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer and District Kennel Club Dog Show at Westerner Park

The Red Deer and District Kennel Club is holding a dog show… Continue reading

Pence aide out of running to be Trump’s next chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top pick to replace chief of staff… Continue reading

Swath of South faces wintry mess: Snow, sleet, freezing rain

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A massive storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain… Continue reading

‘I killed my best friend’: Opioids’ fatal grip on mayor, pal

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

Brothers, 20, face second-degree murder charge in death of teen: police

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Police west of Toronto say two brothers have been… Continue reading

A young mayor, his friend, and a fatal attraction to opioids

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

GM fights to retain key tax credit amid plant closing plans

WASHINGTON — General Motors is fighting to retain a valuable tax credit… Continue reading

TTC union asks provincial government to step in on transition to Presto

TORONTO — The union representing transit workers in Canada’s most populous city… Continue reading

Small pot growers find roadblocks on path to microcultivation licences

Yan Boissonneault’s daughter was turning blue. Without warning, his baby had stopped… Continue reading

Most Read