Critters can cause garden problems in winter

Snow has closed the garden from human traffic for the season. Hardier people will head out to prune but most will wait until the weather begins to warm in the spring. Either works well.

Snow has closed the garden from human traffic for the season.

Hardier people will head out to prune but most will wait until the weather begins to warm in the spring. Either works well.

Last year, the voles flourished under the snow crust, damaging many lawns, trees and shrubs. Damage might be avoided if the rodents are detected early. Look for tracks, trails and breathing holes in the snow.

If mice and voles are a problem, remove all tall grass and plant stocks close to vulnerable plants. Pack the snow around the plants that might be damaged by the rodents. Removing shelter and cover exposes the rodents to predators. As a result, they are likely to move to a safer location.

Rabbits also feed on young bark. The best way to deter them is to purchase a tree guard. The guard covers the stem and forms a barrier, not allowing animals to reach the bark.

It is much more difficult to protect yards from deer, moose and elk; especially if they are accustom to living in the proximity to humans.

Animals are creatures of habit. If they are used to eating native plants, they will search them out first. Ones that are accustomed to feeding on introduced plants will head into the garden.

The most effective method is to put a barrier between the animals and the food. Some methods such as deer fencing are effective and expensive. Others are a matter of time and effort.

Hang bird feeders high enough that the animals can’t reach them. Clean up the feed the birds drop on the ground.

Hanging mesh, chicken wire or a snow fence around the outside perimeter of the branches will stop the animals from being able to grab branches and pull. They will only be able to nibble on the end of branches. Choose the material used wisely as it will be part of the landscape for the next five or six months.

Wrap burlap around cedars to protect them from drying out and from the bottoms being devoured by deer.

Plants can also be protected by using deterrents. There are many homemade or purchased deterrents available to discourage ungulates and they all work for a while. Once the animals get used to the deterrent, it becomes ineffective. It is best to move or change deterrents regularly and not let the animals become comfortable in the garden.

Deterrents play to the animal’s sense of smell, taste, hearing or vision. Position all items at the correct height to be most effective. If a bitter or hot tasting spray is being used, spray it at the level where the animals are most comfortable eating.

When using a visual deterrent, place it so the animal sees it as it enters the garden. Once they begin eating, they are less likely to leave.

The following spray recipe originated from a member of the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources. Place the following into a blender and mix.

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons baking soda,

2 dashes Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce

Fill the blender with water and blend until all is smooth. Fill a spray bottle and coat the plants that are in danger of being eaten. To be effective, the spray needs to be reapplied regularly and after each rain or snow.

Now that the snow has fallen, it is easy to check for animal tracks and plan deterrents to protect the garden.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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