deer scaping on tree and damaging bark

Animal Repellents and Plant Protection

We all love animals but sometimes they go where we don’t want them to or damage our landscapes and gardens. They can chew, eat, scratch, and damage plants throughout the year. When animals get hungry, they may not spare much. Protecting your plant investment is about protecting them from extensive damage that will severely stress or kill your plant. If you end up with a few bites are scratches, luckily your plants will be fine and will heal. Very rarely do you see an unscathed plant in nature. They are tough and want to survive.

There are animal and human safe products available to repel mice, squirrels, voles, moles, raccoons, deer, rabbits…pretty much any animal you may encounter in MN.

First we will look at what animal damage looks like so you know what you’re dealing with if you see it.

What does animal damage look like?

rabbit clean-cut chew marks on a tree trunk
Rabbit chew marks on a tree.

The two most common animals that damage our plants are deer and small rodents like rabbits and voles. Deer will rub against the bark and leave gashes (see main post image). They will even chew off the top of shrub branches.

Rodent damage will have cleaner cuts. Rabbits can chew down into the cambium layer of shrubs and trees. The cambium layer is where water and nutrients are taken up. If the damage to the cambium layer goes around the entire branch or trunk, it will kill the plant. Voles can eat the roots of plants, bark, and dig tunnels that wreck lawn grass.

It’s important to reapply repellents as directed and after heavy snowfall. Make sure rabbits can’t get above the tree guards to nibble on the bark higher up the tree.

Scented Repellents

Various sprays and pelleted product contain scents and tastes that the animals are repelled by. The products contain all natural ingredients. They could contain clove oil, cayenne, peppermint oil, spearmint oil, putrefied egg, and possibly others. All of them are safe to use around your home and gardens.

Unfortunately, if animals are hungry enough, which can happen during harsh winters, they will eat despite any offending smells that typically keep them away.

Examples of a few animal repellents.

Animals can also get used to certain stinky smells. Alternate products that contain different ingredients to avoid them becoming used to the smell. Repellents will also need to be reapplied frequently and the frequency depends on the product instructions and weather.

Physical Barriers May Be the Best Bet in Extreme Cases

The use of physical barriers may be the best method in extreme and harsh winters or you have an abundant population of animals.

One common physical protection is a white plastic tree guard. They have two benefits. One is to prevent sun scald and frost cracks and the other is to protect tree bark from deer and rabbit damage. This is a great physical barrier to use every winter especially on young trees that have thin tender bark. There are also mesh plastic tree guards to put around tree trunks that can be used year-round as they provide adequate air flow around the trunk. Those will not prevent winter weather damage.

If it seems like deer and rabbits have already made your yard into a safe spot, you may have to start using repellents in combination with physical barriers on the perimeters of your yard to teach them it isn’t a good spot to feed and make a home.

White corrugated plastic tree guard.

What To Do After the Damage Is Done

As mentioned above, if rabbits or any animal chews around the cambium layer of a tree or shrub, the shrub branch or tree will die. All is not lost if you have still have part of the cambium layer.

In early spring you can prune off the branches of the shrubs that are dead. You can wait to see if leaves bud out before any pruning as well. If it doesn’t bud, it’ll be time to prune it off. If they didn’t damage all the branches, the shrub will survive. It may take a couple years to fill back in depending on the shrub and you may need to do selective pruning to reshape it.

In the case of a tree damage around the entire trunk, see if it leafs out in the spring and if it doesn’t, it is most likely dead or will die.

If you have an animal eat your herbaceous perennials in the early spring, they can recover if they didn’t eat them all the way to the ground. Even if they did, it still may survive if it’s in it’s active growing period and has a well-established root system. Another reason to make sure you properly water your new plants because the healthier they are, the more stress they can endure and survive.

Prune away branches that have bark damage around the entire branch.

Repel Mice and other Rodents from Nesting

You may have a barn, camper, boat, wood piles, sheds, decks etc. that you want to keep little critters like mice away during the winter and summer. There are repellents like Mouse Magic and Rat Magic that are safe to use around children and pets and won’t harm rodents or anything that eats them like some poisons do. They smell nice as well!

If you distribute the packs or granules around the areas that they may want to nest, along wall edges, and where they may enter, it should repel them away from those areas. If you have a lot of rodents, you may need to use more.

Rat Magic has a few more ingredients in it to help repel squirrels and chipmunks as well. Try sprinkling it around your garden if you have them digging up your bulbs or creating holes for their food stash.

marigolds

Digging Deeper – Late Spring Gardening

“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”
–  Gertrude Jekyll, On Gardening

This post is about late spring/early summer gardening tips and things to look for that may be showing up soon in your garden.

  1. Fertilizer

    Don’t forget water soluble fertilizers for container plants. Container plants are in a potting soil that do not contain enough nutrients for all season.  Depending on the plant, you will need to add fertilizer to the water or use a slow release fertilize like Osmocote. Follow directions of product and individual plant needs for fertilization. Top dressing containers with compost can also be done to add some nutrients.

  2. Boost for New & Established Plants

    Most in-ground soils will benefit from adding organic material like compost and a starting fertilizer like Biotone Starter before planting or Plant Tone after planting. Top dressing the established perennials/shrubs with compost in the spring will give them an extra boost of nutrients. Plants like butterfly bush, delphinium, and clematis like if you put a mound of compost around their root ball.

  3. Watering

    Newly planted plants in the ground need deep watering so their roots reach down and establish themselves before winter and reduces stress on the plants. Water deeply a couple times a week. If it rains a little (pay attention to how many inches you get with a rain gauge), you can water around your new plants a little more to get water deep into the soil. It helps you conserve water and save time watering. 1″ of water per week is the recommended amount of water. Pay attention to the soil and if it is wet looking, hold off for another day. Best method is to stick your finger in the soil and if it’s dry a couple inches down, it’s time to water.

  4. Weeding

    Remove weeds now while they are small, as they grow quickly. Weeding is easy when soil is damp since it’s easier to pull the whole plant including the roots. Be careful not to walk on soil around your plants to avoid compaction of the soil.

  5. Prevent Fungal Diseases

    With rain and warming weather you need to be proactive about fungal diseases. It’s best to prevent it, instead of treating it because once it starts, you can’t get rid of it completely. Treat your plants that have a higher chance of fungal issues with a fungicide before you see signs of it.  For example, tomatoes usually get blight so best to treat with Bonide Revitalize or Copper Fungicide before it starts. Make sure to water your plants at the base and water in the morning when possible so the water can dry before it cools off at night. Mulch around your plants as well to help prevent fungus from the soil splashing on your plants.

  6. Insect damage is going to start. Keep an eye on your plants for damage to their foliage. It’s important to remember, a little bit of insect damage is not bad and if you see an insect, it doesn’t mean they are bad. We need to move passed the thought that bugs are icky and nuisance. There are very important insects that are good for the garden and actually improve plant health.

    Look for these invasive species instead:
    Japanese Beetles: Metallic looking green/bronze beetles flying or munching on landscape plants. They love roses, hollyhock, cherry trees, plums, grapes, blackberries, and linden trees. They can be found snacking on other plants as well. Read more about them hereIncorporate plants that repel Japanese beetles such as catnip, chives, garlic, nasturtium, and white geranium around your susceptible plants. Jumping Worms: Although we haven’t had any recordings of jumping worms in our area, these can be very detrimental to lawns and gardens. There are sightings of these worms in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area so if you are doing any transplanting of plants from that area, purchases of mulches and soils, or any plant swap around our area. Read more about them here so you can know what to do to avoid them or if you see them, how to alert the U of MN Garden Extension. There are no proven ways to eradicate these worms yet.

Getting rid of insects isn’t always easy and great care should be taken if you choose to spray with insecticides, even ones labeled organic. It’s still an insecticide made to kill insects.

*Quick side note about fungus since we have been having cool springs the last couple years. With cool/wet weather you may encounter anthracnose on your plants. If you are seeing brown spots on trees and shrubs early in the spring it may be this.

blooming white hydrangea shrubs

TOP 5 TIPS for Summer Plantings

1.MOST IMPORTANT! – WATERING

Proper watering is vital to plant survival. Proper watering doesn’t mean watering everyday. At least 1″ of water a week spring through fall season is the recommended amount. Frequency will vary depending on type of soil you have. For example, clay soils need infrequent yet thorough watering. This is because the water doesn’t percolate quickly through the soil. However in a sandy soil, water percolates easily. This requires thorough and more frequent watering.

Every one to two weeks, a slow stream of hose water for 5-10 min around the root zone should give you a deep thorough watering of trees and shrubs.

Perennials should be watered every 3-7 days depending on soil type and weather.

Check the soil regularly by pushing your finger a couple inches into the soil before you water. If the soil is moist, wait to water. Remember, even drought tolerant plants need a couple of years to become fully established and need deep thorough watering. Searing heat and windy days may require increased watering frequency.

2. PROPER PLANTING TECHNIQUE

Make sure to follow our planting guide (See image below) on the back of our Winter Hardiness Warranty Slip that comes with all trees and shrubs. Mix in compost and slow release fertilizer with beneficial fungi, bacteria, and nutrients, like Bio-Tone, into your native soil to help newly planted shrubs, trees, and perennials get off on a strong start.
shrub and tree planting-guide

3. MULCHING

Use 2-3 inches of mulch around your plants to help retain water and keep soil cool during hot and dry days. Mulch around the root zone and keep the mulch 2 inches away from the stem or trunk of the plant.

4.READ THE LEAVES

Summer-planted plants may wilt regularly if you are under- or over-watering, or from heat stress. Water sensitive plants, especially new perennials with shallow root systems, will tell you if they need more water. If there is slight wilting during the day yet they have moist soil, they may be succumbing to heat/light stress if no other signs of pests or disease are present.

If they are still wilting after the sun is going down, they are most likely under-watered if the soil is dry or the roots have already been stressed from over-watering. The best method to quickly learn how much water you plant needs is to check it regularly. Your plant will start establishing it’s roots and watering frequency may decrease.

5. PLANTING TIME

Planting on a cloudy day is less stressful on new plants. If the cloudy day is followed by a day or two of rain, all the better! You can also plant in the evening. That gives it half a day before it gets blasted with the summer sun.

We also made a video of planting a shrub to show how to properly plant.

Additional landscape plant heat stress remedies:

praying mantis looking at camera

Beneficial Bugs

We may view bugs as a nuisance because they are eating our plants or intruding in and around our homes. The Spotted Wing Drosophila or Japanese Beetle are two examples of pesky bugs that can cause damage to our beloved plants. I could go on and on about bugs that cause us major gardening headaches and heartache at times.

Many of us know about the beneficial pollinators like bees or the pest killing dragonflies, butterflies, and spiders but let’s look at some bugs you may not have heard that can help us in our fight against nasty pests. These bugs aren’t usually a quick fix nor are they a complete eradication pest control, which in most cases, isn’t needed. If we look at the positive of beneficial bugs, we can help balance the ecosystem without using pesticides or comprising your crop with harmful chemicals.

Diversity of plants in your yard is the most important aspect of supporting all beneficial insect life so here is a limited list of plants that are proven to attract them.

Plants that attract beneficial insects:

Sunflower: Ladybugs, Syrphid Flies, Parasitic Wasps, Spined Soldier Bugs, Minute Pirate Bugs

Yarrow: Honey bees, Ladybugs, Hover Flies, Parasitic Wasps, Lacewing

Dill: Ladybugs, Lacewing, Hover Flies, Parasitic Wasps

Clover: Tachinid Flies, Parasitic Wasps, , Ground Beetles, Big-Eyed Bugs, Hover Flies, Ladybugs, Honey Bees

Fennel: Parasitic Wasps, Hover Flies, Tachinid Flies, Damsel Bugs, Ladybugs, Lacewing, Big-Eyed Bugs

Cosmos: Lacewing, Hover Flies, Parasitic Wasps, Big-Eyed Bugs

Black-eyed Susan: Parasitic Wasps, Honey Bees, Hover Flies

Here are a couple beneficial bugs you can add to help mitigate aphid, mosquitoes, mites, and many other soft-bodied insect.

Praying Mantis

praying mantis looking at camera

Praying mantis

The Praying mantis would be an insect you would need to introduce and is a predator of many insects, mites, and eggs. They have a really healthy appetite so be careful if you use other beneficial insects or worried about native bugs being eaten such as the Ladybug which we will get to in a moment. When they are young, the praying mantis will eat mosquitoes, aphids, leafhoppers, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects. As adults, they will eat beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other pests in your garden! If you are worried about introducing an insect not native to Minnesota, you need not worry. The praying mantis will not survive the winter here. There are multiple sites that you can buy the praying mantis egg cases with instructions on how many you would need and the best time to use them.

Ladybug A.k.a Lady Beetles

Ladybugs swarming

Ladybugs

The native ladybugs are great predators to aphids and other soft bodied pests, mites, and eggs. You may not see native Ladybug anymore compared to the Asian Lady Beetle that was introduced in the South. Their purpose was to eat aphids from crops but made their way up North. You might not be as familiar with their larva either so check out the pictures here. You can buy Ladybugs to introduce to your garden but you have to make sure they stay there to eat and hopefully lay eggs! Many sites state to put them in the garden at night since they won’t fly at night and water around the area well!