Winter is a vulnerable time for young trees for a number of reasons. Extremes in weather sometimes present a challenge, but another threat exists in deer and rodents, such as rabbits. Fortunately, solutions for preventing this damage exist in the form of tree wraps and other protective devices.
The Winter Food Shortage Factor
With the scarcity of food during the winter months, many deer and rabbits are forced to get creative to sustain themselves. This often means eating tree bark, buds and other tender foliage, ultimately damaging or killing the trees. In some landscapes, it's best to fence the perimeter of the property. When this is impractical, protecting vulnerable trees individually may be the solution.
Deer have two distinct behaviors that can damage trees. During the fall, as the male deer are putting on new antler growth, the new growth is covered in a downy material called velvet. The instinct of the deer is to remove the velvet, and they accomplish this by scraping the antlers against tree bark. Damage to the bark can result.
Later in winter, during the time of mating known as the "rut," male deer scrape trees again as a method of marking territory.
Wire Mesh Tree Wraps
Woven wire cylinders around the base of trees can be an effective guard against both feeding and scraping damage. Some are sold premade for this specific purpose, but you can also construct your own using 1/4-inch wire mesh hardware cloth. Curl the mesh cloth to create a tube around the trunk of the tree. If small rodents like mice are a concern, place the mesh 2 to 3 inches into the ground. If you live in an area where it snows heavily, make sure the cylinder extends at least 18 to 24 inches above the typical snow line. To protect against antler scrapes, the cylinder should be at least 48 inches tall.
For newly planted trees, some foresters choose solid plastic tubes to encase the tender seedlings. These tubes not only protect the young tree from being eaten by hungry animals, but also create an advantageous micro-climate for the growth of the tree.
The tubes are simply driven into the ground so that the tree is growing up inside it. Many of these products are designed to biodegrade over time, but manual removal is also an option.
Paper or Plastic Wraps
The most cost-effective option is wrapping paper or plastic around the trunk of your trees up to the height of potential damage. These wraps can be torn or damaged by antler scrapes, however.
When utilizing this option, remember to remove the wrapping in spring to allow sufficient air circulation around the tree and to avoid creating an insect habitat.