Animal and Winter Weather Damage

Rabbit photoThis brutal winter was especially hard on landscape plants.

Many of the evergreens have a distinct “everbrown” color. The browning out is winter burn caused by dehydration. The effected needles will not recover, however regrowth may occur from buds further back on the stem. The best course of action is to take a “wait and see” approach. Look at the shrub and see if there any new buds forming and determine if there are enough to save the shrub. If the shrub is worth saving, be patient, it may take several years for it to recover. Once the regrowth is identified, remove the dead tips of the branches.

Winter burn is best avoided by taking preventative measures.

Evergreen trees and bushes will lose moisture all winter when the temperatures warm to 40°; however they cannot replace that moisture when the ground is frozen. This can occur especially if the specimen is planted on a southern or western side of a home where reflected heat warms the air more. Therefore, it is very important that they go into the winter well watered. Thoroughly watering evergreens (one inch per week) in November, before the ground freezes will help ease any winter burn. 

Excessive wind can also contribute to winter burn.

To prevent dehydration for plants in a location that receives high winds, tall stakes can be driven along the evergreens and burlap “tents” can be wrapped around them to protect them. 

Winter salt accumulation

Another contributor to winter burn is salt accumulation in the soil from de-icing compounds. If a salt spray is used, tents can protect the evergreens. If salt is being spread on sidewalks, avoid using pure sodium chloride. Instead mix it with an abrasive material such as sand, kitty litter, or another de-icing compound with less sodium.

Food sources for animals were scarce this winter.

Damage is evident in many landscapes. To determine if damage is caused by either rabbits or deer, look at the remaining plant. Deer browsing will leave a jagged or torn edge on the plant. Rabbits and rodents, however, will leave a clean, crisp cut almost as if they used a good sharp set of pruners. 

Some plants are considered to be unfavorable to deer and rabbits, but remember that if food sources are low, they will eat almost anything. Native plants that are resistant to animal browsing will generally have fragrant leaves, tough or hairy leaves, or milky sap. Aromatic herbs like chives, garlic, lavender, and sage are generally avoided. Daffodils, chrysanthemums, oriental poppies, and annual zinnias, sunflowers, and marigolds can fair well. Bottle brush, barberry, lilac, and potentilla are considered deer resistant. For a complete list of plants not favored by deer, see:

Rabbits can destroy a vegetable garden in a hurry. Fencing is the best method for preventing disaster. A few crops, especially those with fuzzy leaves, tend to have little rabbit damage. Those include squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Rabbits tend to eat the tender young shoots of plants. Young trees are more susceptible, but once rough bark is established the tree is safe. Therefore, protect young trees with bark wrap until they have developed enough rough bark to stand on their own.

Now that spring is on the horizon, planning for the summer garden and future landscapes can take place with goal of minimizing damage.

Carol Shirk
Certified Master Gardener

Sharing is Caring - Click Below to Share