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Gardening & More: Protect your winter garden from deer and rabbits, during the winter season

WRAP IT UP — Wrapping a tree trunk is one way of creating a physical barrier to prevent deer and rabbits from damaging the plants in your garden. Pictured is a wrapped tree at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens.
BUFFALO — Deer and rabbits can be a nuisance at any time of the year, but they may cause the most damage to your garden, during the winter, when their usual sources of food become scarce.

The good news is, there are many strategies for dealing with deer and rabbits in your yard. The bad news is, there is no single strategy that works, 100 percent of the time.

I grouped the strategies into three categories: plants that the animals do not like; physical barriers, such as fences and sprays and other smelly items, such as soaps.

Fences are an obvious physical barrier. You could build a fence around your yard, or just around your garden.

You can also put physical barriers around individual plants. Horticulturist David Clark, a local speaker who teaches at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, suggested wrapping bushes in landscape fabric. It is that black gardening fabric, sold in rolls, that you can lay down, as a weed barrier. The fabric is made of paper, plastic or synthetic fibers and is porous, so it lets water through.

If you are trying to deter rabbits, make sure the fabric begins at the ground and goes up at least 3 feet. Rabbits can sit on top of the snow and easily munch on tender branches that would otherwise be a stretch for them to reach, without that cushion of snow.

Trees can be wrapped, as well. Doug O’Reilly, a horticulturist at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens, said the wrapping protects against frost cracks and deters damage from animals.

A frost crack can occur when one side of the trunk is thawed by the sun, while the other side remains frozen. This can cause permanent damage to the tree.

The wrapping helps protect against rabbits, but a bigger nuisance that workers at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens see to trees is deer.

Gardeners use a paper wrapping to keep deer from chewing the bark and helps keep bucks from rubbing their antlers on the trees.

Here’s a recommendation suggested by Gail, a reader of Use fishing line to keep deer out of your garden. String two pieces of fishing line between poles or trees, at 2 feet and 4 feet, respectively, off the ground. This will confuse the deer and they stay away.

“I used this technique to protect the tulips that I grew for a wedding,” Gail said. “It works!”

This final tip is the one that I found most effective: Get a dog.

Other gardeners have told me they stopped having a problem with rabbits, once they got dogs. I never had a problem with rabbits, until my dog died.

Dogs seem to help keep deer away, too. Carl Swan has three acres of West Seneca land. He said that, while there are deer in that area, they never bother his garden. There is a fence around his yard, but he gives most of the credit to his dog, Hayley. “The fence keeps the dog in,” Swan said, “and the dog keeps the deer out.”

I’ll keep thinking, and give you more tips on keeping rabbits and deer out of your garden, in future issues.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email

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2012-12-30 | 12:32:48
Smelly Fear = Saved Trees
Nice article... When smelly includes a fear based cause of action your trees have a much better chance of survival. With winter in tow, spray ons are difficult to apply. We use Deer Repellent Packs to protect our trees easily and in all weather conditions. You can check them out at